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Turkey plans to expand Asian presence 10 mars 2012

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Straits Times (Singapore) March 10, 2012, p. A34

By Ben Nadarajan Himaya Quasem

Country aiming for FTA with S’pore and to be Asean dialogue partner.

Turkey has traditionally looked west to Europe as its key trading partner. Now, it is casting its eyes eastwards to Singapore and other regional hubs as it seeks to expand its presence in Asia.

In a clear sign of deepening bilateral ties, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told The Straits Times that his country will be trying for a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Singapore and hopes to expand on the record trade figure between the two nations last year.

Turkey has repeatedly been denied full membership of the European Union (EU) and, as it explores new areas of growth, remains mindful of its unique position in the middle of an area where it has to straddle many regional interests. It stretches 780,000 sq km across both Europe and Asia and is also in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus, said Mr Babacan. He was on a two-day visit to Singapore where he met leaders such as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

“So we have a unique position, I must say, to have a vast variety of interests and relationships but always defending security, stability and peace, using diplomacy to solve the problems,” he said.

Turkey also shares a 970km border with Syria and has repeatedly called for a diplomatic resolution to the country’s bloody crackdown on protesters which has led to more than 7,500 civilian deaths, according to United Nations figures.

Turkey’s trade with Singapore boomed to a record $2.2 billion last year, making the Republic Turkey’s second largest export destination in the Asia-pacific region after China. While this still represents only 1 per cent of each country’s trade, Mr Babacan sees striking similarities between the two.

“Turkey and Singapore constitute important hubs in their respective regions,” he told more than 200 Singaporean and Turkish businessmen and government officials at a business forum at the Shangri-la Hotel yesterday afternoon. “Turkish and Singaporean companies can easily cooperate with each other for extending their reach to different geographies.”

Singapore will open an embassy in Turkey later this year while International Enterprise Singapore is also setting up a centre in Istanbul.

“The word I’d use for our relationship with Singapore is excellent, not just very good,” he said. “There are some countries which we have very good relations with, and others which we have excellent relations with, and Singapore’s is excellent.”

Turkey is also considering opening an embassy in Myanmar and is keen to become dialogue partners with Asean, which would elevate its relations with the 10-member regional grouping to the level enjoyed by the likes of the United States, Australia and the EU.
As for ties with China, Mr Babacan said their relationship has improved despite falling on different sides of the Cold War. Trade between China and Turkey hit US$25 billion (S$31 billion) last year.

But he emphasised that Turkey would never allow new relationships to jeopardise its existing ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, of which it is a member. “We are very careful as we have made international commitments… so what we do with China never violates our Nato commitments,” he said.

Unlike many of its European neighbours, Turkey has enjoyed a record period of growth in recent years and its US$735 billion economy, as well as its estimated 8.5 per cent growth last year, has led to it being dubbed the “China of Europe”.

Asked about the sustainability of the rapidly expanding Turkish economy, Mr Babacan said the country’s diverse range of industries – including tourism, agriculture and a burgeoning financial sector – would keep it buoyed.

He said: “So the Turkish economy is not going to concentrate on only one area – diverse economy, different strengths, different areas.”

Despite the euro zone debt crisis, which is threatening to tip many member countries into recession, Turkey is still keen on becoming a member of the EU, Mr Babacan said.

Being a member would provide Turkey with “a good set of benchmarks” with which to compare itself and improve its “democratic systems, fundamental rights, freedoms and judicial systems”, he said.

“We think the EU has good values, good standards for many issues, especially for political reforms… So we are trying to reach those high standards,” he said. “On the economic front though, the European standards are no longer good guidelines for us.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Kwok



‘A source of inspiration’ for Arab Spring countries

Turkey does not consider itself a role model for Arab Spring nations, its Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told The Straits Times yesterday, but the country’s success in proving that a mainly Muslim country can still be secular and successful has made it a “natural source of inspiration” for these countries.

Other people, especially the young from countries in North Africa and the Middle East, have cast envious glances at Turkey’s reforms and the results they have produced in the last 10 years or so.

“In Turkey, we have proved that Islam, democracy and secularism can co-exist and function in a very healthy way,” Mr Babacan, the country’s former foreign minister who is currently one of its four deputy prime ministers overseeing the economy, said.
“And now that they see this happening in Turkey, they ask for more in their own countries.”

The Arab Spring was a term coined to refer to mass uprisings that broke out in certain nations in the Arab world from December 2010 onwards, demanding change and pushing for long-time leaders in these countries to vacate their positions of power.

To date, such mass demonstrations have forced leadership change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, although the fighting in Syria continues, even as the international community has increased calls in recent weeks to force President Bashar al-assad to end the bloodshed.

Mr Babacan said his country has been receiving plenty of interest from the new governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt looking to learn from Turkey’s remarkable turnaround – until a decade ago, it had still failed to shake off its reputation as the “sick man of Europe”.

But Mr Babacan was modest when talking about Turkey’s achievements.

“We didn’t intend it (that Turkey has started to influence other countries),” he said, and with a slight smile, added: “It just happened in a very natural way.”


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