“Turkey, India at historical juncture”

“I believe that Turkey and India have come to a historical juncture in their relations. The prospects excite me as an Ambassador committed to improving our bilateral ties. On December 14 we will mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Turkish-Indian Treaty of Friendship, the first article of which stipulates that there shall be perpetual peace between the two countries. Next year is the 60th anniversary of the entry into force of the cultural cooperation agreement, the first such agreement India signed with any country. I encourage all businesspersons,politicians, intellectuals, officials, and indeed our publics to take active part in this historic tipping point. Life starts at sixty,” says the  Ambassador of Turkey, Dr. Burak Akçapar in an interview to THE BLUE MOON.

 As the bilateral trade between India and Turkey stood at USD 4016.66 million in 2010 and has constantly shown an upward trend, what is stalling the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two? Are there any stumbling blocks?

 Turkish-Indian bilateral trade is increasing with a rapid pace. We expect the bilateral trade volume to reach USD 6 billion this year from USD 4 billion last year. However, the overall volume remains very low compared to the potential that exists between two G-20 economies. We need a game changer such as a Free Trade Agreement. Free trade agreements are very complicated and detailed documents and negotiating them takes time. The sooner we sign an FTA the better it will be for both of our economies. Turkey is fully committed to negotiating this document.

 There are over 150 Indian companies in Turkey, does India have Turkish investments?

There are some Turkish companies who have invested in India to benefit from the remarkable economic performance of your country. Only this year one company has undertaken a close to half a billion project. Early next year another company will complete a plant in Chennai. I expect more to come, especially as they are helped and assisted in.

 Since Turkey has a Customs Union Agreement with Europe since 1995, are there any specific terms of investment for Indian companies?

The customs union with the EU provides the opportunity to access the European and associated markets for foreign investors in Turkey. When you invest in Turkey, you get access to more than 47 countries. Indian firms should take advantage of this as well as the very liberal, highly facilitated and incentivized investment and business environment in Turkey. Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (www.invest.gov.tr) guides foreign investors on requirements and procedures to set up business in Turkey. The Embassy is also ready to provide information and assistance.

 What has been the pace of economic reforms and privatization in Turkey?

In Turkey, privatization has gained pace in the last 8 years. Between the years 2003 and 2010, USD 33,7 billion worth of public assets have been privatized. Thanks to the structural reforms made in the Turkish financial and banking systems in 2001, and excellent management since then Turkish banks fared well in the latest global financial crisis without the need for any support from the government. Turkey has ranked consistently among the top growth economies in the World over the past decade, even during the global downturn. Our ratings go up even in global crisis environment.

 Having free trade with EU, which country is the largest investor in Turkey and the quantum of investment?

The largest investors in Turkey are the EU countries. Germany, France, Italy and UK are among the top within those. In the last year alone Turkey attracted over USD 9 billion worth of foreign direct investment. Over 90% of that is from EU countries.

Turkey is said to have the fourth largest ship building industry in the world; is it also a supplier to Indian maritime industry?

That is definitely one area to explore further. You can add to that port management as well.

 The Turkish armed force is second biggest after United States; has it ever held joint exercise with India?

Turkish-Indian militaries have friendly relations and exchanges of visits.  This year a Turkish Navy vessel visited Mumbai and was met with positive interest. Recently, Turkish and Indian Navies conducted a two-day joint exercise in Indian Ocean.

 As in many European countries, is Turkey also contemplating abolition of conscripts (compulsory military service for students) as a pre-condition to getting into EU?

Abolition of conscription is not a pre-condition for EU accession. Already very potent military that is reassurance to friends and deterrent to potential aggressors, Turkish Armed Forces have been undergoing a comprehensive reform process to tackle new challenges to security. However, abolition of compulsory military service is not on the table yet.

 Turkish Airlines is one of the fastest growing airline in the world, does it plan to buy out some European carriers like LOT?

As you have mentioned Turkish Airlines is rapidly growing. It has one of the youngest fleets and is one of the best airlines in the world. Currently THY flies to Delhi and Mumbai seven days a week and would begin flights to Hyderabad and Chennai once we have the permission from the Indian authorities. They are also contemplating flights to Colombo and Kathmandu as well as Male. I am not aware of their plans outside India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

 There is a tourism boom in Turkey with almost 31 million tourists in 2008; what is the number of tourists from and to India?

Tourism between the two countries is steadily growing but is astonishingly behind potential. Whatever the Indian tourists would be looking for Turkey is an ideal destination. Though the number of tourists from India grew five-fold in the last decade, last year’s number of 63 thousand still remains modest compared to 30 million total number of tourists visiting Turkey. This is another area that needs a game change and I have plans in that regard.

 Have Bollywood films played a positive role in promoting tourism to Turkey from India? How popular are Hindi films in Turkey?

There is no doubt that Bollywood and Tollywood films shot in Turkey, like Guru, Game, Mission Istanbul to name a few, have helped generate interest in the Indian public, which in turn contributed to the increase in the number of tourists from India. I want to position Turkey as a filming site for Indian movies. And by the way, I also want to introduce Turkish Tv drama series and movies to India. They would be immediate hits in India with which we have such cultural similarities and commonalities.

 58 journalists are said to have been imprisoned in Turkey and there are allegations of curtailed press freedom. How far is this true?

Freedom of expression and media are safeguarded by the Constitution and other relevant legislation in Turkey. With a view to aligning the legal framework with the standards and principles set by the European Convention on Human Rights, a new Penal Code was enacted in 2005, bringing also a more liberal approach to the freedom of expression and media issues.  The great majority of the convicts and detainees referred to as “journalists in prison in Turkey” are charged of being a member or making propaganda of illegal armed terrorist organizations. In those cases, their imprisonment has no relation with their being journalists. These journalists are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Statements made on this subject should not interfere with the judicial process. The Government remains determined to expand the scope of the freedom of expression and will continue to address possible shortcomings in relation to freedom of expression and media. We firmly believe that guaranteeing fundamental freedoms is a must to further strengthen democracy.