As one of the top three producers of natural stones in the world, Turkey has high hopes for this niche industry, which is expected to contribute $23 billion of exports by 2023. IMIB President Ali Kahyaoglu explains why he believes natural stones are more important than oil and gas to Turkey’s future.
Turkey has been one of the success stories of the global economy for much of this century. What has been the contribution of the stones and minerals sector to this success, and how do you expect your industry to contribute to the future economic development of the country?
Between 2011 and 2014, Turkish exports increased by 4.4 times, whilst exports in minerals increased by 7.7 times. This means that the Turkish mineral industry has been growing more than the general exports of Turkey.
We have 81 provinces and almost all of them have mineral areas. We think that minerals could be more important than petroleum by the next century.
Everyone says that petroleum will be depleted soon, although these discussions have been continuing for 40 or 50 years. I’m now 60-years-old, and I’m sure that the end of petroleum is on the horizon.
People will have to find a new way to source energy, like rock gas, boron – these can be other sources of energy. Turkey has rich mineral resources so we think that Turkey will have a mineral future.
I am old, but you will probably see this change happen, God willing.
When we talk about natural stones and minerals we need to look at our background. Maybe some people have negative perceptions about minerals in terms of the environment.
It should be noted that we cannot protect the environment if there are no trees in the world. If people cannot find petroleum or coal, they will burn the trees to get heat, so minerals are important as an alternative energy source and must be extracted.
Our lives depend on minerals. All the technology we use, from smartphones to cars, requires minerals. People don’t like to extract because of damage to the environment and water pollution, but there should be a balance between what people are doing and what people should be doing.
In terms of the Turkish economy in general, I can say that Turkey will be the one of most important economies in the world in the near future if we have political stability.
Turkey is actually a rich country surrounded by sea and you can experience all four seasons here. There are some security problems in the east of Turkey, where there are actually some very good natural resources.
We can all profit and benefit if the peace process can be completed.
Like all sectors, the natural stones sector was affected by the financial crisis starting in 2008. What impact did it have on your export markets, and are you now seeing a recovery in your traditional European markets?
When you look at the process from 2002-2014, only in 2008 and 2014 did we have a decrease in our exports.
You know Turkey has a target of $500 billion of exports by 2023 and I have said that our sector can contribute $23 billion to this. Across the world, natural stone imports are $20 billion.
Turkey currently has $4.67 billion of mineral exports, and $2.2 billion of natural stone exports, almost 10% of the world market. But Turkey has almost 35% of the potential world market.
We can benefit from funds provided by the Ministry of Economy. Face to face marketing also is important. Turkish people, especially multilingual, educated ones who are working or studying abroad, have a role to play in this.
Turkish exporters need to go out and tell the world about the quality and potential of our products.
When we talk about your international reputation, Turkey’s biggest competitors in natural stones are Italy, China, India, and Spain. How do Turkish stones stand out from those competitors, and how are your stones perceived in your major export markets?
Turkey is a rich country in terms of natural stones, but not in marketing terms. Now Turkey is the biggest country selling exports to China, but often our stones are finished elsewhere and people don’t realize they originated in Turkey.
I went to Morocco and I found Turkish stones labeled ‘Made in Spain’. That makes me angry. This summarizes the case, actually. Of course, Spain can take natural stones as a block from us.
We cannot do anything about this. But we are questioning why we cannot sell this finished product to Morocco.
What is the problem exactly? That Turkey is not selling the end product, that you’re just selling the raw material?
We can make the same product here but we cannot sell it because of the marketing problems we talked about before.
Of course this doesn’t mean that we wish to restrict trade with these countries, but they have more trading experience than us. We have the materials but we don’t have marketing success.
We want to improve this.
This is part of the idea behind the ‘Discover the Potential’ campaign: promoting the quality of the Turkish brand…
Yes, we must be much more proactive in promoting our own national brand and the beauty and quality of Turkish stones.
To wrap up the interview, I wanted to ask a more personal question. You are clearly very passionate about your work, and you are very passionate about your country. What is your grand ambition for the Turkish stones sector?
God is a master artist. If Picasso still lived he wouldn’t be able to design our natural stones. I love natural stones. Natural stones are not a material that you walk on. I view natural stones as art.
Like flowers, they are natural art. When you get married and buy a house in England or America, I want your house to be made from natural stones from Turkey.
I want Turkish stones to become one of the most important construction materials in the world. And me, what are my personal ambitions? I want to become a raindrop kissed by God. Just one raindrop [laughs].