18 April 2014, Friday
Today's Zaman

Anatolian firms explore African opportunities

16 May 2008, Friday /ABDULLAH BOZKURT
The third Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge opened this week with a lively celebration and record participation, but it was marked with sadness due to the tragic sudden death of İstanbul Gold Refinery Chairman Ömer Halaç, a 38-year-old Turkish businessman who had just returned from a trip to the Central African Republic.

His family and friends remember him as a young man with great dynamism and the intellectual courage to venture out into the wilderness of Africa to set up a mining operation. He contracted malaria in a remote area 200 kilometers from the capital of Bangui.

Yet his legacy is very much being kept alive at the Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge summit, organized by the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON). Central African Republic Trade Minister Emilie Beatrice Epaye, accompanied by Turkish Minister for Foreign Trade Kürşad Tüzmen, delivered a eulogy at Halaç's funeral on Tuesday and honored his memory. Halaç's business colleagues, along with 2,500 Turkish businessmen, have kept going after partnerships and joint ventures with their African guests in four marathon-days of meetings at the İstanbul CNR Expo Center. TUSKON President Rızanur Meral summed up the event, saying, "We are investing in Turkey's future." He also noted, "Our intention is to create new venues of expansion for Turkish companies that are forced to deal with increased competition because of the contracting market."

Turkish companies seem to have gotten Meral's message, as the turnout rate at the African summit exceeded all expectations this year. About 200 Turkish firms have opened up booths showcasing their latest products, and 2,500 Turkish entrepreneurs flocked to the CNR Expo Center to compete for the opportunities brought by 950 African businessmen. Organizers set up 40,000 meetings to facilitate trade on the expo floor.

Some Turkish industrialists and merchants are veterans of such fairs and have made remarkable progress in their export portfolios in the last two days at the expo. Others are trying to diversify by adding an African dimension to their list of export countries, and the remaining few are just venturing to break out from the domestic market and trying to get their share in the export market for the first time.

Take, for example, İsmail Saygılı from the western town Biga across the Dardanelles. He is a newcomer to the Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge, and he is looking for export possibilities. As the owner of the Saygılı Römork Company, he sells tractor wagons and trailers in the Marmara and Western Thrace regions and is quite happy with the way his business has been growing nationally. Starting out as an iron and steel dealer, he built up his company from scratch and made a reputation for building high-quality, durable trailers and tractor wagons. "Farmers love them," he says, adding: "They favor our wagons over brand name ones simply because they last longer." He had close to 30 meetings in a single day and made some new friends. But he regrets not having a booth to showcase his products. "I will come better prepared next year," he says.

Pancar Motor's pavilion is definitely an eye catcher for the expo visitors. You can see heavy traffic and crowds in front of the booth at all times. They exhibit their products, which range from tractors to rototillers and from heavy-duty pumps to gas generators in flashy red colors. "We are very busy," says Metin Demir, the company's general manager. He suggests that Africa is "fertile ground" for his business, adding, "We are selling everything a farmer needs to North African customers from Egypt to Morocco." They sold over $1.5 million worth of equipment just last year, and business is booming.

Pancar Motor represents a 50-year-long success story. Established in 1956, Pancar Motor started off manufacturing small engine-power agricultural equipment under license from the German company Hatz. Though Hatz discontinued its line of tractors a long time ago, the brand was very popular in African countries. "When they see Pancar tractors and small engines, African farmers recognize its design right away and prefer our products," says Demir. He notes, "Its power equipment is very durable and lasts for years if you keep servicing it." In the Pancar booth, we came across an African gentleman named Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji, a provincial governor from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was asking his staff accompanying him to place an order for tractors from Pancar. "We are very much interested in agricultural sector development," he said. Heading a 40-strong delegation from Congo, he expressed his gratitude for organizers and said "the exhibition is going very well."

Two brothers from the Anatolian town of Kahramanmaraş came a long way to this expo hoping to make a sales pitch to African businessmen. Şeref Sayoğlu and Serdar Sayoğlu, owners of Arzu Metal Co., which manufactures steel and aluminum kitchen pots and pans, opened a booth for the first time this year. "They prefer aluminum tea sets and frying pans over steel ones simply because of the cheap prices," says Serdal. "They recognize the quality, though," he quickly adds. Ziya Özalp, the managing director of Marland Ltd., is one of those who came to appreciate being a Turk on the African continent. "Africans value Turks and treat them with great respect and admiration," he stresses. Özalp remembers his one particular visit to Ethiopia and shares his story with others nearby: "I hopped in a taxi in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and I started conversing with the driver. When I told him I was a Turk, the cab driver refused to accept my money. … He said 'Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan helped a lot of people in this country when he paid a visit in 2005, and we love Turks.'"

You can hear similar stories from other Turkish businessman who, one way or another, hit the trail for the African continent. Turks are discovering Africa as Africans are getting to know Turks. South African Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Bongani Mabuto Mpahlwa tells Today's Zaman, "The lack of knowledge is the major factor in preventing the boost." He says, "We used to think of Turkey as a single economy, but now I see that it is a developing gateway country for a whole wider region of major economies."

Since the trade volume between Turkey and Africa is low, there is tremendous growth potential for Turkish entrepreneurs, as well as African ones, analysts argue. Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) President Oğuz Satici said the other day, "The next millennium will be shaped by meetings like this." He called for increased cooperation and praised the African guests, saying, "You are like brothers to us." Murat Yalçıntaş, the chairman of the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO), echoed the same sentiment. "Africa has a special place in the hearts of Turks," he said, comparing the continent to a "mother who nurtured and feed the world." Both remarks received a big round of applause from the audience of Turkish and African visitors.

President Gül lends support to TUSKON summit

In a show of support, President Abdullah Gül yesterday visited the İstanbul CNR Convention Center, where the 3rd Turkey-Africa Foreign Trade Bridge, organized by the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), was being held.

Gül met Ugandan Vice President Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya and several ministers from African countries at the convention center. Rızanur Meral, the chairman of the executive board of TUSKON, stated that President Gül was impressed by the event. "I congratulate the organizers as this is very successful event," Meral quoted Gül as saying.

Meral further explained that in his meeting with visiting ministers, Gül discussed the possibilities of boosting mutual cooperation, and he was asked by the ministers to visit African countries more frequently. The ministers further stated that they expect more Turkish tourists to visit their countries and Turkish businessmen to increase investments in their countries. Gül, in return, noted that Turkey's interest in Africa has been growing and that the Turkish public sees the African people as brothers. İstanbul Today's Zaman

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