An effort to cultivate economic ties between EU member states, Turkey and other countries was launched at a high-level conference in Istanbul on Monday (October 1st).
Experts told EU-Turkey Global Business Bridges Initiative could contribute to economic development in the countries involved, while placing cooled EU-Turkey relations on a more positive path.
Financed by the EU and co-ordinated by the Union's delegation to Turkey, the Turkish Ministry of Economy and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, the initiative encourages joint EU-Turkish business ventures to co-operate in neighbouring markets by building trilateral economic ties.
Currently, the project is restricted to companies in EU member states, Turkey, and three pilot countries: Egypt, Tunisia, and the Palestine Territories. If it succeeds in the pilot countries, the initiative may be expanded to other countries.
Jean-Maurice Ripert, the EU ambassador to Turkey, said the new project will invigorate business ties among the countries involved.
"Increasing the connectivity of those business actors from the EU and Turkey to synergize together in areas where venturing alone would be more risky, and identifying the value chains where such complementarities could be tapped with third partners have inspired our preparatory work around this initiative," Ripert told.
The initiative mostly aims to boost the economic role of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the respective countries.
Esen Caglar, an economist at the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, said the initiative will enable SMEs to have an international reach through the three-part relationship.
"This new co-operative environment will also help the business actors of the target countries to be articulated into the economic hinterland of Turkey in the middle to long-term," Caglar told.
Ripert said that the initiative aims to benefit all the countries involved.
"We want to imagine a win-win-win situation where our businesses can go hand in hand in striking deals with Egyptian, Tunisian or Palestinian operators in sectors where potentials exist, where the business and investment environment of partner countries needs strengthening and relevant industrial policies require support," he told.
One facet of the project focuses on sectors where all trading partners can be strong. These areas were identified through a comprehensive assessment completed prior to the Istanbul conference. Past trade agreements have been criticised for giving advantage to powerful countries.
Caglar cited aquaculture, which the assessment identified as an area where Egypt could succeed economically, as an example of a sector where both EU-Turkish ventures and pilot countries could benefit from co-operation.
"Turkish and EU firms can bring their know-how in marine aquaculture and combine it with the market expertise and value chain know-how of Egyptian SMEs," he said.
Similarly, the economic target in Tunisia and the Palestinian Territories could increase the added value of trade items, which mostly lack branding and consistent quality, and take advantage of growth in those emerging markets.
EU member countries rank among the top trading partners for both Tunisia and Egypt in terms of import and exports, while Turkey is historically one of Egypt and Tunisia's top five trading partners.
Almost 80 percent of the Palestinian Territories' trade is conducted with Israel, while the remaining portion is divided between some EU countries and Turkey.
Economic initiatives undertaken by the EU, Turkey, and the Palestinian Territories will focus on areas such as Ramallah's building materials and food and beverage sectors. But officials said success will depend on improvements in the investment climate in the West Bank, which has been weakened during decades of Israeli occupation.
The conference will be followed by so-called "match-making events" in early 2013, where Turkish and European companies will gather in Antalya to pair up with companies from Tunisia and Egypt.
Tanil Kucuk, vice president of the union, said the trade initiative could have a positive impact on EU-Turkish relations beyond the economy.
"[Through the initiative], both parties can show that they can collaborate in some platforms regardless of all other problems," Kucuk said during his opening address to the Istanbul conference. "This can also bring mutual confidence and encouragement to deepen that co-operation into other fields."
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