Country Focus: East Meets West in Turkey

It is the country that straddles East and West, Arab and European cultures. Yet as Turkey’s envoy in Qatar, H.Emre Yunt tells Rachel Morris it is this dual personality that has forged a unique relationship between the countries.

“Turkey is one of the most active foreign policy partners of Qatar and we need to increase it, especially in economic terms,” explains the ambassador, H.Emre Yunt, who has been stationed in Qatar since 2009.

The recent Turkish elections, which returned the ruling AK Party, headed by leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power, would not change this relationship. “The same government won an absolute majority,” he says. “Nothing changes between Qatar and Turkey in terms of bilateral relations.”

And it is a relationship that is one of Qatar’s strongest, both economically and politically.

“Turkey is perceived very positively (in the region). People think that in the recent six or seven years maybe Turkey has become more visible and this is true. We have never neglected this area but you can say in terms of foreign policy we have become more active,” the ambassador states. “As far as Qatar is concerned we are very good friends, our leaders are very good friends and that reflects in the relations…We see eye to eye.”

Mr Yunt says Turkey has gained plaudits both regionally and internationally for its stance on Middle East issues, especially Gaza.

“This was very much appreciated by the Qatari people on the street and which is true for the Arabic people on the street,” he says. “We are cooperating (with Qatar) in terms of helping other people. Both countries have taken the people’s stance. Even as far back as 2008, we helped Lebanon, Palestine, all these countries are very important…We want to help the people. It is a humanitarian issue for us. We don’t have any other type of agenda or issue, we just want to help increase the level of stability in the region so that everyone can focus on the development of the region and increase living standards. This is the time for development. This is the time for peace.”

There are 9000 Turkish citizens in Qatar. Around 200 own businesses like restaurants and shops and the remaining 3000 to 6000 work for large-scale Turkish companies operating in Qatar.

The ambassador confirms that Qatar is a place where Turkish citizens feel “welcome” and “at home”, alluding to issues with Turkish communities in some European countries.

Turkey has also emerged as a power player economically. The size and vibrancy of the Turkish economy cannot be underestimated.

“In terms of economy, the Turkish economy is either the 16th or 17th largest economy in the world and we are hoping to make it at least the 10th largest in 10 years’ time before the 100th anniversary of our republic,” according to Yunt.

“To do that of course we need to increase development within the country, trade development, trade relations with other countries. To do that we have to have stability. If you have conflict, nobody can focus on the economy.”

He says Turkish companies have a very visible presence in Qatar: “We are already here and more companies are looking for opportunities to come here. We have mostly infrastructure companies”.

Construction giant Yuksel is working on the revamp currently underway on one of the city’s main arterial roads, Salwa Road. TAV Airports, which has built airports in Turkey and the region, is the main contractor for the New Doha international Airport main terminal. And construction company Baytur is building the iconic Qatar National Convention Centre at Education City, which is due to be unveiled later this year.  And, if the ambassador is to be believed, other major Turkish companies are also ready to do business in Qatar.

“They have already completed the planning for the railway tenders, which, when completed, will make Qatar a different country. I am sure a lot of companies will benefit from this and share expertise, and we want to have more input.”

Turkey is also a major supplier of materials for the construction industry including iron, steel and ‘finished goods’ like marble tiles, plumbing materials. During the last Project Qatar (in Doha) we had more than 90 Turkish companies participate…They were very happy to be here,” the ambassador says.

Meanwhile, Qatari investment in Turkey is also on the rise, but there is room for improvement.

“(Qatari agriculture firm) Hassad Foods have been trying form a partnership in Turkey but we haven’t been able to achieve a final result yet,” says Yunt.  “But they are still negotiating. In terms of the land, Turkey has that land but it is not owned by one individual…it’s not easy to get a deal.

“And several real estate companies like Barwa and Qatari Diar have real estate investments but on a smaller scale and we are trying to get them to increase that.

“Turkey is potentially a rich country and a very diverse country. If you are looking for tourism investment you can find it in Turkey. If you are looking to invest in agriculture and other industries, you will find it there.”

Currently the average trade volume between Qatar and Turkey sits at US$400 million (QR1.4 billion). Continues the ambassador, “2008 was a record year – it was US$1.3 billion (QR4.7 billion) because we exported a lot of construction materials. If and when the construction sector takes off (for Qatar 2022) our exports will increase.

“But we are not buying any liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar yet. We are negotiating. LNG is very important for Turkey, we are a big importer, but we have to have a good deal, because everyone is using LNG and that means that price is very important.”

Turkey is extremely keen to import Qatar’s gas and have proposed a novel way to mutually benefit both countries.

“We are proposing a direct pipeline (without converting to LNG) from Qatar through Saudi Arabia and several other countries to Turkey. We can have multiple pipelines to bring gas from Qatar and we can export drinking water to Qatar through multiple pipelines,” he explains.

“It’s still at the idea level…we have a project which is almost complete that will export drinking water to North Cyprus. We have this potential.”

This article first appeared in TheEDGE 3.7 July, 2011




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