The textile and ready-made clothing sector is one of Turkey’s locomotive industries. Of the approximately 43,000 companies that are operating in the sector, 25% of them are active exporters. Of Turkey’s 500 largest manufacturing establishments, 20% of them are active in the textile and ready-made clothing sector. It is estimated that total investments made in Turkey’s textile and ready-made clothing sector have surpassed $150 billion. We asked Halit Narin, President of the International Textile Manufacturer’s Association and chairman of the board of the Turkish Textile Employers Association, about the effects of the global economic crisis and the strategies that the Turkish textile sector is following.
After a long time as chairman of the board of the Turkish Textile Employers Association, you were chosen to also serve as president of the world textile sector’s top organization, the ITMF (International Textile Manufacturer’s Federation) for a two-year period starting in October. Can you give us some information about the ITMF and your projects?
The International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) is the top organization in the international textile sector. With the research it carries out, its studies, publications, and the conferences it organizes, it is constantly providing its members with a stream of information about developments in the textile sector, and as a result, it plays a leading role in defining the macro strategies of the sector.
Of course my first goal as president of the ITMF is to be present for every type of undertaking on all platforms directed towards developments in the world textile sector, and in this context to carry ITMF’s activities even further. Since the first day of my presidency, my colleagues have been working very intensely, and in the upcoming period, though visits and reciprocal meetings that we will carry out, we will give shape to our strategies in this field.
When we examine trends from the past until now, in the textile and ready-made clothing sector as in many other areas, it appears that production is gradually shifting from developed countries to less developed and developing countries. As president of the ITMF, how do you evaluate this trend in this context?
Of course now in this globalizing world economy, as production criteria like costs, logistics, raw materials, and qualified manpower are evaluated, production has shifted to the most suitable regions in its own particular progression. But I find it useful to underline that the contribution of developed countries to the textile and ready-made clothing market should still not be underestimated. When one looks at existing technologies and investments in R&D, there should be no doubt that in the future, as today, innovative technology-focused products and developed countries will continue to be authoritative in this sector. Today the textiles and ready-made clothing sector, by following every type of scientific development, first and foremost nanotechnology, is working on adapting these advances to the sector. To think the opposite, that textiles are going to completely shift to less developed countries, would be naïve, since high-tech textile products today are intensively used in many areas, including space technology.
As for our largest concern here, it is the issue of fair trade. Today the markets of many developed and developing countries are forced to compete with textile products and ready-made clothing that have been supported with incentives contrary to the rules of the World Trade Organization and not produced according to appropriate standards, or not following any standards. One of the most important points is that whether it be on the part of the consumer or the producer, we need to take a stronger role against this type of wrongdoing.
How will the world textile sector be affected by the latest global crisis? In this context, what is the biggest difficulty that the Turkish textile sector is expected to face domestically and abroad?
The dimensions of the global crisis currently underway have not yet been clearly established. I believe the biggest danger seems to be its indefiniteness. But I believe that after measures taken by many of the world’s countries and with the monetary support given to the markets, after a certain period everything will get back on track. Of course in the short term, as a result of consumption slowing down and world markets shrinking, many producers will fall on hard times and this will cause some consolidations and liquidations in the sector. At this point it’s natural that the Turkish textile and ready-made clothing sector will experience its share of the crisis, but by completing sectoral transformations and moving from producing basic products to higher value products, Turkey will be one of the countries that will experience the least loss during this crisis. My recommendation to my own friends is that we concentrate on the flexible production model Turkey has had from the past until now and make products focused on the customer, whether it be through the market or product diversity.
The U.S. has NGOs that closely follow working conditions in textile factories to monitor whether they are in accordance with human rights. As a Turkish textile employer, what would you like to say to American consumers and to NGOs following these types of businesses about working conditions and opportunities in Turkey?
Of course this situation is a topic that Turkey takes very seriously. The Turkish textile and ready-made clothing industry has brought workers and employers side by side to the present situation. The types of practices that are in violation of human rights are almost nonexistent in Turkey, unlike many places around the world. I’d like to say that through the framework of years of experience as a union, we ensure that all of our businesses give their workers every type of social security and more. Any kinds of practices that are in violation of the mandated human rights regulations must be fought against in the strongest possible way. In this context, NGOs should carry out more effective studies related to the raising of awareness during the procurement process of all types of products and those companies buying products for their own needs must be more sensitive regarding issues of human rights and child labor when choosing companies with which to work.
In the recent American election, one of the topics most frequently mentioned by both presidential candidates was that efforts should be made to bring back to the U.S. the textile and ready-made clothing production that has moved abroad. In this sense, how much of Turkey’s production has shifted abroad? As an association of employers, do you see investment abroad by businesspeople in the Turkish textile sector as a loss?
