‘Strain with US temporary, not affecting economic ties’

‘Strain with US temporary, not affecting economic ties’

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‘Strain with US temporary, not affecting economic ties’

‘Not only will Turkey’s interest in the US not end, but the same is also valid for the US. Many multinational corporations have selected Turkey as a hub,’ says Turkish American Business Association head Beşir Kemal Ustaoğlu (R). HÜRRİYET photo, Levent ARSLAN

Washington understands the importance of including Turkey in the Trans-Atlantic free trade deal that is currently being negotiated with the EU, Turkish American Business Association (TABA / AmCham) head Beşir Kemal Ustaoğlu has told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Despite current strains in political ties due to the situation in neighboring Syria, the turbulence is “temporary and not at the point of poisoning economic ties,” said Ustaoğlu, who believes that Washington will act decisively to make Turkey part of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

He described the TTIP as “history’s biggest ever trade deal” and stressed that Turkey needs to accelerate its lobbying efforts to be included.

As a businessman from the southern province of Hatay, bordering Syria, what would you say about the current situation there?

In 2004 there was no relationship between Turkey and Syria. In 2010 by contrast we had very intensified relations. Tourism exploded in Antakya (Hatay). You could not even find a place in a hotel. Turkey’s exports to the Middle East and the Gulf were conducted through Syria. Things were going very fast, but as relations between the two countries deteriorated, they slowed down. There is psychological anxiety and this is putting everything on hold. Antakya has been even more affected than provinces such as Urfa, Gaziantep and Kilis.

What is your prediction for the future?

Our geography is known as the Fertile Crescent. All current issues will be over in due course. Perhaps it will take a few years, but it is not going to continue like this forever. All cities at the border will start thriving again. After all the dust settles, Turkey’s role will be even bigger for all the players that would like to come - from the Americans to the Russians, from the Chinese to the Europeans. They will need Turkey in the region.

Let’s not forget the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union on the TTIP. We are a very important country in that partnership. You have a European continent that is getting older and slower, and a country on the other side of the ocean that carries on with the dynamism of 1776. But here in Turkey we have a young population, and so do the Arab countries. Turkey is a critical country to reaching out to this market.

To what degree do you think the negotiating sides agree that Turkey can’t become a party to the TTIP negotiations, despite our wishes?

I think the EU is no use to us. As far as the TTIP is concerned, we are a rival to Europe. It is natural for the EU to not want us included in the TTIP. But our inclusion will be beneficial to U.S., so Turkish officials are lobbying the U.S. I cannot imagine Turkey being excluded from the world’s biggest free trade agreement. This is currently a priority for all decision makers in the economic sphere.

Do you think these efforts will bear a fruit?

They have to.

As Turkey has been told that it cannot be a party to the negotiations, what should be its target? Sitting at the negotiating table or finding an alternative formula?

Are we an ally of the United States? Are we among the biggest powers in NATO? Can anyone deny our role in the disintegration of the Soviet Union? We have been side by side with the U.S. in military terms since the 1950s, but we will be excluded from the game in terms of commerce and trade because we are not in the EU? Sorry, but if they won’t accept us in the trade partnership then we won’t be in the game as far as military issues are concerned. That’s how I would challenge.

Does Turkey have the ability to do that?

Well, I say it on my own behalf, but I know that if we aren’t included in the TTIP then all the targets for 2023 - such as the $500 billion export volume - will be a delusion. When the biggest economic markets join hands and cooperate and we are not involved in it, we lose our competitive edge.

The discussions will go on for another two years maximum. We need to be included in the process as soon as possible and this can be done only from the U.S. side.

But what should we aim for? A place at the negotiating table?

The United States should tell Europe, and Germany, the following: “How can I invest in your country? You are exhausted, you do not have a young population. If we want to get stronger in this region and enter markets in the East, Turkey needs to be part of the TTIP and strengthen this partnership.”

So Turkey needs to be at the table.

Of course, and Washington is the one to get Turkey to the table.

You claim that Washington can convince the EU if it wants to do so.

Not only can it do so, it already wants to.

So the impression you have is that the U.S. understands the importance of having Turkey in the TTIP and will call for Turkey to be part of the negotiations.

Yes, that’s my impression.

What makes you say that, at a time when there are strains in relations due to the Syrian issue?

Cold winds can blow between countries on the diplomatic front. There have recently been cold winds between Washington and Berlin because Angela Merkel’s phone was tapped by the U.S. intelligence agency. Today winds may blow cold, tomorrow they may be mild. What’s important is that we have a relationship that comes from the past and we are allies with the U.S. Despite all the physical distance between us we have a very special approach to each other. I don’t get stuck on daily ups and downs.

But political problems can take their toll on other parts of relations. Do you claim that problems on the political front have not reached the point of poisoning economic ties?

That’s my view.

Is there still an economic interest in Turkey from the U.S.?

Tremendously, both in investment and in trade, and this interest is on both sides. The U.S. is a market of 300 million people, with a $1.6 trillion GDP. There is interest in the U.S. market from all corners of the world. Not only will Turkey’s interest in the U.S. not end, but the same is also valid for the U.S. Many multinational corporations have selected Turkey as a hub, like Coca Cola. Turkey is expendable for Europe, but not for the U.S.

Why is Turkey indispensable for the U.S.?

Because we are a strong country in this region. We are the 16th largest economy in the world and
the 6th largest in Europe. We are just not aware of our power.

Some would say the U.S. does not need strong allies. It might prefer a weaker ally that will do anything it says.

The U.S. needs strong allies. Strong people go around with other strong people. In this age, no one does whatever they are told by someone else.

Some believe the U.S. will support the creation of Kurdistan to replace Turkey as an ally and use Arbil, for instance, instead of the İncirlik airbase.

It could help support the creation of Kurdistan. But these decisions are not taken so lightly and easily. There is an accumulated experience, a history between our countries. We need to see the bigger picture. Turkey is a very strong country.

Coming back to economic relations, the priority for Turkey in your agenda seems to be the TTIP right now.

We need to increase our lobbying efforts. This is history’s biggest ever trade deal and if we continue at this pace we will miss out. We need to dedicate more time, energy and money to it.

Who is Beşir Kemal Ustaoğlu?


Beşir Kemal Ustaoğlu graduated with a degree in economics from Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University.

Ustaoğlu was the founding partner at a Turkish-American joint venture company providing modern parking management services for cities across Turkey. He worked in the U.S. in retail, real estate and international trade.

On his return to Turkey he started and managed the real estate department of Porte Group. He later became the country manager of American Appraisal–REAG, the long-running appraisal and valuation company. He is currently the managing director at Ustaoğlu Madencilik, his family’s mining and construction company. He is the founding board member of the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce (TACCI) in New York, as well as the Mustafa Kemal University Foundation.