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Turkey rebranded: A new image for exports

Interview - May 8, 2015

Acknowledging that international perceptions of Turkey have not always been positive in recent years, TIM (Turkish Exporters’ Assembly) and the Ministry of Economy launched a new global branding campaign for Turkey under the slogan ‘Discover the Potential’ last year. TIM Chairman and B20 Executive Committee member Mehmet Büyükekşi shares his thoughts on the ethos of the campaign and the potential of Turkish produce, as the country makes strides towards its Vision 2023 target of $500 billion of exports.


This year there are ongoing conflicts in some of Turkey’s biggest markets, coupled with low oil prices and a strong dollar. What is the outlook for exports this year and how will the current state of global affairs impact Turkey’s strategic Vision 2023 targets?

We have very firm and aggressive targets for the centenary of the Turkish Republic and we know that these goals are quite ambitious, but our progress so far demonstrates our capabilities and potential.

Over the last couple of years, political events and civil conflicts in many of our main markets and neighbouring countries have had a negative effect on our export performance. I am referring especially to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the ISIS crisis in northern Iraq and northern Syria, as well as Syria's civil war in general and instability in Egypt and other Arab Spring countries. Despite all this, Turkey is steadily proceeding on its course. Although export growth has slowed a little, there is still a steady increment. The GDP of Turkey has grown at an average rate of more than 5% for the last 12 years.

We will have a general election in June 2015, after which there should be no elections for four years. This is an opportunity. It should create stability for the next four years, which will be conducive for sustainable growth. The next four years will be crucial for our 2023 targets.

Turkey has ambitious targets for boosting the value of exports to $500 billion and increasing the volume of foreign trade to $1 trillion by 2023. TIM has been assigned a critical role in achieving these targets. With exports last year totalling $158 billion, how does Turkey intend to make up this extra $350 billion over eight years, and how can we expect Turkey’s export products and markets to change over this time?

The answer is very simple: we will be making more investments in high value added products, especially in high technology intensive products to attain this goal. When we say ‘high value’, we identify four main pillars: innovation, R&D, branding and design. We are undertaking large-scale activities under each pillar; especially under the ‘innovation’ pillar. We have been organising Innovation Week activities for the last 4 years and there is massive and – and increasing – participation in these events, which attract industry professionals, chairmen, entrepreneurs, students and academics. The government is also acting on this; recently the media was talking about the Minister of Finance’s new incentives for R&D. There will be a large range of incentives for people willing to innovate.

Apart from this, we're also paying a lot of attention to ‘open innovation’. We organise a lot of design and R&D projects and competitions across many different sectors. In September 2014, together with the President of the Republic, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we presented the new Turkey logo under the slogan ‘Discover the Potential’. We are currently mobilizing and standardizing it in order to make it usable across all Turkish industrial products and touristic services, because it is not only intended for manufactured products but services as well.

This is not just logo but a message to the world. What we say is: "come here and discover Turkey's potential in order to invest and collaborate with us", because there are so many opportunities across our country.

We have a very dynamic, young, well-educated and well-trained population. If you wish to access the African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian markets, Turkey is the place to invest and set up a business. At the same time, we offer lots of opportunities for collaboration and joint ventures.

We’re also saying: "come here to discover our historical monuments, natural resources and natural beauty in Turkey." We are sure that the majority of people in the world are still unfamiliar with the beauty that Turkey offers. We are inviting them to discover all of this. Certain things cannot be explained; they should be experienced and felt, so we're inviting people to feel and experience our nation from within in order to understand what we are talking about. That's why we use the phrase: ‘Discover the Potential’.

Let me say we are focusing on many aspects. ‘Discover the Potential’ is also applicable for health tourism, for example. We have a lot of valuable elements waiting to be discovered by our foreign friends.

The EU-Turkey Customs Union is now 20 years old. There were reports recently that the union is to be modified and updated. What changes would you like to see to the customs union to boost Turkey’s exports, particularly in light of the potential threats posed by the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the USA and EU?

TIM’s position on the customs union between the EU and Turkey is in line with the government. The customs union between the EU and Turkey should be upgraded so that when the European Union signs a free trade agreement with a third party country, Turkey is automatically included in that FTA. If this happens, the TTIP will not be an issue anymore because we will have an automatic FTA with the USA under the same conditions that the EU has, and our manufacturers will have the same access to the US as EU firms.

In the case where Turkey is not automatically included in that FTA, Turkey is willing to negotiate a separate agreement with the USA. In such a scenario, Turkey will have the chance to reach a huge market while the USA will enter easily into the Turkish market.

You have been appointed to the B20 executive committee. One of the guiding principles of both the G20 and the B20 this year is inclusiveness, which has both national and international dimensions. From an international perspective, Turkey has vowed to draw LIDCs into the discussion process. Given its rapid development and ambitious trade and export targets, to what extent is Turkey a role-model for emerging economies?

As the G-20’s business arm, B-20 will be assuming a huge responsibility with the highest commitment to enhancing healthy global business policies in 2015. We pay attention to two focus areas of B20 Turkey: first, increased collaboration between G-20 and B-20, and second Turkey’s leadership role for the emerging markets. We believe that with its positively differentiating economy and aggressive goals for 2023, Turkey will be a solid role-model for the emerging economies.

How does this principle of inclusiveness relate to SMEs and why has the Turkish Presidency afforded such importance to this segment this year?

Inclusiveness has both domestic and global dimensions. At the domestic level, the benefits of growth and prosperity should be shared by all segments of society.

On the topic of inclusivity, the Turkish G20 presidency is putting forward a particular focus on creating enabling and supportive environments for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  The role of SMEs in economic growth and job creation is essential for our country. Similarly, G20 colleagues shared the view that the voice of SMEs must be taken into consideration and integrated into the work of the G20. This underscores the essential role the B20 can play in integrating SMEs into the G20 process.

At the international level, the challenges facing LIDCs (low income developing countries) will be raised more vocally by the G20. This will be one of the defining aspects of the Turkish Presidency.