By Akram Malik

ISLAMABAD Aug 1 (APP): Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who arrived here Monday night on a one-day official visit to Pakistan, said the excellent bilateral relations were being transformed into economic partnership for the mutual benefit of both countries.

“The excellent bilateral relations are already being transformed into a vibrant economic partnership as both countries want to build strong and mutually advantageous relations,” he told APP in a wide-ranging exclusive interview.

Mevlut Cavusoglu said bilateral relations and regional developments will be on the agenda during his visit to the federal capital. Turkey and Pakistan enjoy deep-rooted and time-tested relations of brotherhood, he added.

“We are not geographically neighbors, but the affinity between Turkey and Pakistan is unique, since the close ties between our countries derive its strength from the brotherly relations between our peoples.”

To a question he said the potential for economic cooperation and integration between Turkey and Pakistan “has not yet been fully tapped” despite similar economic structures and efforts of entrepreneurs of the two countries.

Cavusoglu said a major reason for this was weak logistics connections. “I believe that strengthening logistics connectivity between the two countries and further to Eurasia will bring a strong impetus to the integration between the two countries. We are working on increasing our transport connectivity by all means. Flights have been increased and need to be increased even further.”

He said that container train service on the Istanbul-Islamabad corridor would provide “a fast, reliable and low-cost logistics alternative that has a potential to boost trade relations.”

BALO (Great Anatolia Logistics Organization) is undertaking feasibility studies for strengthening coordination and initiating further investments for this train service.

‘Road Transport Joint Commission’ between the two countries will hold its second meeting in Islamabad this month. In this regard, Pakistan’s adherence to International TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) system in 2015 is an important step for the regulation of road transport.

The Turkish foreign minister said people-to-people connections were also of great importance for fostering connectivity and integration between Turkey and Pakistan.

Turkey-Pakistan Business Council and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey are closely cooperating with the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry to provide platforms for increasing interaction between the business communities.

Turkish and Pakistani business communities are also cooperating at the regional and trilateral level in the organizations and mechanisms such as the Federation of D-8 Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Chambers of Commerce (ECO CCI) and Istanbul Forum for Economic Cooperation between Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“To foster entrepreneurship and innovation in three countries and the relations between young entrepreneurs, the Forum aims to establish business incubation centers similar to GARAJ incubation center in TOBB University of Economics and Technology with the assistance of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).”

Under the framework of ‘Turkey-Pakistan High Level Strategic Cooperation Council’ working groups have been established on industry, trade and investment, banking and finance, culture and tourism and communications-railways.

Holding of trade fairs, exchange of trade delegations, technical assistance and scholarship programmes should be fulfilled to enhance bilateral trade, the Turkish foreign minister said.

He said the trade volume with Pakistan exceeded US$ 1 billion in 2011. “Unfortunately, it decreased to US$ 599.6 million in 2015. We need to increase our trade volume which is far below the potential. In this regard, diversification of our trade is essential.”

The signing of a Free Trade Agreement without delay, he said, would also make a significant contribution to the bilateral trade while the two sides were considering opening trade centers in each other’ countries.

He said Turkish companies’ investments in Pakistan currently stand at US$ 900 million. There were various areas for Turkish investors – to explore in the vibrant and potential sectors of tourism, information technology, food processing, agro-based products, dairy development, hotel industry and resorts development.

Pakistan has its own energy resources such as hydro-electric, coal, oil and natural gas, shale gas, and also alternative energy resources such as solar and wind. Turkish companies that have experience in energy projects around the world, have already been involved in some of these fields in Pakistan with successful results.

“Energy is a field where we expect more Turkish companies to participate,” the minister said.

He said Pakistan was the world’s fourth largest producer of milk, fourth largest holder of livestock, fifth largest producer of wheat, among top rice producers and of course in mango production as well.

“Turkey has made important reforms in agriculture and has a very developed food processing industry. Not only can we trade with each other, but also we can bring know-how and process agricultural products in Pakistan, for exports to third countries.”

He said Turkish textile companies with their developed technical capabilities and investment capacity were also encouraged to explore this sector for joint ventures.

Infrastructure is another area where Turkish companies have extensive international experience. Turkish contractors have undertaken 8,693 projects in 107 countries with a total value of US$ 322.6 billion. At present 42 Turkish companies are included among the ‘Top 250 International Contractors List’ with an annual turnover of US$ 19.3 billion in 2015.

“With this figure Turkey ranked second in the world after the People’s Republic of China. On the other hand Turkey is among the world’s top 12 producers of building materials such as cement, glass, steel and ceramic tiles. Despite the effects of global crisis in the international markets that have been felt in 2008 and aftermath, Turkish international contracting services fared quite well in this period.”

Pakistan is in the process of upgrading and expanding its infrastructure. In fact, many challenges faced today in the field of energy and economy are related to lack of investment in the past in dams, roads and railways. This is another area where our business communities can work together.

Questioned on Pak-Turkish cooperation to fight the scourge of terrorism, he said, “Terrorism is a global scourge and should be countered globally.”

“Pakistan is a very important partner not only for Turkey, but for entire international community in our joint fight against terrorist networks. We appreciate efforts of the Pakistani authorities in dealing with this threat. We have exemplary cooperation with Pakistan in countering terrorism.”

He said both the countries had a strong legal basis for such a cooperation and the authorities concerned were in close contact with their counterparts in Pakistan.

