Ankara: Obama’s policy towards Turkey trickled down to economic sectors



Selim Yenel
This is the first time that Turkish officials observed firsthand how a leader’s decision and will is being implemented at lower levels, a senior Turkish diplomat has stated, in regards to US President Barack Obama’s will for improving economic and commercial cooperation between the United States and Turkey and referring to a joint meeting held in Washington last month.
“As a matter of fact, the will for implementing the leader’s decision was reflected at a level of people who are the key figures that will carry out actions for making this decision real. Not only the level of participation, but the high number of participants matter at these kinds of meetings and there was great interest from various levels of society. In that regard, we have really been very pleased and left the meeting with an optimistic mood. I can say that I saw such a thing for the first time after a very long time. I’m hopeful,” Ambassador Selim Yenel, the deputy undersecretary in charge of the Americas and public diplomacy since July 2009, said in an interview with Today’s Zaman.

‘This is the first time we have observed how a leader’s decision is being implemented at lower levels,’ says Ambassador Yenel referring to the sixth meeting of the US-Turkey Economic Partnership Commission, stressing that he clearly saw the ‘trickle-down effect’ of Obama’s approach spread among the economical and commercial sectors of the US

Yenel was speaking at the sixth meeting of the US-Turkey Economic Partnership Commission (EPC), which was held on March 3 in Washington. Yenel led the Turkish delegation, while the US delegation was led by Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Jose W. Fernandez.

US participation included the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Agriculture, and Energy, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the US Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank of the United States. The sixth meeting of the EPC focused on exploring opportunities for further economic and commercial cooperation between the United States and Turkey. Being a key component of the shared goal of Ankara and Washington of strengthening bilateral economic partnership, the EPC builds on the work of the US-Turkey Framework for Strategic and Economic and Commercial Cooperation held in October 2010. Prior to the meeting, the US and Turkish delegations met with private sector representatives to discuss promising areas for joint trade and investment.

“If the humanist tone of the Obama administration’s style can have a ‘trickle-down effect’ to a certain extent among the American public, if the new administration’s flavor spreads throughout, then a very different era will begin,” a senior diplomat told Today’s Zaman at the time just after Obama’s landmark visit to Turkey in April 2009.

The same diplomat stressed at the time that one has to wait to see the eventual effect of the coming internal tension in the United States — a superpower with a complex state mechanism and a free-market economy — on the Obama administration’s new style in order to be able to develop an accurate prognosis about the course of affairs in bilateral ties between Turkey and the United States. “This is the first time we observed how a leader’s decision is being implemented at lower levels,” Yenel told Today’s Zaman, referring to the meeting in Washington and saying he clearly saw the “trickle-down effect” had spread among economical and commercial sectors in the US.

Good but not good enough

“We have difficulties in our relationship and we are trying to overcome these difficulties and seek new fields of cooperation,” Yenel said, recalling that Turkey is one of the few nations that have a trade deficit with the US as it imported $7.1 billion worth of US goods, while exporting only $3.66 billion to the world’s largest economy, although Turkey’s trade with third countries has expanded remarkably in the last few years.

Turkey and the US are in a bid to balance this situation through various mechanisms and through various new methods, and one of them is a new joint business council. The US has already named the co-chair of this council, while Turkey is yet to determine the name so that the two co-chairs will directly get in contact. “Problems are particularly serious in the agriculture sector; for example, Turkish pomegranate and fig producers are facing difficulty in selling their products to the US market. Officials are trying to overcome these problems stemming from certain conditions,” Yenel explained, while elaborating on what the two sides discussed at the March 3 meeting.

“The second big problem: the generalized system of preferences in the US, this is approved annually by the US House. It has still not been approved this year, thus Turkish producers have to pay high taxes,” Yenel said, referring to the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for up to 4,800 products from 129 designated beneficiary countries and territories. The GSP was instituted on Jan. 1, 1976, by the Trade Act of 1974. Congressional authorization of the GSP program expired on Dec. 31, 2010. As of late March 2011, Congress had not reauthorized the program.

“Turkish producers receive this payback taxes, but this situation poses great difficulty for small and medium-sized companies. This eventually leads to a shortcoming in fulfilling their export capacity,” Yenel said.

“As from the point of view of the US side, there are two main problems in entering the Turkish market, first is some conditions set by the Health Ministry concerning the import of generic products in the medicine industry. We are trying to overcome this problem via coordinated efforts with the Health Ministry,” he said, however, admitting that this is not a problem which can be solved in short-run.

“Second, genetically modified products, the US is not comfortable with some of our guidelines and regulations on this issue because they consider these guidelines and regulations ‘non-tariff obstacles.’ Actually, they are not and we explained this to the US side,” he added.

Energy cooperation in third countries on horizon

During the second part of the March 3 meeting, the two sides focused on sectors that have potential success for bilateral cooperation, Yenel explained, noting that the most important of these sectors is energy with promotion of renewable energy in Turkey being a significant aspect.

The Near-Zero Zone project, a demonstration project for industrial energy efficiency in Turkey being implemented by the US Department of Energy, marked the session. The Near-Zero Zone project is a one-of-a-kind demonstration project that pairs approximately 20 companies in the Atatürk Organized Industrial Zone (IAOSB) in the Aegean city of ?zmir with the technical resources and expertise needed to achieve significant energy savings.

