Ömer Cihad Vardan was appointed President of DEIK, Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board, in September 2014 following the enactment of new legislation intended to create more harmony between the private sector and the government. He tells The Worldfolio that DEIK and Turkey remain firmly committed to the Vision 2023 targets, and argues that the EU would have recovered much more quickly from the financial crisis if Turkey had been a member.
What is the role of DEIK in helping Turkey reach its Vision 2023 trade targets of boosting exports to $500 billion and increasing the volume of foreign trade to $1 trillion?
DEIK was established in 1986, when Turkish businessmen did not know much about imports and exports. The Prime Minister at the time, who later became President, took 200-250 people on his plane to other countries to teach them what was going on outside of the country. Following this, he set up an organization that would take care of the foreign economic relations of the private sector. This was DEIK. Later, they set up business councils, recognized by the official bodies of all the countries that traded in this bilateral way with Turkey. Investments were also encouraged. We have 124 business councils today, 117 of which are regional. Five of these councils are sector-based: energy, education, economy, health tourism and logistics. The other 2 are special purposed councils. One of them is the one organizing foreign investment of Turkish entreprenuers. The last and the biggest council is the World Turkish Business Council, DTIK.
Thanks to the restructuring which happened in September 2014, all the private sector and business bodies have been drawn into one group, under DEIK, so we can speak with one voice. We are working together towards these 2023 objectives. TOBB, TIM, MÜSIAD, the Contractors Association, and others, are also working in the same direction. The Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidency have all given this duty to DEIK.
In the last decade we have succeeded in achieving very important goals, but we need to go on working hard towards the $500 billion exports target. We need technological development. Half of our population is under the age of 30. We need to create a better future for them with better jobs.
We are trying to do all we can in terms of foreign economic relations towards these objectives. Of course, every institution, every corporation, has its own objectives and programmes. In our case, we need to meet people both in Turkey and outside Turkey. If we do not meet people, how can we sell our products? It is impossible. Or how can we buy new technology from outside without knowing people? People who do not know one another cannot do anything. We work with countries all around the world, from America, Africa, and Europe. It is important that we show everybody our capabilities and potential so that we can work together.
All the people, from any country in the world, have needs, which have to be met somehow. We will continue travelling abroad and welcoming people, and we will be attending and organizing fairs, seminars, and panels.
This year Turkey is the G-20 president. One of the strategic aims of the G-20 is to help global trade growth rates recover to pre-crisis levels. What do you think other G-20 countries could learn from Turkey’s own model for growing its trade?
On the one hand, being the president of the G-20 is very important for us. Everybody is talking about this and being known by people is really important. On the other hand, Turkey earned this presidency because of what it has succeeded in doing during recent years.
In the global crisis, especially, Turkey has shown how a country can survive with logical economic management. This experience was shared, especially with EU countries. Some EU countries could not recover from the crisis because they did not make decisions together. Here, on the contrary, all the important bodies and our strong government made decisions together; we decided on one course of action and followed it. Our success has made lots of countries focus on us.
While EU membership remains a strategic goal of the Turkish government, it is clear that growth rates across the EU have paled in comparison to Turkey in recent years. What effect do you think Turkey’s membership of the EU could have on and trade and growth across the EU bloc, including Turkey itself?
I am also chairing IKV, which stands for Economic Development Foundation. This foundation was established in 1965, so this year we are celebrating its 50th anniversary. Throughout all these years we have been trying to develop reports and publications on Turkey’s integration in the European Union. Nobody thought it would take so long for Turkey to be part of the EU.
Turkey has grown a lot but maybe some people in Europe still do not understand how Turkey is important for them. For example, if Turkey had been part of the EU when the global crisis started it might have helped other countries grow as much as we have. Now Turkey is the 6th biggest economy in Europe. The EU should be asking Turkey to join them because Turkey has about 77 million people, half of whom are young, which means they like to spend and create wealth. All these young people will be a good market for them. Also, Turkey’s youth would be their youth for the future, as the average age in many European countries continues to rise.
Another point I would like to make is that if the doors are open, it does not mean everybody will jump into EU countries. The business opportunities are here! In recent years we have created 7 million jobs, whereas 5 million people in the EU have lost their jobs.
What would be the common misconceptions that people in Europe have about Turkey or the business culture here that you would like to correct?
If you do not go to other countries, you do not truly know them. As regards misconceptions, maybe sometimes there are people who think we do not have a democratic government, which is not the case. One of the technical barriers to people-to-people contact that prevents us from showing off our potential is the visa that we need to visit EU countries.
DEIK was restructured in September and you became president shortly afterwards. So, under this new system with you at the helm, could you share with us your vision for DEIK and the role you would like it to play in Turkey’s development going forward?
This was a surprise for me. I was appointed initially for a year, as a new board for four years will be elected at the end of 2015. One of the first things I would like to do is complete the restructuring of DEIK internally, according to what is needed for us to reach our Vision 2023 goals and beyond.
We have recruited many people who can speak different languages, which is very important to enable us to work with other countries. We have to monitor all the business councils. We need all the parts to focus on the goals we are trying to reach. In addition to this, there are more business councils that need to be established. We are going to do this, for instance, in Africa, where in many places we have embassies but no business councils. We now have 39 embassies in Africa and we want business councils in all these countries.
Apart from goods, we are planning on exporting services, like software, for example, so we may need a business council for the IT sector. If there is a need to set up another business council, we will do that.
At the end of this year, we are going to have general assemblies for business councils, for management and for DEIK itself. My goal is to get DEIK into a position where it is able to deal with all the private sector’s foreign economic relations under one roof, as it should be. Then, there will be elections for the new board and obviously we do not know how the new board will be shaped. I did not have a desire to be the President when I was appointed, and this will be the same for the coming period. We are here to support the new board in any case.