Promising Future for British-Turkish Relations

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As Turkish-EU relations are strained, Turkey will seek closer links with EU countries with which it has an already good rapport. This gives the UK a superb chance to advance its ties with Turkey.

Both the current and previous British governments are aware of the importance of Turkish-British relations: The UK has consistently and wholeheartedly supported Turkish membership to the EU, a policy that continues today. Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Turkey in 2008, the first time Her Majesty visited the country since 1971, was a successful relationship-building exercise. President Abdullah Gül and his wife are scheduled to visit the UK as guests of the Queen in the near future.

When David Cameron visited Turkey in his first foreign visit in July 2010, it sent positive signals to the Turkish state. The visit resulted in the signing of a new Strategic Partnership Agreement and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke of the “golden age” of Turkish-British relations. Mr. Cameron’s trip has been followed by less public visits by Defense Secretary Liam Fox, Lord Mayor of London Michael Bear, Trade Minister Lord Stephen Green, Lord James Sassoon from Her Majesty’s Treasury and Martin Donnelly from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

At the economic level, there is room for a major expansion of trade between the two countries. The UK government made the same point in a White Paper titled “Trade and Investment for Growth” in February 2011, noting that the UK is aiming to double its current trade with Turkey from a base of 9 billion pounds by 2015.

The trade between the two countries has been on a steady increase since 2001. The Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) recorded a total volume of $4 billion in 2001, which has seen a major increase since 2003, quickly reaching $10 billion in 2005 and $14 billion in 2007. While 2008 and 2009 saw a drop in trade in line with the global recession, it rose again to an estimated $11 billion in 2010. The British High Commission in Ankara noted a steady increase of British direct investment into Turkey, from $141 million in 2003 to $1.3 billion in 2008, in its Country Updates for Business briefing released in July 2011.

Turkey not only produces goods consumed in the British market but as its economy and consumer confidence grows, so does demand for high-end consumer goods, in which Britain excels. Investments in Turkey by British companies and individuals have been by and large positive as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government undertook significant reforms to ease foreign direct investment to the country. There is also a trend of high level investments by Turkish companies in the UK.

Turkey is also keen to expand the markets from which it buys military supplies as its relations with Israel remain strained and there is a danger of unhealthy dependence on the US. This provides a great opening for UK companies to pursue defense contracts in Turkey, a fact which was highlighted when Fox visited Turkey. A positive sign of this was the 12.1 million euro contract won by British Ultra Electronics to provide a torpedo defense system for Turkish submarines.

Turkey’s policy of being a neutral energy route between multiple suppliers for consumption in Europe has important positive outcomes for British energy needs. A diversity of suppliers will counter European vulnerability to volatile Russian energy provisions.

At the political level, enhanced British-Turkish relations also have domestic and diplomatic benefits for the UK. Currently, the scope of British engagement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) remains limited and problematic. With closer ties with Turkey, the UK would be able to assert influence and expand and secure its interests in the region. With closer relations on intelligence-sharing and combined security initiatives, a partnership would bring major benefits to ongoing concerns over human and narcotics trafficking, as well as organized crime and terrorism. This was a major point raised by the UK’s Home Affairs Committee in its report “Implications for the Justice and Home Affairs area of the accession of Turkey to the European Union,” released on Aug. 1, 2011.

It is clear that the British government is on the right path regarding its Turkey policy. However, there are major areas that need to be addressed. More social and educational initiatives have to be launched in order to bolster societal ties. The speedy tightening of UK visa regulations is damaging the process. Britain not only has to accelerate its efforts to recruit a growing number of Turkish students to study in the UK, it also has to ensure that the current changes to student visas and temporary work permits that enable recent graduates to get job experience in the UK do not hinder the appeal of Britain, thus causing a loss of market share in education.

While special treaties such as the Ankara agreement between Britain and Turkey have sought to bolster economic links by allowing Turkish workers to set up business ventures, such accords are not enough and have often led to irregular migration. A more robust policy to attract highly skilled Turkish workers to Britain would be key to enabling British companies to deal with the fast-growing Turkish market.

Source: Today’s Zaman, Ziya Meral

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