“The American side is very excited about this project which they call ‘a very successful pilot project.’ They want to launch similar projects in other parts of Turkey if the pilot project finally succeeds and they also want to launch it in third countries in this case. Thus, this is a new experience for the United States, too. That is to say, the project offers a huge opportunity for cooperation in third countries, both in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Yenel told Today’s Zaman.

“The project is executed in coordination with other US government agencies and with the support of the Turkish government. Through a series of cost-effective energy efficiency investments, participating companies will illustrate how energy efficiency can make industry more profitable, reduce dependence on energy imports, bolster energy security, and cut carbon emissions. This project promises to serve as a model for industrial energy efficiency in Turkey and beyond,” US officials, meanwhile, said.

?stanbul, ?stanbul

Helping ?stanbul fulfill its role as a European and global financial center was another key point at the meeting, Yenel said, quoting the question raised by US officials as, “?stanbul is already a center in regional terms, but what can we do for it to become a center in global terms?”

Turkey’s State Planning Organization (DPT) made a very detailed presentation on this issue, which shows both the advantages and disadvantages of ?stanbul when compared to, for example, successful finance center London, he explained. The high cost of a broadband Internet connection in the city and the cumbersome justice system are two disadvantages in ?stanbul that discourage US investors. These are not significant problems for big companies, but the inefficiency of the justice system in particular means a lot for small and medium-sized companies since they don’t have a big enough budget to refer their problems to their law offices.

“Although they clearly addressed the problems, they were very constructive. We have observed a serious will not only by the State Department, but also by the other departments such as the Department of Agriculture. I saw that they consider Turkey an important commercial partner, and this was not seen only by me, but also by our other friends in the delegation. They consider Turkey as such and as a rising power, thus having a potential opportunity. Of course, we need to take some initiatives which is not always something easy to do because of the bureaucratic tendencies. I also saw that Turkey is one of the few countries on which US has its focus. Having seen this will, we will do our best to respond to this will via positive steps that will pave the way. We did this with many other countries and increased our trade volume, why should we not be able to do the same with the US?” Yenel said, underlining that the Turkish side has made a “check list” or a “to-do-list,” in order to get prepared for the next meeting of the EPC, which will be held in Turkey in the second half of this year.

“We want to continue this momentum, thus we will be sensitive to fulfilling the necessities of this check list and closely follow, in particular, the steps to be taken at the bureaucratic level,” Yenel said.

‘EU’s negotiating approach not as constructive as that of US’

As a senior diplomat heavily involved in relations between Turkey and the European Union during critical periods and serving as the deputy undersecretary in charge of the Americas and public diplomacy since July 2009, Ambassador Selim Yenel has the ability to make a direct comparison between Brussels’ and Washington’s approach to negotiations.

“During various negotiations, the EU takes note of what you have done or succeeded in without making any comment and then starts talking about the lacking points. However, as for the Americans, they first start talking about things that you have managed to carry out, even if these things are about tiny points, which are not so significant. Thus, they start with encouraging you via praising your efforts. And they go on as saying, ‘Yet, there are some lacking points and let’s do it together this or that way’,” Yenel explained during an interview with Today’s Zaman.

“Thus, we can say that Americans have a more encouraging and positive approach. We have observed this particularly recently,” Yenel said in an apparent reference to recent contact between Ankara and Washington within the framework of the new initiatives to expand commercial engagement between the two countries. A new opinion survey released last month in Washington has already shown that American leaders and the American public are more likely to have a favorable view of Turkey than Europeans, when Today’s Zaman’s interview was held with Yenel.

According to the first “Transatlantic Trends: Leaders survey of leaders in the European Union and the United States,” Turkey’s place in the world caused divisions both between Europe and the United States as well as within Europe, with American leaders and their public being generally more favorably disposed toward Turkey than were Europeans. “One should not forget that the general trend in Turkey-EU relations is marked by ups and downs for five decades. Today’s situation does not represent an exception. We have been living through a down period, but this is not to say that it will not go up eventually,” he added.

“Remember, we experienced a huge trauma in relations back in 1997. Yet, in 1999, relations were healed because in the meantime the EU had changed,” Yenel elaborated, referring to the Luxembourg summit of EU in 1997 when Eastern European countries got on the membership train, while the EU intended to leave Turkey on the envisioned platform at the “European Conference.”

At the Helsinki summit of the EU in December 1999, Turkey was given EU candidate country status. “They have been in trouble, but they will overcome them. They have always managed to overcome similar problems in the past, too,” Yenel responded when reminded of the various political crisis faced by the EU regardless of its relations with Turkey.

“I can’t know that. That’s for them to find the way,” Yenel said, when asked how the EU would manage this. “There are some analysts suggesting that the EU will collapse, I definitely don’t believe such a thing. These troubles will render the EU stronger. As a general trend, they go one step further and then one step backwards. But in the very end, they manage to get back to the heart of the issue and draw a lesson from these kinds of experiences,” Yenel, however, added.

“One should not write the EU off so easily. We have been experiencing difficulties in our relations. Relations should not break off even if they are extremely strained due to a political conjuncture,” Yenel said. Ankara Today’s Zaman

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