Remarks by Consul General Charles F. Hunter at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Istanbul Office Opening

Minister Yilmaz and distinguished guests, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to say a few words.  I would like to congratulate and thank TOBB, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their commitment, not only to bilateral U.S. – Turkey Trade and Investment, but also to the regional economic landscape.  I am very excited about this partnership between two major organizations representing the U.S. and Turkish private sectors.  Through its plans to use this Istanbul office as a Middle East Commercial Center, this undertaking clearly recognizes the regional and global significance of building a stronger U.S. – Turkey economic relationship.

Rifat Bey, Myron, I see this new office as an important step towards promoting much needed economic integration in this part of the world and a tool for achieving regional peace and prosperity.  Thank you for your leadership in launching this initiative.

Of course, the real work is just beginning and the challenges facing us are numerous.  It is not just a job for TOBB or the U.S. Chamber – it is a job for every single stakeholder in this region and that includes the U.S. Mission to Turkey.

In this, we’re following the lead of President Obama, who reaffirmed during his 2009 visit our commitment to raising bilateral economic ties on par with our strategic partnership.  An economically strong and stable Turkey is good for the region and for the world.  We are working with our partners in the Turkish government to broaden and deepen economic ties between our two countries, as well as to find opportunities to cooperate in third countries around the region.

As all of you know, we are engaged in a number of formal and informal bilateral dialogues seeking to address common business challenges.  These are meant to complement the healthy private sector relationship that has developed in proportion to Turkey’s impressive growth as a regional economic power.

Our Foreign Commercial Service team is busy organizing trade activities and events to bring U.S., Turkish and regional companies together and form cross-border partnerships.  Last May, they brought 18 advanced medical technologies companies to Turkey and arranged 400 meetings in Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul with Turkish firms and regional representatives from five other countries.  In two weeks, a contingent of eight U.S. franchise companies will be in Istanbul to discuss partnership opportunities with Turkish and regional entrepreneurs.

Between 2011 and 2013, bilateral trade between the U.S. and Turkey hit record levels, reaching nearly $20 billion per year.  Just last year, Turkey recorded its highest-ever level of exports to the United States – $6.7 billion.  In fact, Turkish exporters are experiencing faster growth rates, at 22% in the U.S. than the world average of 13%.  Through continued government and private sector efforts, I hope to see this kind of growth reach its full potential.

I want to emphasize once again the critical role of the private sector here.  The support and promotion of private sector partnerships in business and culture is critical for the relationship between any two nations.  With the steady movement of goods and people between two countries comes a bond that is strong and resilient in the face of temporary fluctuations.

Today, there are more than 1,400 U.S. companies, large and small, registered in Turkey with billions in investments and thousands of local, high–paying local jobs.  U.S. multinationals in Turkey are predominantly led by talented Turks, some of whom are present here today.  Iconic American firms such as General Electric, Ford, DuPont, 3M, and Intel have created manufacturing, distribution, innovation and research hubs based here in Turkey.  Thousands of Turkish students go to study in the U.S. every year at public and private educational institutions and there are a growing number of American students coming to study in Turkey.  The Turkish diaspora in the U.S. is larger than ever and many of its members are engaged in commercial and cultural activities between the two countries.

Of course, there is still more to be done on the commercial front.  Bilateral trade volume needs to be greater and we would like to see more Turkish investments in the U.S.  I hope for more direct flights between our two countries as well.  There are also opportunities for economic reforms to allow free and transparent business transactions.  Many of these reforms are on the agenda of the High-Level Committee and the other fora established to ensure that Turkey is not left behind as American and European leaders forge a new framework for trade and investment.  Similarly, we encourage Turkey’s continued progress toward European integration as a means for achieving its 2023 goals.

The U.S. Chamber, TOBB and other business associations have an opportunity to play a leadership role through the all-important multiplier effect you provide.  I’d venture to say that effect is in full force today as I look at all the U.S. and Turkish private sector, government and business NGO representatives gathered in this room.

And yet, there is a big difference between being together and working together.  As the U.S. Mission, one of our points of focus is to ensure all stakeholders are in fact working together in areas of mutual interest – one of the most important ones being to strengthen the economic relationship between our two countries.  We all know that there are many business associations in Turkey – let’s just say that it took me some time to learn the various acronyms for each of these organizations!  The resources obviously exist.  What we need is a collaborative business community that utilizes each organization’s strengths towards our common goals.

Today we add one more element to the mix.  It will be the duty of everyone here to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  We welcome this partnership between TOBB and the U.S. Chamber as another move towards forming a more cohesive and productive business community.  We also look forward to this partnership working in unison with the U.S. Mission, the Government of Turkey and other business groups to contribute to the whole – which is a strong, prosperous economic relationship between our two countries and the rest of the region.

Thank you, and may this new partnership be a flourishing one.