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Turkey day in Boston – why we need to look beyond the BRICs

Posted by Devin Cole  March 29, 2012 02:18 PM

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Eleven years ago, economist Jim O’Neill wrote an article touting certain countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—that were on the verge of economic growth. Turns out, his BRIC picks were more or less right on.

Last year, O’Neill provided an unexpected sequel with another acronym: MIST, consisting of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey.

That latter country, about a decade shy of a century old, has earned increasing amounts of attention in the global landscape. This month the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a study that argued for stronger partnerships with Turkey, citing its “strategic location, dynamic economy, and membership in the G20, WTO, and OECD.”

Blue Mosque.jpg

Istanbul's Blue Mosque

Certainly, Turkey boasts some unique qualities: secular governance in a mostly Muslim country; an unapologetic and emboldened foreign policy stance that has paid off handsomely in Arab countries; and even newfound success and acclaim in science, sports, literature, and film. (For a taste, check out the Boston Turkish Film Festival, running now through April 8.)

Above all is the nation’s blossoming economy.

At one point last year its GDP reached a staggering 11 percent growth rate, and it has evolved into an emerging international competitor and the proud home of respected brands like Turkish Airlines, Mavi Jeans and Koc Holding. This year its exports are expected to reach a record $149 billion, as it inches its way closer to becoming one of the 15 largest economies in the world.

Over the past 50 years, the Turkish people have developed two essential qualities: resilience and adaptability. This has been demonstrated by their ability to not just survive, but thrive in the face of sustained high inflation, three military takeovers and two financial crises.

At the turn of the century, when the economy hit rock bottom and the executives who collapsed the banking sector were exposed, Kemal Dervis was lured from the World Bank to re-route the ship. Between his swift leadership and the single-party political stability, the country entered an era of long-term planning and re-structuring. What had been a long period of Turkey surviving by the skin of its teeth slowly settled into a calculated calm.

The country has been on the Massachusetts radar recently, and with good reason. American exports to Turkey have more than doubled since 2009. In our state specifically, exports to Turkey reached nearly $255 million in 2011, an astounding increase of 74 percent from the year before.

We need to make sure that this encouraging trend continues. Our Commonwealth’s leadership in education, high-tech, innovation and life sciences makes us a strong candidate to pursue mutually beneficial avenues of collaboration, trade and investment with a country that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently described as “one of the most exciting places in the world.”

Turkey’s success shows that, in assessing our trading allies, it’s vital to look beyond the usual suspects to some of the world’s most promising up-and-comers. This is something we’ve taken to heart at Brandeis International Business School: in the last few years the school has organized three separate academic trips to Turkey as a way to give students a first-hand look at its unique economic climate.

Brandeis IBS also just chose Turkey to be a focus country at its April 3 Global Trade Summit, which aims to help business leaders better understand and succeed in global markets. I particularly look forward to gaining more insights from the session I’m moderating that features a top advisor to the Turkish prime minister, the Consul General of Turkey to Boston, and the chairman of the board of the Istanbul-based Bahçesehir University, which is opening an office in Boston on April 2.

Massachusetts as a whole could stand to learn a lot from engaging in more trade and investment with Turkey, not to mention more regularly exchanging knowledge with a country that, through years of upheaval, has become a master of the tightrope act known as managing a “crisis economy.”

Turkey still has to prove the sustainability of its economic success. But if it can use its resilience and adaptability to its advantage, it has the potential to truly find its place in the big leagues, beyond the mist and the bricks. And the Bay State has every reason to try to be there with them every step of the way.

Can Erbil is a Senior Lecturer at Brandeis International Business School and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. A native of Turkey, he has consulted for the World Bank's International Trade Division on issues of trade policy, integration, market openness and export competitiveness.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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