TBY talks to K. Ekim Alptekin, President of Turkish-American Business Association (TABA-AmCham), on commercial ties between the US and Turkey.

K. Ekim Alptekin
K. Ekim Alptekin, President of the Turkish American Business Association (TABA-AmCham), is committed to the chamber’s mission of boosting trans-Atlantic trade and bolstering the commercial angle of decades-long Turkish-American partnership. He graduated from the University of Utrecht with a degree in Law and Economics and has worked for various international institutions, notably the US House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee and the Netherlands Parliament during the Dutch Presidency of the EU. On the business front, he is the founder and president of EA Aerospace A.Ş, a major shareholder of Eclipse Aerospace; an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based aircraft manufacturer. He is also commercially active in the Real Estate and Entertainment industries through his companies EA Inşaat and OneColony A.Ş., respectively.

How would you characterize the current state of Turkish and US relations?

Turkey and the US have a long history thanks to NATO. The relationship is firmly constructed, and there is a military relationship that goes hand-in-hand with the political relationship as well. That is why President Obama started referring to this relationship as a “model partnership" in 2009. One part that is still not as developed as we would like it to be is the commercial angle of this relationship. Turkish American Business Association (TABA-AmCham) is one of the organizations responsible for developing that angle. In the last decade, we have been able to effectively quadruple trade flows between Turkey and the US. When measuring these trade relationships, I think there is too much of a focus on just trade flows; what I believe is equally important is mutual investments. Not only did we increase the trade flow four times up to a figure of about $20 billion, we have also managed to get more mutual investment in the past six or seven years than we have in the past 50 years. These two developments are important. Many companies such as Eczacıbaşı, Borusan, Sarkuysan, and, more recently, Denizli-based Er-Bakır, which is making a $70 million investment in a copper manufacturing facility, are becoming ambassadors for investing in the US. We see all of these developments going in the right direction.

Which issues would you consider as a priority for TABA's lobbying efforts?

Of course, we are a business organization, so we care less about the political issues. Although we do not lobby directly on political issues, our commercial lobbying has allowed both sides to realize that the relationship is creating economic value on both ends, which is an incentive to keep the political spirit high. We do lobby directly on economic issues like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is a hugely important issue for us. That is probably our flagship issue now. A large part of the lobbying process is about creating awareness of its importance. President Obama, Vice-President Biden, and Secretary of State Kerry have indicated that they understand and support Turkey being part of the TTIP. More recently, we had a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, and she said that the TTIP can be considered as the economic arm of NATO. If that is true, then Turkey deserves to be part of it, no doubt.

What kind of growth are you expecting for US and Turkish trade over the coming decade?

It is important to note that the US is the number one economy in the world, and Turkey is the 17th, but is growing rapidly. It is growing faster than most of the other 16 countries that are above it. I expect US-Turkish trade matching the political relationship over the course of the coming decade. Our two countries agree on most principles, and the political relationship has proven resilient. There are no structural reasons why trade should be $20 billion today—it is low if you look at the potential, and there is nothing keeping us from making at least $100 billion. In 2001, Turkish exports were about $20 billion, and we set a target of $100 billion, which we achieved even faster than we had planned. Today, our target for 2023 is $500 billion.