Viet Nam News spoke to Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Akif Oktay on the occasion of his country's National Day tomorrow.
We welcome you as the new Ambassador of Turkey to Viet Nam. What are your priorities during your term?
One of the urgent tasks I will focus on is the signing of agreements on the promotion of investments and avoidance of double taxation. Negotiations on both documents are almost complete. Furthermore, we have just begun to explore the possibility of signing a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. There are also other agreements in the pipeline in diverse fields ranging from sister city relations to scientific and technological co-operation. Finalising such documents will naturally be one of my priorities.
Ambassador Ahmet Akif Oktay
Another priority is the commencement of leadership-level mutual official visits. We have never had a Presidential or Prime Ministerial visit in either direction. I hope that my tenure will see at least several such exchanges. One of our major goals for the near future is to organise a national Turkish Export Products Exhibition in HCM City, which will also be the first of its kind. Likewise, I look forward to seeing Turkish Airlines start direct flights to Ha Noi as its second destination in Viet Nam. Such steps will also help us double our trade volume from its current level of around $1billion within a few years.
Turkey mainly exports automobile spare parts, fabrics, machines and chemical products to Viet Nam, and imports footwear, rubber, computers, pepper and wood products. What other kinds of products could Vietnamese businesses export to Turkey and vice versa?
There is really no limit to what the two countries can export to each other. They both have large domestic markets as well as huge re-exporting opportunities. As fast growing, export-driven economies, Turkey and Viet Nam can boost bilateral trade flows especially in the category of intermediate and semi-finished goods. But the spectrum of potential export products is much wider, ranging from coffee, rice, seafood, jewellery and handicrafts, to pharmaceuticals, construction materials and land/sea transport vehicles. Exports of services in such fields as contracting, technical consultancy and engineering can also help us diversify our commercial relations.
Turkey attracted $9 billion in FDI last year. Could you share your country's experience in attracting FDI?
Like Viet Nam, Turkey began to attract large amounts of FDI following the enactment of economic reforms in the early 1980s. Privatisation was an important dimension of this process. As the State's role in the economy gradually decreased, participation of foreign investors in the massive privatisation programme was actively encouraged. Procedures for the approval of FDI projects were also radically streamlined and made business-friendly. As a result, Turkey became one of the most successful OECD members in attracting FDI.
The cumulative amount of FDI flows into Turkey over the last eight years stands at nearly $94 billion. The highest annual amount was recorded in 2007 with more than $22 billion. Following a temporary decline in FDI levels due to the global financial crisis, FDI flows into Turkey are picking up speed once again, boosted by the high growth rate of the Turkish economy. Let me also add that currently more than 28,000 foreign companies are operating in Turkey.
Turkey is strong in energy and financial services. Does Turkey has any plan to boost co-operation with Viet Nam in these fields, particularly financial services?
The energy demands of Turkey and Viet Nam are rising fast. Viet Nam is an oil-producing country, while Turkey is located in close proximity to the largest oil and gas reserves in the world and becoming a major energy hub between Europe and Asia. Therefore, it would be mutually beneficial for Turkey and Viet Nam to engage in dialogue and co-operation on energy issues, including clean and renewable sources of energy. It is also possible for Turkish companies to undertake construction of power plants in Viet Nam.
Financial services are another promising area for co-operation. In Turkey, reforms in the banking sector were mostly completed in 2006. As a result, Turkish banks were able to protect themselves against the shock waves of the global financial downturn. Similarly, we have a well-functioning insurance sector. The Istanbul Stock Exchange has also come of age and is doing well as a financial hub.
As a country fast opening up to the world, Viet Nam is following a similar path to Turkey in developing its financial services sector. Major financial reforms enacted as part of the WTO accession are transforming the Vietnamese economy and increasing its competitiveness. In all these fields, we are ready to exchange information and experience with Viet Nam through direct contact between the Finance Ministries, Central Banks and other financial institutions from both countries. The signing of the agreement to prevent double taxation will also encourage banks on both sides to open branches in the other country. This is another goal I intend to pursue during my tenure.
Turkey at a glance:
Official language: Turkish
Total area: 783,562 sq.km
Population: over 73.7 million
Currency: Turkish lira (TRY)
National flag: a red flag with a white crescent moon and a star in its centre
Turkey is negotiating to become an EU member. Has the global economic crisis had any impact on this process?
It is no secret that occasional global or local economic crises negatively affect the mood in Europe towards enlargement. But they have not prevented any previous candidate from eventually joining the bloc. As in the case of the other entrants, Turkey's accession process is based on a number of agreements between Turkey and the EU as well as decisions adopted by the EU at the highest levels. The EU and Turkey have committed themselves to moving the negotiation process forward until the last chapter is closed. Once that point is reached, the final decision about our accession will be made by either parliaments or the public on both sides. Therefore, if the principle of "pacta sunt servanda" is to be observed, the negotiations must continue without letting artificial obstacles stall them.
Vietnamese people do not know much about Turkey. As the new Ambassador of Turkey to Viet Nam, what will you do to increase Vietnamese people's understanding of your country?
The press always plays a pivotal role in shaping public perception of other countries and cultures. In increasing awareness of Turkey and Turkish culture in Viet Nam, I want to work closely with the Vietnamese mass media. I have already met with the editors-in-chief of many leading newspapers and magazines both in Ha Noi and HCM City. In the near future, we also intend to organise mutual country visits by journalists from both sides.
Educational co-operation is another important means of building cross-cultural bridges and understanding. One of our major objectives is to forge lasting institutional links between universities in both countries, with a view to boosting academic and popular interest in both countries towards one another. To that end, I have been visiting presidents of major universities to discuss ways of increasing academic co-operation and exchanges. I am confident that Turkey and Viet Nam can establish a sound partnership in this largely unexplored aspect of their relations.
Raising Turkey's profile in Viet Nam also means putting more emphasis on cultural promotion. Turkey's cultural products such as novels by award-winning authors are becoming increasingly popular beyond its own borders. The Turkish film and TV industries are going through a major renaissance, in terms of both the quality and the volume of the works produced. Like Viet Nam, Turkey has a rich cultural heritage and staged many exhibitions of rare artefacts abroad. Introducing at least some samples of such different facets of Turkish culture to Viet Nam will be one of my major objectives.
We would like to express our condolences over the loss of life and property caused by a powerful earthquake that hit southeastern Turkey on Sunday. Could you brief our readers on the situation there? How are the rescue efforts proceeding?
Search and rescue efforts are continuing round the clock. Many SAR teams from across Turkey have been deployed in the disaster area. Both civilian and military capabilities have been fully mobilised to help the stricken people. As of October 27, 185 people have been rescued from the rubble. But unfortunately, we have lost 523 people. The number of injured stands at 1650. The earthquake caused damage of varying degrees to around 4,700 buildings, 861 of which totally collapsed. People whose homes were destroyed or damaged are being temporarily placed in prefabricated housing units. All their basic needs such as healthcare, food and clothing are being met. In the period ahead, they will be placed in new houses to be built away from the fault line and to be funded by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey. — VNA