Having written about South America
for the past three weeks, I was planning to return to Turkey with today’s column.
But the continent is refusing to let me go. As soon as I turned on my Blackberry after my São Paulo-Istanbul flight landed on Feb. 27, I got an email from Proexport Colombia, the South American
country’s agency for tourism, foreign investment and exports promotion. They had read my column about Chile’s version of Silicon Valley
and were wondering if we could meet.
Although an invitation to Colombia sounded very attractive, I started typing on my Blackberry, while waiting for my luggage, that I had just come from South America
and needed to rest for a few weeks, until I noticed that the invitation was actually from their Istanbul office just off Taksim Square.
While sipping Colombian coffee the afternoon of March 1, Marcela Monroy, Proexport Colombia’s Turkey representative, told me that their Istanbul office had opened in July 2011. Interestingly, they are sharing the office with my beloved Chileans
and will be joined by the Mexicans and Peruvians soon.
The joint office is a consequence of the Pacific Alliance
, a bloc between the four countries formally launched June 2012. While Chilean president Sebastián Piñera noted upon inauguration
that “the group’s goals include free trade and economic integration, with a clear orientation toward Asia,” the Istanbul office is the first to be shared by export/investment promotion agencies of the four countries, confirming Turkey’s newfound economic prowess.
It is time Turkey took notice of the region. Speaking to economists and investors in London on Mar. 1, a few hours before I met with Monroy, Central Bank of Turkey Governor Erdem Başçı emphasized that
exporters have been able diversify away from the troubled Euro area into new markets. There has been a heavy government hand in this shift, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
has led huge trade and investment missions to the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
However, Central and South America
have largely been ignored by Turkish businessmen and the government alike. While it has generally been on the rise during the past decade, trade with all the countries south of the United States still makes up only around 2 percent of Turkey’s total trade.
On the other hand, Turkey has been on the Pacific Alliance’s radar for a while. In the last two years, the four countries’ share in total Central and South American
(including Caribbean) exports to Turkey has gone up from 34 to 44 percent.
Exports to Turkey from the Alliance are likely to increase thanks to their increased presence in the country. For example, the Chilean Trade Office in Istanbul is organizing a wine tasting event on March 18, and the bloc is planning an investment conference at the end of May. Monroy also noted that cocoa exports from Colombia rose more than six times last year.
I hope Turkey will finally show some interest in Central and South America, especially the Pacific Alliance.