‘Trade will ensure peace with Turkey’

BRUSSELS – The acquisition of 46 percent of Turkey’s Finansbank by the National Bank of Greece (NBG), agreed to last month, is a springboard for the growth of trade and investment across the Aegean that will diminish the possibility of future crises between Greece and Turkey, President of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO) Murat Yalcintas said yesterday. «Greeks are very tough tradesmen,» he said, referring to the many Greek members of the ITO, the third largest trade chamber in the world, representing 30 percent of the Turkish economy. NBG will automatically become an ITO member, through the Finansbank deal, he explained. Speaking to the European press in Brussels, Yalcintas argued that the banking sector is always a first step for penetrating a country and predicted that many more similar moves from Greek companies will follow. Turkey, he said, is the ideal gateway for Greece to the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The sectors in which Turkey is particularly interested in cooperating with Greek businesses are tourism, the agricultural and food industries and, above all, energy. He repeatedly stressed that Turkey, through the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, has the oil and Greece, through its fleet, has the tankers; he also restated the old Turkish proposal about providing electricity to the Greek islands in the eastern Aegean. He further predicted Turkish investment moves, too, in the future, although he explained that his country is only now emerging from the crisis of recent years and is therefore lagging behind Greece in outside investment. Asked whether the Finansbank acquisition could be derailed or cause NBG problems should there be political clashes between the two countries, Yalcintas categorically dismissed any such likelihood, reiterating that NBG «had not taken any risks» with its move. He considers the possibilities of a serious Greek-Turkish crisis close to zero, although he admitted that in both countries there are some political powers who find reason to exist in such crises. At any rate, he suggested, the strengthening of transactions will eventually normalize relations. He even paraphrased the philosopher Immanuel Kant and his theory that trade is not compatible with war and brings peace by itself, before noting that «all families have problems but not all marriages break up.» On the extension of Turkey’s customs union with the EU to Cyprus, Yalcintas stuck to the official Turkish line, saying that the EU should terminate the isolation of Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island and allow direct trade with Europe, but conceded that Turkey will also have to open its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and airplanes. The solution of the Cyprus problem will require «some imagination» to become reality, he said. The head of the Istanbul chamber echoed the Turkish argument that his country is unavoidably a factor in Europe’s future, both due to the strength of its economy and its geographical and cultural position between Europe and the East. This economic strength – foreign investments of more than 10 billion euros in 2006 from 3.3 billion euros in 2001 – and rapid economic growth guarantee, he said, that 10 years from now, when Turkey is to enter the EU, it will no longer be burdened by today’s criticism that it is too poor to be an EU member.