The Cable

‘Turkey Is Open for Business,’ Says Turkey After Flawed Referendum

Turkey’s message to the American business community: Don’t let values get in the way of creating value.

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Less than a week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won sweeping new powers for the next twelve years in a referendum widely denounced as unfree and unfair, the Turkish and American business community gathered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington to pay obeisance to Mehmet Simsek, Turkey’s point man for economic and financial affairs.

Simsek was introduced by Marc Allen, president of Boeing International, who congratulated the deputy prime minister on the recent referendum, which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe determined was deeply flawed. Allen also reminded the room what  a friend Boeing had been to Turkey. The aerospace firm “had the opportunity” to deliver helicopters to Turkey’s military the week after a failed coup last July, he said. Other developments one week after the coup attempt included 9,000 Turks in detention and another 50,000 purged or suspended from government jobs.

Simsek himself offered a counterintuitive argument that the referendum, which turns the system from a parliamentary to a presidential one and increases the powers of the president, is somehow good for Turkish democracy. He argued that it will ensure stability, which will in turn allow Turkey to make necessary economic reforms like simplifying the tax code, which will then improve the investment climate.

Simsek cited Turkey’s strong fiscal performance, including its strong rebound from a shaky autumn. Despite “rough spots,” like the current account deficit and inflation, the employment rate is catching up with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average, and is expected to rise further in 2017. GDP growth slowed is expected to pick up to 3.75 percent by 2018.

All that creates opportunities for international firms angling to get in on a big and growing economy at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Simsek talked up trade between the European Union and Turkey, and said Ankara sought still further integration in the EU. He didn’t dwell on the fact that the referendum essentially halts talks of Turkish accession to the EU, nor did he recall that Erdogan implied that European leaders who did not allow Turkish politicians to rally for the referendum were Nazis.

Simsek said that Turkey remains committed to universal values, and that it remains part of the Western family. And he also was at pains to stress that nine months after the coup attempt, and just days after a deeply divisive and perhaps epoch-ending political earthquake, international investors need not fear — nor worry about the over 120 journalists in jail or 4,464 public servants dismissed as recently as February.

“Turkey is open for business,” he said.

Photo credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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