The Ecuadorian ambassador to Turkey, Augusto Saa Corriere, has said he expects bilateral trade to double, even triple, in the next five years. In an interview with Today’s Zaman, Corriere sounded upbeat about the pace of improvement in bilateral relations between the two countries, saying that there is a huge room to expand on the business front.
What makes the ambassador so optimistic is Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa Delgado’s recent visit to Turkey, during which a large group of business people from Ecuador also accompanied him. Correa is the first Ecuadorian president to have visited Turkey, and the visit fits very well with Turkey’s opening up policy to Latin America and the Caribbean, a policy which was launched in 2006. In an effort to enhance political and economic cooperation, the Ecuadorian president arrived in Turkey with nearly 30 people from Ecuador’s business sector.
The business people were here mainly for the Trade and Investment Forum held in İstanbul on March 16, which the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) organized in cooperation with the Ecuadorian Embassy. Each businessman had almost 15-20 business meetings with their Turkish colleagues at the forum. The ambassador sees the event as a success and is full of optimism about the future of bilateral trade between Turkey and Ecuador. “Many business contracts are on the way. [The businessmen] almost [signed a number of] contracts here [at the forum],” he noted.
Trade development between Ecuador and Turkey
Additionally, the two countries are about to conclude a Trade for Development agreement, for which negotiations started a year ago. “So, there will be a huge preferential trade regime between Turkey and Ecuador,” he commented, noting that Ecuador would be the third country in Latin America (along with Chile and Colombia) with which Turkey would have a preferential trade agreement. In June a delegation from Ecuador will likely come to Turkey to put the final touches on the agreement.
Although bilateral trade has increased by more than five times in the last 10 years, the trade figure presently stands at a modest $153 million, with Turkey’s exports being $50 million and those of Ecuador to Turkey $103 million. But there is much hope that trade will increase between the two countries. “Up until now we depended mostly on the North American and European markets,” said Corriere. “Now we want to diversify our trade, and the potential is great between Ecuador and Turkey.”
Diversification might present many opportunities for both countries. Ecuador has boosted its trade enormously with Russia in the last couple of years, and Corriere believes the same could be achieved with Turkey as well. Ecuador wants to buy capital goods, machinery and equipment for construction and various industries. The automotive industry also represents an important opportunity. The president of the Ecuador Chamber of the Automotive Industry (CINAE) was also included in the business delegation from Ecuador and had prior contact with auto parts producers in Turkey. “We are probably going to have joint ventures to assemble cars in Ecuador. Or Ecuador and Turkey might provide each other auto parts; that’s also being considered,” the ambassador said.
Turkish firms are also needed in the construction field, especially for the construction of big hydroelectric power plants, where Chinese and Russian firms are now active. Ecuador has plans to modernize one of its ports, a huge project to which Turkish firms might also contribute. On the other hand, it hopes to sell products such as tuna fish, flowers, natural roses and fine cocoa -- items for which the country is world-renowned. Turkey already makes up 90 percent of Ecuador’s banana export business. Another step which is sure to boost cooperation between the two countries is the Ecuador/Turkey Joint Economic Trade Commission (JETCO), a protocol signed in December 2010, and a JETCO technical meeting which was concluded in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, in February of this year. The ambassador believes opportunities for joint ventures may emerge in free trade sectors, and has welcomed Turkish companies to the technological free trade zone in Ecuador, as well as to the city of “knowledge” which the country is planning to build.
Apart from trade, the ambassador is of the opinion that the recent visit of the Ecuadorian president will also allow the two countries to cooperate more closely on a number of political issues. One of them is the restructuring of the United Nations, a model based on a world system which is expected to become outdated in the years to come. Another item of cooperation in the international arena might be the treatment of emigrants; Ecuador and Turkey both have a sizeable number of citizens abroad.
Ecuador is watching closely the events unfolding in the Middle East. “It’s a very distant region, but strategically very important. We are very much interested in this part of the world,” the ambassador said, talking about his country’s outlook on this part of the world. He emphasized Turkey’s special place in the region, saying, “Turkey is a good partner with its political stability, democracy, economic growth and social development.”
Corriere said he does not believe in talking about “models,” although Turkey is often cited as a model for other countries in its region. “It sounds very paternalistic. That’s an attitude of ‘I have a model I can export’,” he explained. “The ambassador thinks Turkey wants not to be a model but to share its experience, being the most advanced country in the region.”
