In the business world besides companies which grow overnight, there are those which grow gradually but with sound steps. The light for those companies which grow very rapidly is likely to soon die away.

Zeynel Abidin Erdem sees Spain as key model for Turkey

Date: 1.01.2006


Zeynel Abidin Erdem sees Spain as key model for Turkey

Turkish business leader reminds fellow Turks of early ED membership support from Spain.

While keen on developing trade relations with the United States, Dr. Zeynel Abidin Erdem never loses sight of the importance of building closer business ties with Spain, Erdem runs Genpa, a leading company in the mobile phone business, and manages work in several other sectors through his diversified Erdem Holding.

Erdem works in developing trade relations with many countries; besides the United States and Spain, he has also worked with Iraq, Jordan and Sudan. President of the Turkish Spanish Business Association for the past 13 years, he is honorary consul of both Sudan and Spain, in the latter role responsible for the Marmara region covering the key industrial and agricultural areas of Bursa, Kocaeli, Izmit, Sakarya, Bolu, Bilecik and Balikesir.

Numbers tell: "Trade between Spain and Turkey has now reached $7 billion, growing from practically nothing in the mid-1980s," he said. "Spain is becoming more and more useful as a business partner day by day. Spanish businessmen want to partner with Turks because we share the same Mediterranean culture."

Erdem likes to remind his fellow Turks that Spain was the first country in Europe to support the idea of Turkey joining the European Union. "All the way back in 1986 the Spanish said that the EU would need Turkey for the coming conflicts of religion, culture and language, that Turkey would serve as a kind of buffer state between Europe and the Middle East," he said. And Turks love Spain back, with tourist visas last year up eight times from the number issued in 2004, according to Erdem. "As a Turk, when you go to Spain you get a very warm reception," he said.

Bilateral trade now centers on the automotive, agriculture and defense sectors, with many different kinds of small and medium-sized companies from Spain making contracts all over Turkey, from Gaziantep and Manisa to Bursa and Istanbul.

Politics, too: Following the so-called cartoon crisis, when Muslims across the world protested caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined his Spanish counterpart, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in calling for an alliance of civilizations. "These days everyone wants to be like Spain, for it's perceived as a neutral country," said Erdem.

The Turkish business leader foresees Spain becoming gradually even more important to Turkey than the big four in the EU, Germany, France, Italy and Britain. "We already have big ties with them and yet Spain will only become more important over the next 10 years," he said.

How about transatlantic relations, does the alliance of civilizations go there? "I'm really not a politician, so when I say we need to build stronger ties with the United States I mean us, the businesspeople," said Erdem. Erdem has only missed the annual Turkish-U.S. spring conference in Washington twice in 25 years, once because he was ill and once because a rescheduled speaking engagement in Israel fell on the same date.

Big friend: He will attend the big powwow this year, the four-day conference to be held in Washington beginning on March 26 and held under the auspices of the American-Turkish Council, the Turkish-U.S. Business Council of the Foreign Economic Relations Council (DEIK) and the American Friends of Turkey.

Turkish people did not and do not support the American-led coalition that invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein, but Erdem insisted that people face up to realities. Iraq is a mess, a tragedy, but Turkey must act in partnership with the United States in the Middle East, he said.

As with his ideas on Spain, he cited key help that the United States provided over the last decade or so. "Who else was offering billions of dollars in support after the crisis in 2001?" he said. "Who supported the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline for many years? Who helped us capture the PKK leader? Who rejected the German arms embargo and said 'we support Turkey'?"

These aren't isolated cases, he said, "but evidence of a long and sustained policy of political and economic support from the most powerful nation on earth."



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