"The Biggest Obstacle in Front of Even Closer Relations is the Lack of Information"

Murat Yalcintas.

The Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, with its 127-year history and its consequent experience, is the oldest and biggest non-governmental organization in Turkey. It is also one of the most outstanding chambers of commerce in the world. Murat Yalçıntaş (along with his team) has been re-elected president of the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO), having received 133 out of 243 votes in an election held last February. 
Yalcintas will continue on in the chamber's top position for a second term. Yalcintas answered TURKOFAMERICA’s questions about his plans for his second term.

You have been re-elected president of the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce. What was your concentration in your previous term?
At the Chamber elections held in February our members brought us to power once again, which flattered us deeply. It was an honor for us.  During our previous term, we concentrated on the principle tasks of increasing our service quality in our member-focused activities. At the same time, we made efforts to increase the volume of trade and overcome the difficulties confronting this.
We will certainly continue this way in this second term, as well. Member-focused activities will be definitely at the center of our work program, again.
Our projects directly related to our members include an e-ITO carrying all of our transactions into the electronic medium, a Green ITO addressing energy efficiency especially in industry, and a Start Exporting Program aiming at training SME’s for preparing them for international markets.  This last has currently been selected as a finalist for the “Best International Project Award” at the World Chamber Congress.

What will be your priority in the next term? What is your plan for international business relations?
We carry out numerous tasks for our members so that they become involved in global trade more and develop their competitiveness in foreign markets.  On top of these comes the organization of Turkey’s presence in international fairs on which we put a great emphasis with regard to both quality and quantity.  
Additionally, we try to play an active role in international commercial and economic platforms. ASCAME (Association of Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce and Industry), representing more than 200 chambers from 22 countries around the Mediterranean Basin, has the priority among these platforms. Our Chamber, running its Presidency since 2007, plays an important role for ASCAME to become an active actor in its region and to increase its effectiveness, especially in the European Union. Recently we have started to work on improving relations with the USA, for which we are planning a business visit to Washington.
We put a great importance on the American market. We aim at improving bilateral relations with the “Expand Your Exports to the USA” Program we started in 2007 and the USA Communication Campaign we are planning to conduct in the fall of 2009.

In the first time in American history, the President of the U.S. visited Turkey in his first 100 days. What do you think about Turkish-U.S. business relations in this new period?
With his meaningful visit, President Obama not just increased the bilateral relations to the top level, but also gained full sympathy from our society. As many specialists assessing this visit have expressed, our impression is that the relations between our countries have been carried to a new dimension, too.  The first definition used to define our affairs used to be “strategic partnership”, which referred to a limited scope. However, the definition made by President Obama refers to a much broader area, implying that our countries understand each other much better now and will cooperate in many other aspects from now on. We hope and expect that our cooperation, which was mainly based on military and defense areas, will extend to trade of consumer goods, service and bilateral investment.
Another positive and concrete consequence of Obama’s visit has been the re-consideration of qualified industrial zones by the government. The business circles welcomed the fact that this project, which is expected to increase our exports to the US by another billion dollars, was put on the agenda again, after 10 years of being frozen.

What is the biggest obstacle confronting Turkish-American business relations?
The direct investment flow from the USA to Turkey has been 900 million USD. Our trade volume has been 16 billion USD with 12 billion in imports and 4 billion in exports.  However, the Turkish business community wants to take a bigger share from the opportunities of the US market, which is still the biggest economy of the world despite the recent crisis.
We believe that the biggest obstacle in front of even closer relations is the lack of information about opportunities provided by the markets mutually.  The USA is seen as a distant and difficult market by the Turkish business people who are mainly focused on the European market. Furthermore, textiles and apparels industries in particular, which have a proven world-wide quality, find it difficult to enter the American market because of the quotas, tariffs, and similar restricting regulations. Similarly, the American business people do not have sufficient knowledge about Turkey’s promising opportunities and the logistical advantages it offers for reaching neighboring markets.

You had “Expand Your Exports to the USA” Project with USCHAMBERS. What did you achieve with that project?
The “Expand Your Exports to the USA” Project, initiated with USCHAMBERS and implemented with the MWW Group is a project we are proud to present in numerous platforms.   Our aim with the project is to overcome problems arising from lack of information and to foster bilateral trade relations by establishing a bridge of information between Turkey and the United States. The first phase of the project took place in Istanbul, where American experts trained Turkish SME’s on topics such as the US market, marketing, legal transactions, taxes, customs, logistics and distribution channels, and trade fairs in selected sectors of processed food, natural stone, and furniture.  
As a second phase, we targeted American businessmen with the aim of informing them about the trade and investment opportunities in our country. We organized “Doing Business in Turkey” seminars in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Mobile and Los Angeles, in which Turkish experts and representatives from Turkish companies informed businessmen about the Turkish market, thereby promoting our country and giving American businessmen a chance to ask questions about the risks and opportunities in the Turkish market.
For the final phase of our project, we have put “www.us-istanbul.com” at the disposal of Turkish and American businesses.  This portal provides relevant information such as economic data for the two countries, potential sectors, customs regulations, free zones, investment incentives, banking regulations, etc.
Murat Yalcintas, President of Istanbul Chamber of Commerce.

Which industries do you suggest to American investors who are eager to invest in Istanbul?
In fact, Istanbul and New York may not be comparable in terms of regional disparities. Istanbul is a city that already grew beyond its borders in terms of both residential and industrial and commercial activities. Therefore, tailor-made strategies are being developed to preserve its historical texture against this uncontrolled expansion. As part of this strategy, Istanbul is promoted as the center of culture, fashion, trade, finance, and tourism. Therefore, relocation of centers of manufacturing and logistics such as factories, terminals, or ports to suburbs is on the agenda. This solution will not only ease life in the city for dwellers and visitors, but also ensure that the manufacturers and traders will get more appropriate services in these new campuses, especially in logistics and transportation.
Likewise, the formation of “clusters” is encouraged, which bring together the enterprises operating in the same sector so that they both compete and help each other to develop.  In this regard, our Chamber has been supporting clusters such as Giyimkent (Textiles City) and Kuyumcukent (Jewelry City).

Istanbul will host the Cultural Capital of Europe project in 2010. How will Istanbul benefit from this project in the short and long term?
The nomination of Istanbul -which we try to promote as a center of trade, finance, tourism, fashion, arts and culture- as the European Capital of Culture will naturally bring commercial profit besides the publicity opportunities. In addition to expected earnings arising from tourism and shopping, this free advertisement addressing especially the foreign business circles can be considered as another break for more income. In other words, this project is also an investment for the future of Istanbul. With the infrastructure investment made on this occasion, we will have venues with appropriate technical equipment, audience capacity, etc. to host international congresses and cultural event on a wider scale.  

In the past, the Chamber was  the leading organization behind bringing Formula 1 to Istanbul. Do you any plan for bringing another big event to Istanbul?
Another project on a similar scale after Formula 1 will be the establishment of an extensive Technopark. We want to provide the SME’s with space to come up with innovative projects in these incubation centers by bringing them together with the latest technologies. Recently, we decided on the location of these facilities and signed an advance protocol with the Undersecretary of Defense Industry.  For now, I can tell you that this center will initially focus on defense industry and communications technologies. While improving this idea, we also visited similar centers in the USA that are well ahead in this area. Therefore, we highly expect that the establishment and operation of this Technopark will pave the way to new cooperation opportunities between the two countries at various levels.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07