Latin America’s efforts for integration
In recent years, Latin American countries attracted the world’s attention through their efforts of integration. They are engaged heavily in economic and social integration among themselves within regional organizations such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The integration process might lead, following the example of the European Union, to a political one as well. But the Ecuadorian ambassador does not believe that a comparison is fitting. “I think we are trying to find our own path. We might take some experiences from the EU, but we are trying, first of all, to analyze and solve our problems among us, and not let foreign powers intervene,” he noted. “That’s the main issue at UNASUR.”
Ecuador, which hosts the headquarters of UNASUR in Quito, is one of the leading countries in the efforts of integration. Within UNASUR are about 10 councils which deal with various issues such as poverty reduction, public education, drugs and defense. “For the first time in history we are defining our own doctrine on defense issues in Latin America, which was extra-regionally defined before,” Corriere stated.
In 20 years’ time, the continent will look much more confident, according to the ambassador. “We are building trust between each other and we are going to tell the world that we are capable of solving our own problems,” he said, adding that Latin America’s organizations also aim to create their own financial structure (Bank of the South) so that dependence on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can be put to an end.
The continent has also set up its own currency within the ALBA, called Sucre, to help keep its balance of payments and currency reserves in order. The Sucre is a system of compensation in which, instead of trading in dollars, member countries pay exporters in their own currency, and based on bilateral trade figures compensate each other at the end of each year. “And it works! We have boosted trade with Venezuela to almost $1 billion by Sucre,” the ambassador said, inviting Turkey to join in and use the Sucre system.
As an ascending power in the 21st century, Latin America might be a rival for Asia. But Corriere is against the two continents being presented as rivals, saying: “We don’t want to compete with any other region. We just like to diversify. It’s very healthy to diversify powers: US, Europe, Asia, Latin America.” It might be reasonable to claim, given that the continent is rich in natural resources, and the fact that Latin American countries don’t have major problems among themselves, military or otherwise, that the influence of the continent is to be more strongly felt in the future.
An increase in mutual efforts
As Latin America and Turkey gain importance on the world stage, mutual efforts to form closer relations also increase. The rise in bilateral trade with the continent is a good indicator of this process. Trade volume, which was only $892 million nine years ago, is now more than $7 billion. An increase in the number of direct flights to South America would certainly bring Ecuador, a country to which Turkish citizens can travel without a visa, and Turkey closer. “Without a direct flight, people don’t feel connected,” the ambassador said. A direct flight by Turkish Airlines (THY) to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, as a first step, would greatly help in promoting not only trade but also tourism between the two countries. The issue won’t be settled in the near future since THY is not expected to open a direct route to Venezuela before 2014.
Ankara for first post as ambassador
Ankara is the first post in which Augusto Saa Corriere has served as ambassador. He has been in Ankara since the Ecuadorian Embassy was opened at the beginning of 2010. He was previously posted in Latin America, having had two full missions in Mexico and Chile as a diplomat before 2005. From 2005 to 2009 he served as the general manager of the Department for Human Rights, Drug Trafficking, Environment and Refugees in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He studied law, and completed diplomacy studies in university. After graduating from university, he worked in political relations before being assigned to Ankara. The ambassador did not know much about Turkey, having only traveled in Latin America and Europe. While trying to learn a few facts about Turkey, he was surprised to see that many people from Ecuador had traveled to Turkey, especially to İstanbul and Cappadocia. Corriere said the Turkish language was the thing he found most difficult to get accustomed to in Turkey but added that the people make it easier. “Turks are always helpful and friendly, and that makes it easier to live here,” he says.
Ecuador against military intervention in Syria
Ecuadorian Ambassador Augusto Saa Corriere says the Arab Spring could probably be labeled as the most important event of the early 21st century, but believes the process should evolve without foreign intervention. Ecuador’s policy on the Syrian crisis is rather clear-cut. “We are against a military intervention, wherever it comes from,” declared the Ecuadorian ambassador while speaking to Today’s Zaman. “We are very concerned about the violent events taking place in Syria, but we think it should be resolved democratically.” The South American country believes the way to a solution is through dialogue between the political forces in Syria. The ambassador agreed that there are huge problems in Syria, but did not hesitate to express his misgivings about the possible consequences of foreign intervention, saying, “Foreign countries should not be entitled to put their hands into the problem to solve it in accordance with their wishes, and probably leave a mess behind.” He notes that the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) countries, the members of which include, among others, Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela, support a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria and makes it clear that they are eager to intervene to help find a peaceful solution, if requested. “We can act to boost conversation; we are eager to do so,” said the ambassador.