As Istanbul basked in warm sunshine on a day in the first week in February, thoughts turned to a UK Trade & Investment trade mission heading for Turkey at the end of the month. This will be my third experience of such a mission. They are always interesting and bring home the opportunities and realities of exporting.
The simple facts are: any company can export; Turkey offers opportunities and a springboard to local markets in Iran and the South Caucasus; and would-be exporters can find on-the-ground help through the UKTI at the British Consulate and the BCCT (British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey).
What many UK companies don’t seem to realize is that the world greatly values British skills and experience in design, engineering, energy, health, marketing, branding and education. There is a big opportunity to sell the British brand or 'UK plc'.
“Turkey has a strong manufacturing capability and capacity, producing products for other companies and other brands,” Christ Gaunt, Chairman of of the British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey (BCCT), told The Business Year magazine in a recent interview, “but it doesn’t have international brands itself. The country wants to change.”
It is often said that the country’s cities look like perpetual building sites with the constant construction of new roads, houses, hotels, offices, hospitals, and airports. But these are good signs of infrastructure improvements. UK companies are already involved in projects to build the third Bosphorus bridge and Istanbul’s third airport. A big programme is under way to improve health care and provide new facilities.
The energy sector is just one of those pinpointed by the British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey as needing “both investment and technological capabilities to develop self-sustainable energy production”.
There are also big opportunities for UK firms in R&D to help a wide range of business, according to Chris Gaunt. In fact, R&D expenditure in Turkey went up by 18.8 per cent in 2014 to reach US$6.1 billion, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute.
Spending surpassed 1 per cent of the country’s total GDP last year, with private-sector outlay accounting for almost half, at 49.8 per cent.
In education, state schools, colleges of higher education, and universities need support for providing English language teaching and for examinations. And business English training is required for Turkish executives and managers of companies looking to export – especially as Mr Putin has slammed the trade door to Russia in Turkey’s face after a Russian jet fighter was downed by the Turkish air force. While the political situation in Turkey and geopolitical instability in the surrounding region are causes for concern, business life goes on, even if companies are now more cautious and risk averse than they were a year ago.
Next week this blog will bring more news about the state of the Turkish economy and the strengthening commercial ties between Turkey and the UK.
Caption: Chris Gaunt, Chairman of BCCT, at the Istanbul Stock Exchange