This is a very interesting topic. Of course every country would like its national companies to be authoritative on all points, and with that aim, to evaluate every type of enterprise opportunity without having restrictions as to place. But here an important point, also expressed by American presidents, is to not forget one’s own people and workers. Although Turkey has a young, dynamic, and educated population, around 10% of it has to struggle with unemployment. From the perspective of our country, one of the most important issues is to provide work opportunities for our own people. Turkey has a need for work provided by the textile and ready-made clothing sector. For now we can’t ignore the fact that nearly 3 million people are employed by this sector. Without providing jobs for our own people, it will be impossible for the country to develop as a whole. In this light, I don’t look at all warmly on factories that close down so that investments can be made in other regions.
Every day we see more Turkish textile companies in the U.S. These are mostly in the position of representing companies that are producers in Turkey. But we don’t often see enterprises on the investor level. It’s not possible to see Turkish textile-makers as investors in the U.S. given the current economic conditions, but how about in the future? Whether this is impossible or a difficult possibility, would the biggest obstacle here be the cost factor?
In its own land, Turkey is one of America’s most important allies. On a number of issues, strategic alliances on common points are under consideration. But up to now, the subject of bringing partnerships in the military field into the economic field has not been advanced far enough. For now, besides cost factors, the reason that Turkish textile companies are not taking enough of a share in the American market is American leaders’ insufficient interest in, and support for, Turkish investors. For example, an agreement like the U.S.’s favored trade agreements (QIZ) with countries like Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel, from our perspective offers great importance. American leaders should never forget that the Turkey founded by Atatürk, with its history of more than 80 years as a republic and nearly 600 years of experience as a state, is in the position of being America’s only real ally in the region. In the eyes of the world the two societies share strong similarities and as the world takes shape in the future the importance of this will become much more apparent.
What are your thoughts on EU-Turkey relations? Is the problem really one-sided? Or are there mistakes on both sides? If Turkey loses its prospective member status, won’t the economic, political, and social price be heavy?
This is the wrong time for this incident to be considered. Certainly both sides are in the wrong on some points. But we are moreover a country that is making an effort to be a member. By persuading those against us of our efforts, we must work towards propelling them onto a better path. Our duty is to meet Western civilization face to face and take our place in Western civilization, on the path given to us by Atatürk. In this way, if the EU steps back a bit we need to persuade it to come forward. It’s the wish of our whole nation to join the EU. While government politics continue like this, if as the government and as the National Assembly we have decided to join the EU, and if as a nation we are behind this decision, we should act according to our own manner of conduct rather than according to that of those against us.
But it has to be a union that is wanted on both sides. With it now being desired on only one side, we are in the position of considering whether we should abandon the EU as an alternative. Because in respect to the final outcome, it’s like love, and can’t be one-sided. Today’s EU is not approaching us with the mentality that it doesn’t want us. It’s approaching us with the mentality of “maybe in the long term we’ll take them.” What we need to do is explain to Europe, by getting support from people like former German prime minister Gerhard Schröder and former British prime minister Tony Blair, that this is the wrong mentality. We need to explain to the EU that we want to be a full member.
If the EU says that it won’t take us, Turkey always has alternatives. Turkey could remain alone; Turkey could integrate with Russia; Turkey, Russia, and the Turkic states could enter an integration; Turkey could form an even larger integration that would also take in the Arab countries. Turkey’s shining star is its dynamic population and the fact that its view of the future is never behind Europe but ahead of it. If the EU comes out unequivocally against Turkey’s membership, Turkey always can find alternatives, because Europe is no longer the center of the world. The center of the world now comes from China, from Russia. The Turkic states there, and Arab countries, as well as Iran, are another big potential and if we find ourselves forced to be part of this potential I believe Turkey could redraw its politics. Turkey will never lose by separating from Europe.
I read a book by Justin McCarthy that was distributed by your union as a gift. Aside from the issues of your textile employers, can you talk about your social activities?
Social responsibility projects are an important area of activity for our union. It is in this context that we are carrying out the printing and distribution of hundreds of books, like Justin McCarthy’s book. In light of this I’d like to point out that our greatest support is for the field of education. For example, we have a project of informatics classes which we have done in 2000 schools throughout Turkey at a total cost of $50 million; the Professional Technical Education Centers that we have built in three separate provinces at a cost of $10 million each form another good example. We are an institution that believes from the bottom of our hearts in the importance of education and we are providing every type of financial and moral support that we can on this point.