Doing Business with Turkey, a Long-Time Ally with Feet in Two Continents
Turkey is experiencing economic growth that is manifesting itself both by strong demand for investment by business and by growth in personal consumption. The Department of Commerce’s senior commercial officer in Turkey talks about how U.S. companies can tap into this market.
Since 2006, Jim Fluker has been the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service’s senior commercial officer in Ankara, Turkey, where he oversees the Commercial Service’s three offices and works with the U.S. missions in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. He began his career with the Commercial Service in 1992, and has been posted to Kazakhstan, Spain, and Venezuela. He sat down with Doug Barry of the Department of Commerce’s Trade Information Center to talk about opportunities for U.S. exporters in this country.
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Jim Fluker of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service has been counseling U.S. businesses in Turkey since 2006. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
Barry: What are the business opportunities in Turkey and why would a U.S. business look there?
Fluker: Turkey is a market that U.S. exporters can’t afford to ignore. It’s big and fast growing, with a population of about 72 million and a diversifying economy. On the industrial side, there is a lot of demand for equipment for capital improvements and new technologies. There is also growing prosperity for individuals, which increases demand for consumer goods. Aside from this, Turkey is a pretty safe country. It’s also Western-oriented and has been a long-time ally of the United States and a charter member of NATO. So it mixes some of the Middle East and some of Europe.
Barry: What are the first steps that U.S. companies should take when considering whether Turkey would be a right market for them?
Fluker: I’d encourage them to come over here and take a good look. But even before doing that, I’d strongly recommend that an exporter visit the nearest U.S. Export Assistance Center. They should also check the information available on the U.S. government’s export portal, Export.gov, to see what kind of opportunities exist in Turkey. The next step would be to talk to my office. We offer services that can introduce you to the market.
Barry: What about the business culture in Turkey? To what extent is it different from our own, and what rules of thumb should a U.S. company take into account when approaching their Turkish counterparts?
Fluker: Turkey could be classified as a “Mediterranean” market. In a nutshell, that means you have to take time to get to know your partner.
Barry: Does that mean years of patiently waiting and communicating, and spending a lot of money to travel there?
Fluker: No. We’re talking about weeks or months. Some companies have come in here and moved very quickly, found great partners, and have done very well. It’s more a matter of commitment than time, but you have to be patient to look for the right kind of business partner.
Barry: Do you have to be a large business in order to be successful there?
Fluker: Certainly the big names are all here—Ford, GE, Cargill, 3M, etc. But we’re also seeing smaller companies, and they’re doing pretty well here.
Barry: What kinds of industries, then?
Fluker: Industries like defense, high-tech, automotive, and medical. We’re also seeing a lot of activity in education. Many people may not know that there are more Turkish students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States than from any other country in Europe.
Barry: That would seem to be a very good development.
Fluker: Yes. Because a lot of Turks have attended U.S. schools, they have a high regard for U.S. business and business practices, and are happy to work with U.S. businesspeople.
Barry: Because Turkey is a Muslim country, do religion and culture enter into business relationships in a way that they might not elsewhere?
Fluker: Not really. In Turkey, there’s no element of compulsion in the practice of one’s religion: you’ll meet all kinds of people. And the most important thing an outsider can do is show respect for different beliefs if and when they present themselves.
Barry: Can you give U.S. companies a couple of tips on how to interact with their Turkish counterparts, to encourage a good business relationship?
Fluker: One thing is dealing with alcohol in a social situation. Let them be the ones to offer it. In many cases, they will. But Turks who are more conservative may not. Also, you have to keep your eye out for travel during the month of Ramadan, or “Ramazan” as it’s called in Turkish. It’s a month when many Turks, especially government officials, might be hard to get hold of.
Barry: So a U.S. business visitor should be prepared to drink lots of sweet tea and coffee?
Fluker: Well, you can sweeten the tea yourself. It doesn’t come sweet here, unlike other parts of the Middle East. But, yes, you’ll almost always be offered tea at business meetings in Turkey.
For More Information
To learn more about the Turkish markets, go to export.gov. In the left-hand navigation column, click on “International Offices.” From there, the entire menu of links to the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service’s (USFCS) worldwide network will be accessible. Click on “Turkey” to obtain information about each of the USFCS’s three offices in Turkey, along with market research, information about upcoming trade shows and events, and other resources to help your company research the Turkish market. A transcript of a 2009 Webinar on Turkey can be found on Export.gov.