Turkey ‘should be involved in Europe-US free trade talks’

Turkey ‘should be involved in Europe-US free trade talks’

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey ‘should be involved in Europe-US free trade talks’

The Customs Union for Turkey is not always an advantage in a lot of different aspects, Ilkem Şahin (R) tells the Daily News. ‘We are already hurt because of the Customs Union,’ he says. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

İlkem Şahin, the businessman who headed Obama’s election campaign among Americans living in Turkey, believes Turkey needs to be involved in US-EU trade talks and make the most of a fortunate period in Turkish ties with the US. A trade agreement between the US and EU would negatively affect the Turkish economy, he says

U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have chemistry, businessman İlker Şahin has said. “We are at a very lucky period in Turkish-US relations; we need to build upon it,” he added. A Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and U.S. would have negative effects on the Turkish economy so Ankara needs to be involved in the free trade talks, he added. “I don’t think the U.S. will leave Turkey out on a deal like this since we will be negatively affected.”

How do you see the relationship between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Obama?

It is very positive. I think there is chemistry between the two. Both are very strong characters and they are both heading two very important countries at the right time. They understand each other; Obama knows the sensitivities in this region, whereas the prime minister has been dealing with world leaders for a decade; he knows how they can act.

How do you think relations have developed under the Obama administration?

They have developed in an incredibly positive way. Most of the ministers that Obama has appointed are people that have been to Turkey, that know Turkey and the region well, like [Defense Secretary] Chuck Hagel, [Secretary of State] John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank – she knows the importance of our trade volume. We are at a very lucky period in our relations and we need to build up upon it.

How do you think Obama views Turkey?

Obama knows exactly where Turkey stands; Turkey is pretty much at the center of what has been happening around the region. Obama realizes that a very strong government and governance in the region is very much needed. So, Turkey is a key country and a key ally for Obama.
That’s why we need peace and harmony. That’s why we are going through this stage with the Kurdish people.

How do you think Washington is looking at the peace process?

I think they are very happy with it. These days, wars and fighting don’t benefit anybody.

Would that suit the U.S.’ interests?

I don’t see why not. A stable Turkey, with a good economy and as a role model, is very needed in the region.

How do you think the reconciliation process between Turkey and Israel will affect Turkey’s relations with Washington?

Problems with the region will benefit neither us nor anybody else. I think the U.S. would be happy if we don’t have problems with Israel. But let’s also not forget that Turkey is not the Turkey of 10 years ago. Problems with Israel can surely affect Turkey’s relations with Washington; everybody says that, right? Turkey now has direct access to a lot people. There are many Turkish-Americans living abroad. At the end of the day, we have our own lobbies now in the U.S. – we are working very actively. We had Turkish-Americans working for the Obama campaign. So we have some presence there.

You said we need to build on relations. How can this be done?

We are trying to improve our trade, first of all. There will be talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which will essentially establish free trade between the European Union and the U.S. As Turkey, we would like to somehow be involved in these talks.
As we have the Customs Union with the EU, [the TTIP] will have a negative effect [if it is signed] since our exports to the U.S. will decline. As TÜSİAD [Turkish Industry and Business Association], our board has announced these issues to be a priority topic for 2013-14.
We formed the task force which I am chairing. We will hopefully be working with the Economy Ministry, and we will be analyzing the economic results, as well as what’s going to happen if we are involved or what happens if we don’t get involved ourselves in the TTIP. We will be working for a year trying to get the results and we will publish them at events in Brussels and [Washington].

It seems the EU has urged the U.S. to make a separate agreement with Turkey. That’s how I understand how the EU wants to solve the problem.

Yes and no. The EU is not negative about Turkey getting involved in talks with the U.S. We are assuming that there won’t be a negative stance from the U.S. side either. If we talk about logic, I don’t think the U.S. will leave Turkey out on a deal like this since we will be negatively affected.
The Customs Union for Turkey is not always an advantage in a lot of different aspects. We are already hurt because of the Customs Union. More damage like keeping Turkey outside of the TTIP will have a very bad effect on us. At any rate, I don’t think our government will accept any of these terms anyhow. We will have to be somehow involved.

In previous interviews, you said the Obama administration has delivered on the policy of increasing cooperation on areas other than the political and military sphere. Can you elaborate?

Our trade has tripled. The way American businessmen are looking to Turkey is totally different. Obama came to Turkey for his first foreign trip in his first term and this was a show of trust. Every month we have a delegation from the U.S.

So you are saying that trade improved because there is a political will.

[There is the] political will, but in addition, there is a greater awareness of Turkey’s importance: It is a good consumer market, and it presents lucrative business [opportunities]. U.S. investments are improving as well.
Of course, our business environment is changing; Turkey is becoming a more transparent and predictable market. Turkish investors are also looking at what they can do in the U.S.
There are 30 to 40 businesspeople going to the U.S. with Erdoğan.


İlkem Şahin, a campaign manager for U.S. President Barack Obama among U.S. citizens in Turkey, is also responsible for the construction of the first solar power plant in Turkey.

“When I moved from the United States to Turkey, I wanted to do something different than what my family does and chose energy, focusing on the renewable side of it,” he said. “Renewable energy is something I really believe in.”

Turkey has huge potential in renewables, according to Şahin.

“I was concentrating not only on producing electricity but on whether I could be able to build the technology for wind and solar power plants. I built the first solar power plant that was locally made in Turkey in Istanbul. It is operating now. Now, I have built the second one in Tarsus,” he said.

Solar energy is key to Turkey’s future, according to Şahin. “The government has given us a lot of incentives to be able to produce electricity from solar energy. If we can have a technology that is financeable enough, we will be seeing a lot of solar plants in Turkey,” he said.

Yet solar energy is not enough for Turkey’s energy needs, said Şahin.

“It does not matter how much solar energy we have, we need base energy. Solar energy can never be an essential provider of energy,” he said, adding that nuclear energy could thus be part of the solution.

Who is İlkem Şahin

Born in 1976 in Turkey, İlkem Şahin got his undergraduate degree from the University of Houston in finance and economics (double major), and holds an MBA with a focus in finance from the University of St. Thomas, in the U.S.

Şahin has taken over his family’s business interests in Turkey, which include operations in various sectors including textiles, information technology, energy, construction, tourism and agriculture covering the geographical area of Turkey, Europe, the Americas, the Far East and North Africa.

In addition to his business interests, Şahin sits on a number of boards and councils focused on international trade and finance. He is a member of TÜSIAD, founder of the Turkish-American Platform, member of the Turkish-German Business Council, member of the Foreign Economic Relations Board, and member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

He was chosen to head U.S. President Barack Obama’s last campaign among Americans living in Turkey.