India and Turkey are two countries of considerable economic strength but not deeply connected. India has looked over Turkey to the West, and Turkey, too, has looked to Europe rather than the East. Today, these two emerging economies are re-connecting to build a new partnership, going way beyond the current trade level of $7 billion. They are looking at each other, seriously, to build relationships.
It is not as if the economic ties are zero. Far from it. These two economies, whose combined GDP is $3 trillion, do have bilateral investments. Turkey is into tourism, textiles and construction in India which, on its part, has invested in IT services, hydrocarbons, pipelines and railway construction in Turkey. Investment itself reflects a stage beyond trade, because individual corporations have accessed markets and understood the potential of locating inside the country rather than only depending on exports.
But the potential for economic ties is way beyond what has so far been exploited. And there is a realisation that there is mutual lack of knowledge about each other as well as inadequate efforts to build relationships, friendship and understanding, which are the underpinnings of a much stronger future, together. Many more corporations in each country need to be made aware of the opportunities in the other. And, for this, a special and sustained effort needs to be made.
Some official-level structures and foundations have been laid. Turkey and India have a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (1998) and an Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion (1997) agreement. There are also, now, institutional links in the Joint Commission for Economic and Technical cooperation as well as a Joint Study Group in regard to feasibility of a Free Trade Agreement. These are important pre-requisites for moving closer together and expanding economic ties. But, these, by themselves, are only frameworks. These are not the drivers for engagement.
The time has now come to build on these. Fortunately, a new initiative, the India-Turkey Forum, is designed to do just this. The Forum met in Istanbul recently and has agreed to try and deepen trade and investment relationships, which are based on a strong and entrepreneurial private sector in both countries, but, also, to go beyond.
Cultural cooperation is always crucial in building understanding. These take the form of people exchanges, joint film productions, film festivals, using filming locations, university-level cooperation and faculty deputation. This could be extended to think-tanks. Cultural exchanges create deeper mutual understanding and must be top of the agenda going forward.
Defence cooperation is another area which helps reinforce trust and confidence. Apart from high-level visits between military chiefs, one area of cooperation could be joint exercises. Both countries do these with others. Time now to consider doing these together? Interaction between the defence forces of India and Turkey would be crucial in consolidating bilateral ties.
The India-Turkey Forum has agreed to better use the diplomatic infrastructure; to communicate widely the success stories of business; explore cooperation in the region; help to expedite FTA negotiations; support high-level official visits and exchanges, to promote tourism and increase direct flights. Exploring the possibility of maritime cooperation has also been suggested. The agenda for the future needs to be broad and wide so that progress can be made on several fronts.
Turkey and India have commonalities: both are secular democracies, based on ethnic, religious and linguistic plurality; both are G20 countries engaged in the international economic process; they have a shared interest in the stability and security of Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East. Both countries, with dynamic economies, are energy deficient and affected by increases in oil prices. Both have large remittances from their overseas nationals. These commonalities must not be taken for granted; these are significant.
The stakes of both countries in Central Asia and Afghanistan are heavy and there could be increased cooperation in specific areas.
The India-Turkey Forum’s first meeting concluded with a new agenda shaping up for joint working, both bilaterally and multilaterally. The outlook, therefore, is very positive and the neglect of the past will soon be forgotten. This is not a one-off effort. It is a process. It will take time, because people need to know each other and know each others’ countries. But, the will is there and, therefore, the India-Turkey relationship looks positive and bright.
The writers are co-chairs of the India-Turkey Forum