Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one of few world leaders who can afford to traipse around the world in search of friends without being accused of ignoring more pressing issues at home. Erdogan has overseen massive economic growth and brought the Turkish military to heel. Now he has his sights set on reclaiming a dominant role for Turkey in world affairs. KHADIJA PATEL was at the Union Buildings on Tuesday when Erdogan called on deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.
Sheltered from the collapse of the world economy, Turkey has conversely enjoyed an economic boom. Emboldened by its financial success, Turkey under Erdogan has pursued a return to the heyday of Turkey as a world leader. Erdogan has sought to mould Turkey’s role as a world leader on two fronts, international trade and foreign policy. While Turkey’s economic boom has certainly aided its efforts to reclaim world dominance, Erdogan has been integral to ensuring Turkish credibility on the world stage.
He has been able to steer Turkey to the fore of world politics. After the United Nations announced that a famine had gripped parts of Somalia, Erdogan was the first world leader to visit the perennially war-torn country. Security concerns keep many aid agencies out of Mogadishu, but Erdogan displayed a Turkish willingness to visit even the most isolated of communities. He was also meant to be the first leader to tour the North African sites of the “Arab Spring”, but was pipped to that post in Tripoli by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Erdogan boldly extricated Turkey from its relations with Israel and went on to call Israel a “spoiled child”. Besides showing a sterner face to Israel, Erdogan has forced the US to look at Turkey independent of its ties to Israel. US President Barack Obama has himself sought Turkish guidance on how to respond to the crisis in Syria. At the UN General Assembly last month, Erdogan received rapturous applause. Through a brave foreign policy, Erdogan has endeared Turkey to the world community.
While Turkey may have already succeeded in winning the hearts of some in the world community, winning their purses will prove to be more challenging.
Erdogan’s visit with Motlanthe was largely focused on improving trade relations between South Africa and Turkey. Speaking at a joint press conference after their one-on-one meeting, Erdogan pointed out that the trade volume between Turkey and South Africa peaked at $2.7 billion in 2008. Last year, due to exacerbating circumstances in the world economy, trade between the two countries fell to $1.2 billion. “The trade volume rose to $1 billion in the first seven months of 2011, which indicates we will exceed last year’s trade volume,” Erdogan said. Both Motlanthe and Erdogan expressed the belief that the current volume of trade between the two countries was yet to reach its true potential.
So far the high tariffs imposed on Turkish imports by South Africa has proved one stumbling block. However, Erdogan has succeeded in persuading his South African host on the merits of lowering tariffs on Turkish goods. Motlanthe acknowledged that South African imports from the EU were subject to a 2% tariff while Turkish imports had a mammoth 20% tariff placed on them. Motlanthe assured the Turkish premier that Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies was hoping to resolve the issue before the meeting of the joint economic commission in Turkey next year.
The planned revision of tariff structures on Turkish goods bodes well for importers and Erdogan believes with the necessary government tweaking, trade volumes between South African and Turkey could “double or even triple in a short time”. The emphasis on achieving an amplified trade volume was demonstrated in the size of the business delegation accompanying the Turkish premier. He was accompanied by 120 business leaders from various sectors of Turkish economy.
Rashaad Amra, a public-sector economist and independent researcher who has studied Turkey’s recent foray into South Africa, believes that, while there certainly is great potential for an increased volume in trade between the two countries, pursuing business with South Africa ensures political leverage for Turkey over the rest of the Africa. “South Africa,” Amra points out, “is the gateway to the rest of Africa.” While the Arab Spring has assured Turkey some measure of diplomatic success, Amra believes it may prove to be to the detriment of the county’s trade ties.
“North Africa has been the traditional destination of Turkish capital among African states. However, since the Arab Spring, the situation is drastically different. Turkey’s access to those markets may face competition from other powers. For example, Libya was a major trade and investment destination that relied heavily on Nato for its liberation. This inevitably implies that European companies may have preferential access to the country’s oil fields, reconstruction contracts et cetera,” he says. Sub-Saharan Africa then becomes increasingly important to Turkey.
Addressing a meeting of South African and Turkish business delegations at Gallagher Estate on Tuesday afternoon Erdogan said: “Mankind owes Africa.” He stressed that the role of the African continent continues to grow in the transformation of the world. “Even those that think of Africa as a historical burden now acknowledge Africa’s place,” he said. “Let me assure you that the problems in Africa are our problems. Africa is not a seasonal business partner for Turkey. We are friends for life.”
It’s plausible that Erdogan may be making Turkey’s case against Chinese dominance in Africa. DM
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