Turkey’s business resilience offers Irish opportunity

Fostering nascent trading relations with the gateway to the East is important, writes John Whelan.
Turkey’s business resilience offers Irish opportunity

If you visit Enterprise Ireland’s office in Istanbul you may find a change of address has been hastily placed on the landmark twin towers office and luxury hotel block known as Trump Towers, which dominates the Sisli district of Istanbul.

Outraged over Donald Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the immediate removal of the Trump name.

Back in 2012, when the Trump Towers Istanbul were first opened, one of the early tenants was Enterprise Ireland.

The same year ESB International (ESBI) officially opened an office in Turkey located in Ankara, to provide engineering consultancy services.

The following year, I was on the trade mission to Turkey led by Eamon Gilmore, the then Tánaiste and minister for foreign affairs and trade.

A centrepiece of the trade mission was the signing of a bilateral trade promotion agreement between the Irish Exporters Association, which I was then heading, and Turkey’s Export Assembly.

This focus on Turkey did pay dividends — exports rose 33% over the three years to 2015.

Economic growth was the third highest of the G20 countries in this period, despite the influx of nearly 3 million refugees, the slump in the value of the Turkish lira against the euro and the dollar, and the impact of the sanctions on its largest trading partner Russia.

Irish agri-exporters are obviously not put off trading with Turkey.

There was great interest in the contract to supply 30,000 live cattle opened recently by the Turkish agricultural agency.

This was a positive development, said the Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy.

Turkey is a crucial player in the region offering €600m in export sales to Irish merchandise and half this again for services exporters such as the ESBI.

For those familiar with the market, the capacity of the Turkish economy to withstand potentially destabilising external shocks will come as no surprise.

For at least three decades the country has been simultaneously beset by a bewildering melange of threats and opportunities, arising chiefly from its geographical location between Asia and Europe.

This ability to remain commercially viable despite the political shocks is partly due to the business structure and partly due to the savvy policymakers.

There was illustrated by a populist 30% hike in the minimum wage in late 2015, benefiting more than 8 million workers.

Turkey’s corporate landscape is dominated by large family conglomerates that operate in multiple sectors. Koc Holdings, one of the largest firms in the country, is an example.

It has interests in automotive, durable goods, food, banking, tourism, construction and defence. Hoc, whose revenues amounted to 9% of Turkish GDP in 2012, remains largely in the hands of the families who own it.

The opportunity to trade with these powerhouses has drawn plenty of interest as they offer a buffer against the political instability.

As president Erdogan manages the aftermath of the failed military coup, with mass detentions, sackings and suspensions sweeping across the country, many question what effect the political instability will have on Turkey’s economy. Markets have begun to shrug off the impact.

There was a broad-based rebound in Turkish markets, which sold off heavily in the days following the failed coup. Alongside the rising lira, Turkish stocks rallied.

We need it to remain a strategic commercial partner and assist it in its route to joining the EU.

Its role in resolving the Syrian crisis cannot be underestimated.

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