President Tayyip Erdoğan told in a May 26 video conference the executives of 20 prominent U.S. firms that he and U.S. President Joe Biden are seeking a new era in mutual ties despite everything, “Although the statement he made has put an extra burden on our relations, I believe that the meeting I will hold with Mr. Biden at the NATO Summit will herald a new era.”
The meeting was initiated by Murat Mercan, Turkey’s new Ambassador to U.S., and Myron Brilliant, the Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. You can find a list of participants to the meeting, aimed at attracting more U.S. investments to Turkey, at the end of this article.
But would more U.S. investments flow into Turkey at a time when the U.S. administration sanctioned Turkey for its purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia, removed in from the F35 fighter jet program and seized the jets already paid for, and amid issues of the PKK/YPG in Syria, the stay of Fethullah Gülen, the number one suspect of the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, or the ongoing Halkbank case in the U.S. over allegations of breaching the Washington sanctions on Iran. At the time of Donald Trump, Erdoğan had a dream of increasing the mutual trade volume to $100 billion from $19 billion. Erdoğan spoke of this target once again on May 26 after a long time. But unlike Trump, the Biden administration complains about democracy, human rights and freedom of the press in Turkey. Biden has just recognized April 24 as the “Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.” Erdogan, who did not give an expected retaliation reaction on that issue, was rather harsh when he criticized the U.S. over the Israeli attacks on Palestinians. He accused Biden, who supports Israel, of “making history with his bloody hands”.
These are the burdens that Erdoğan is talking about.
Would investments flow even if rule of law is not functioning?
What kind of roadmap will Biden and Erdoğan be able to agree on in the meeting that is expected to be held within the framework of the NATO Summit on June 14? Will they be able to come to terms? How would this happen in the presence of the existing problems and those that might add to them?
Moreover, we have to admit that a theory that the poor functioning of the rule of law and pluralist democracy in Turkey would lead the U.S. to impose an embargo on Turkey, at least avoid encouraging investments, does not have much space in the world of the transition period after the Covid-19 epidemic.
What is more, an opposite theory works: The firms of economically strong Western countries that criticize governments in others find more fruitful investment conditions and compromises in those criticized countries. Today, we witness that Turkish industrialists are moving their businesses to Balkan nations as some U.S. and European countries are preparing to come to Turkey to enjoy benefits of allocated land, ease in taxes and other privileges.
According to the information gathered from the sources attending the meeting, for example, the Hilton Group wants to add 33 more hotels to its 66 facilities in Turkey, if the conditions are suitable. Hilton praised Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy, who was highly criticized in Turkey, to the president for his help. Cargill agri-business giant criticized in Turkey for genetically modified food concerns, told Erdoğan that it is currently exporting products to 70 countries from Turkey and it can increase investment as long as the current support continues.
Let’s not stretch it, American companies don’t care about the regression in the field of human rights and democratization in Turkey, nor the norms of international law. All they care about is lower costs and more profits; including low wages and strike bans against unions.
Erdoğan’s special request about the media
Erdoğan utilized this angle at the meeting. He points to the fact that the supply chain from the Pacific region, especially China, has been broken during the pandemic and Turkey might turn into a “production and technology base” thanks to its geographical location.
Here is a link to his speech at the meeting but first, let’s go into two details.
In terms of business, he personally promises guarantees in order to overcome the difficulties before companies that want to invest in Turkey. “That’s on me,” he says, in a way.
Politically, as mentioned above, he says he wants to reconcile with Biden despite everything.
So his message to the U.S companies is: “You bring in investments, I will ease things for you and I will be as positive as I can for reconciliation with Biden.”
But at the end of the meeting, the President and his team had one more request from the investors: “If you are satisfied with the conditions provided in Turkey and you want to invest more, would you tell this to the American media? They approach Turkey in a very wrong and biased way.”
I do not have the information on how this request was received, but I can say that the special request of the Presidency is about the coverage of Turkey in the U.S. media.
Vice President Fuat Oktay, Treasury and Finance Minister Lütfi Elvan, Trade Minister Mehmet Muş and Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy, Turkish bureaucrats, and business people accompanied Erdoğan at the meeting that lasted two hours according to the Directorate of Communications.
The U.S. participants were Cargill Senior Vice President David Webster, DowAksa chief executive (CEO) Douglas Parks, Hilton President and CEO Chris Nassetta, MetLife Europe, Middle East and Africa President Nuria Garcia, Netflix CFO Spencer Neumann, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal, Kellogg Company President and CEO Steven Cahillane, Google Vice President Ambassador Karan Bhatia, GE Aviation President and CEO John Slattery, Varian Medical Systems CEO Chris Toth, PepsiCo Europe CEO Silviu Popovici, Amazon Vice President Susan Pointer, Cheniere Energy Vice President of Commerce Anatol Feygin, Citi President and CEO David Livingstone, P&G Europe President Loic Tassel, Progress Rail President and CEO Marty Haycraft, Tellurian Inc. President and CEO Octavio Simoes, Medtronic Senior Vice President and President Europe Rob Ten Hoedt, Archer Daniels Midland President Ismail Roig, Microsoft President Europe and Middle East Samer Abu Ltaif, Cisco Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Strategy Michael Timmeny, Honeywell Aerospace President and Mike Madsen, CEO of Nova Power Solutions, Steve Ziff, President and CEO of Nova Power Solutions, Jenny Stoichkova, President of The Coca-Cola Company Europe and Middle East, Giorgio Milesi, President of Johnson & Johnson, and Zaher Ibrahim, Vice President of Baker Hughes.”