TBY talks to Nihat Ergün, Minister of Science, Industry, and Technology, on making Turkey a regional center for R&D.

Nihat Ergün
Nihat Ergün worked in the fields of free trade, accounting, consultancy, and management advisory services before entering politics in 1994, when he was elected Mayor of the Derince district in Kocaeli. He was later elected as a Deputy from Kocaeli Province in the 2002 general election. Playing a key role in the AK Party’s decision-making unit, Nihat Ergün was appointed Minister of Industry and Trade on May 1, 2009.

Your ministerial parameters have changed to include science and technology as well as industry. How will this affect the way policy is formed?

Science and technology have become the most prominent factors determining the development level of societies and countries in today's world. With a view to adapt industry to ever-changing conditions and increase the competitive power of the country in the international marketplace, great importance must be given to R&D activities. Countries that have succeeded in adapting themselves have achieved growth and progress, whereas those who failed to do so have fallen behind in this development race. In order to ensure the economic and social development of the country, science and technology must be our focus. Improvements in science and technology will positively influence all aspects of life, from education to health, energy to agriculture, and transportation to communications. A country such as Turkey must be able to produce the know-how and information it needs and transform that knowledge into a final product. It is for this reason that we adopted the same approach for scientific, industrial, and technological issues and have chosen to manage these areas through joint policies. Turkey does not have the luxury of offering affordable raw material, labor, or energy. Our competitive power lies in the introduction of new technology, R&D activities, innovation, brand building, and design.

What measures is the government taking to establish Turkey as a regional center for R&D?

The reorganization of the former Ministry of Trade and Industry as the Ministry of Science, Industry, and Technology clearly demonstrates the perspective of the Turkish government. We have drafted a National Innovation Strategy that is implemented within the scope of the Science and Advanced Technology Board. Similarly, the Industrial Strategy Document is a roadmap for transforming Turkey into an R&D base. Out of 72 actions involved in the Industrial Strategy Document, 23 are directly related to technological developments. The Industrial Thesis and Techno-Entrepreneurship Capital Support Programs, as well as the establishment of R&D centers and new techno-parks, are examples of our initiatives. The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organization (KOSGEB) and TÜBİTAK also offer special support programs for industrialists. Specific programs will be implemented in order to increase the efficiency and number of start-ups with a focus on R&D activities. We are also planning to establish Computing Valley, to which we attach great importance. The Valley is aimed at creating great momentum in critical sectors such as software development, electronics, and computing. Turkey has tripled its R&D expenditure and the number of full-time R&D personnel in the last nine years, and the country has also increased its share of R&D expenditures within the national income to approximately 1%. The National Innovation System Targets for 2023 outline our goal to boost this figure to 3%.

How would you evaluate the success of Turkey's technoparks in science, industry, and technology?

Technoparks are very important in terms of scientific and technological progress. The Ministry of Science, Industry, and Technology attaches great importance to increasing the number of technoparks in the country and improving their quality. The technoparks contribute most to the establishment of cooperation between universities and industry; they are effective platforms for bridging the gap between academics and industrialists. The world's largest companies in computing continue to carry out their activities in technoparks, although they also own R&D centers. There were only two technoparks in Turkey in 2002, whereas now there are 45 technoparks, 32 of which are operational, and include innovative companies working in the sectors of software development, computing, electronics, advanced materials, renewable energy, design, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and automotive. As a result of the R&D activities of the companies in these areas, innovative and advanced technology products are available.

How will the new incentive system encourage regional investments?

Between August 2009 and January 2012, 10,723 incentive promotion documents were issued. The fixed investments amount to TL148 billion, TL46 billion of which were regional, TL36 billion large scale, and TL66 billion in general investments. As stipulated in the investment promotion documents, TL4 billion of these fixed investments was provided to the mining sector, TL79 billion to the manufacturing sector, TL31 billion to the energy sector, and TL34 billion to the services sector. In addition, net international investment entry from January 2011 to December 2011 was over $15.7 billion, with $3.3 billion allocated to the manufacturing sector.