Business organization begs for refocus on economy

Turkey is wasting its time and energy with futile quarrels surrounding domestic political issues instead of funneling its energy to fuel itself towards the realization of its economic potential, according to Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) President Rifat Hisarcıklıoglu.

“We want a relaxed atmosphere in politics. Let moderation in political relations prevail so that we can concentrate on [pursuing] a positive agenda. We want the economy to be the main topic on our agenda once more. We have a wonderful plan and we believe we can attain success as long as we get rid of this negativity surrounding us,” he said.

Hisarcıklıoglu delivered a speech sharing his assessments on primary topics and sources of concern for non-financial sectors in Kartepe, Kocaeli’s tourism center, during the 10th Economic Summit organized by the Economic Journalists Association (EGD) on Saturday.

Due to the current intense political debates, Turkey is missing out a lot on many crucial subjects that the world is presently discussing, said Hisarcıklıoglu, adding that the financial map of the world is changing. An era of liquidity excess and spending more than earning, which had continued increasingly since 2002, is now over. We will go through a new period in which money will no longer be as abundant as it used to be. Money is no longer plentiful; it is scarce and more valuable.”

Another current issue making citizens around the world scratch their heads — but to which Turkey is not paying enough attention — is the tremendous expansion of the middle class worldwide, he noted. Every year, an additional 150 million people — twice as many as Turkey’s population — are elevated to the ranks of the middle class with income increases, he said, pointing to this potential in terms of foreign trade. But Turkey is yet again passing up this opportunity by running in circles around its domestic political issues.

It is imperative for Turkish authorities to expend more effort to include Turkey in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the United States, which, upon agreement, will be dealing with two-thirds of the annual global trade, said Hisarcıklıoglu. He warned that otherwise Turkey would have to seek advantages in trade with the remaining one-third, which is primarily made up of countries with more protective trade culture, like African nations, China, India and the Russian Federation. He also asserted that Turkey’s annual loss would be $20 billion if it were excluded from TTIP, citing a recent study by the Brookings Institute.

‘Reignite the reform fire’

Hisarcıklıoglu argued that the government distancing itself from the reform agenda might be seen as one of the primary factors pushing Turkey to the middle-income trap, which has caused the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita to get stuck around $10,000 for the last few years despite a rapid surge that had pushed it up from $4,000 in 2002. “We now have to light the torch of the reform once again. We have to pay attention to the future of the country instead of wasting time with quarrels among brothers. The population has increased by 1 million every year in this country; that is to say, we have to create 1 million new jobs every year,” he said.

Hisarcıklıoglu quoted a recent TOBB survey to underline that the business world has an optimistic point of view concerning Turkey’s future. The private sector wants the country to re-adopt an economy-oriented and growth-focused agenda and evade the vicious cycle of politics. He said he visited Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the representatives of five civil society organizations on April 11 to convey the results of this survey and ask Erdogan to take the edge off his tone during domestic political quarrels. Erdogan has been widely accused of escalating tensions in society during his rallies in the run-up to the recent elections by fabricating phantom villains and waging a tug-of-war with them to evade serious corruption allegations against him and a number of government members. He said they would visit the leaders of the opposition parties as well, to send the same messages with hopes of lessening societal tensions drawing attentions to increasing wealth and prosperity again.

When asked how Erdogan reacted, Hisarcıklıoglu did not want to say; he said it was up to the prime minister to share his views with the public.

‘Economy doesn’t run as chain of command’

Hisarcıklıoglu also commented on the interest rate policies of the Central Bank of Turkey, which is rumored to be under covert pressure from the government to lower interest rates. He said that as a businessperson, he would like to see the interest rates to be as low as possible, but that the economy is administered with a fact-based, objective and rational approach. “The economy is not steered by wishes and it doesn’t operate as a chain of command. Let the fundamentals of the economy be respected, no more, no less.”

He was asked about recent laws that aim to expand the authorities of the bureaucracy. “We are against the transfer of the powers of the national will to bureaucrats, even through laws. I say this clearly. We can’t predict how these laws might be exploited in the future,” he said, adding that this was one of the concerns that they conveyed to Erdogan during their meeting.