US sends major trade mission to Turkey amid crisis

US sends major trade mission to Turkey amid crisis

Discrepancies between the United States and Turkey over the military contribution to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are no obstacle to a high level U.S. trade mission that will be in Turkey next week. The group will be carrying out a major fact finding mission to search for investment opportunities in Turkey, headed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

According to the official release by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the rare mission will only cover Poland and Turkey. The latest similar mission in cooperation with the President’s Export Council (PEC) was carried out back in 2008, to Mexico and Brazil. A diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News that this was a private initiative endorsed by the commitment of the president of the U.S. as an indication of importance given to boosting trade relations between the two countries.

Eight top Chief Executive Officers and eight high level representatives of major American companies, including Ursula Burns, the vice chair of the PEC and the CEO of Xerox, will accompany Pritzker during the trip. The visit will occur between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, and will first be in Istanbul to meet business circles before heading to Ankara to meet government officials.

During his visit to Ankara in April 2009, which was also his first official visit overseas trip as president, Obama said American-Turkish trade relations should be “elevated” to the level of cooperation in the field of security. After completing their mission to Poland and Turkey, Pritzker and PEC members are expected to report to President Obama about investment opportunities for American companies in both countries.

When asked why the PEC members chose Turkey and Poland to focus on, six years after the last PEC trip, diplomatic sources suggested that the criteria could be the growth rates of the two countries, the level of investments received over the last few years, their young and educated populations, and their good relations with the U.S.

This last item is probably contains key words that could surprise critics both in the U.S. and in Turkey about the future of relations between the two countries. This is because there are a number of discrepancies between Ankara and Washington regarding a number of issues in the Middle East: From relations with Israel to Iran, and including the stance regarding developments in Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

The trade mission might therefore be an indication that the U.S. considers its relations with Turkey as a long term partner, beyond day-by-day developments and governments. It is worth noting that both Turkey and Poland also take part in the U.S.'s high-priority Defense Shield project. Turkey has had early warning radars in operation since 2012 and Poland has also agreed to host the missile sites. In addition, Poland and Turkey are two countries at the eastern fringes of the European geography, one in the north and the other in the south (with access to the Middle East and Caucasus), but both near Russia. Still, diplomatic sources say it was not such strategic choices, but rather commercial criteria, that played a role in planning this major trade mission. 

In addition to traditional areas of interest, such as defense and energy, the U.S. trade mission to Turkey includes important investors from the fields of agriculture like Vermeer and ADM, logistics like UPS and Magno, and also from the pharmaceutical, tourism, real estate and finance sectors.

Bilateral trade between Turkey and the U.S., which was $6.6 billion in 2003, has nearly tripled to reach $18.7 billion in 2013. However, this growth has come with a large surplus to the benefit of the U.S., and Turkish officials have been trying to boost and balance this trade for some time. The ongoing free trade deal talks between the U.S. and the European Union, to which Turkey is tied through a Customs Union agreement, are also expected to be discussed by Pritzker and the Turkish government in Ankara.