On signing Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Istanbul and Islamabad, he said Turkey and Pakistan had decided to sign a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement at the Fourth High Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting held in February 2015 in Islamabad.

The official negotiations were launched on October 2015.

From July 25 to 27, 2016, the third round of FTA negotiations was completed in Ankara. Thanks to the efforts of both the technical delegations and the strong political leadership of our countries, we came a long way regarding the ongoing process. The next round will take place at the end of this month in Islamabad.

“In 2015, our bilateral trade volume was US$ 599.7 million. Our exports to Pakistan were US$ 289 million, while our imports from Pakistan were US$ 310.5 million. In the first 5 months of 2016, compared to the same period of 2015, our exports to Pakistan increased by 39.6% and became US$ 151 million, whereas our imports from Pakistan decreased by 30.2% and realized as US$ 105 million. In this period, our bilateral trade volume reached US$ 256 million.”

He said even though there was a slight decrease in the bilateral trade volume in the first five months of 2016, “I believe that our efforts will pave the way for carrying our bilateral trade volume to higher levels in a mutually beneficial way.”

“We believe that this comprehensive FTA will also bring our countries closer by opening up new horizons in our economic and commercial ties. It will no doubt increase the bilateral trade volume and contribute to strengthened deep-rooted and strong economic relations,” the minister said.

He said additionally, the inclusion of trade in services and investment into the FTA will also serve to deepen trade and investment relations between the two countries.

“Therefore, I am confident that finalizing the FTA by the end of September this year, as it was decided by our leaders, will not only strengthen our trade relations, but will also contribute significantly to developing our bilateral investments,” he said .

Answering a question on Pakistan- China Economic Corridor, he said Turkey signed the “Memorandum of Understanding on Aligning the Silk Road and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the Middle Corridor Initiative between the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Government of the People’s Republic of China” on November 14, 2015 in Antalya, Turkey during the G20 Summit. Turkey also welcomes the cooperation between Pakistan and China in that regard.

We have developed certain projects such as the “Middle Corridor” linking Turkey to the Caucasus and the Central Asian Republics via crossing the Caspian Sea. Marmaray tube crossing under the Bosphorus Bridge has already been built and links Europe and Asia.

Another big tube link under the Bosphorus named “Eurasia” is being constructed. Additionally, the third bridge, three level Bosphorus Tunnel and the new international airport of Istanbul are also under construction and will all be parts of an intermodal transport linkage between Europe and Asia. Once the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project becomes operational, an uninterrupted railway line will connect Beijing to London through the Caspian Sea and the Bosphorus.

“We attach great importance to the utilization of the ‘Middle Corridor,’ which will constitute a cost effective and complementary route.”

“We believe that Turkey, Pakistan and China can collaborate closely in reviving the ancient Silk Road. Therefore a strong cooperation between these countries will bring successful results in aligning the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative with the Middle Corridor project, he said.

He said Turkey believed that the Middle Corridor Initiative and the ‘Belt and Road’ will contribute to regional development, welfare, cultural exchange and enhance people-to-people contacts. It will also provide new employment opportunities and energy security.

“Thus, we support integration projects in the fields of transportation, logistics, investment, energy and trade that would contribute to the realization of the “Modern Silk Road.”

Pakistan’s geographic location shall play an essential role in establishing both the Middle Corridor project and the Belt and Road initiative.

The Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), where Turkey and Pakistan are founding members, is another area of cooperation between the two countries within the framework of Belt and Road.

“We are ready to work together with our Pakistani brothers. In this regard, we think that scheduled rounds of Istanbul – Tahran – Islamabad freight trains could be a good area of cooperation within the framework of Belt and Road.”

He said that a regular consultation mechanism should be established between the relevant ministries, particularly the Ministries of Transportation.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu in response to a question on Afghanistan said, “Turkey fully supports and considers the ‘Quadrilateral Coordination Group’ and the ‘High Level Bilateral Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination’ between brotherly Pakistan and Afghanistan as constructive steps. We commend the efforts and facilitating role of Pakistan in this regard.”

He said as one of the main pillars of the political transition and a key to lasting peace in Afghanistan and for regional stability, “the successful conclusion of the Peace and Reconciliation Process is vital.”

The Turkish foreign minister underlined the need for establishing mutual trust between Kabul and Islamabad, saying, a functioning cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan were among the priorities of Turkey’s foreign policy towards the region.

“With this understanding, Turkey initiated Trilateral Summit mechanism in 2007, and so far eight Summit meetings have been held. As seen in the example of ‘Quadrilateral Coordination Group’ and recently established ‘High Level Bilateral Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination,’ we observe that our efforts brought concrete results in establishing dialogue channels between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“I am convinced that Pakistan and Afghanistan are capable to clear out their differences in finding common solutions to their mutual challenges and establish a genuine trust between their institutions.”

Turkey would resolutely continue its efforts in that regard and stand ready to assume any additional role if required by both countries. He said Turkey was “ready to host the ninth Summit of the Turkey- Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilarteral Trilateral Process.”

In reply to a question on the failed coup attempt on July
15, he said, “It was the people of Turkey from all backgrounds and political views who thwarted the plot. They displayed a historic solidarity as they stood bravely in front of the tanks and reclaimed their democratic rights. In short, the people of Turkey have proven their patriotism and commitment to democracy.”

“This coup attempt was staged by the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO). This is crystal clear. We have testimonies of apprehended army officers who took part in the coup attempt who confessed their affiliation with FETO.

There are other crucial findings, as well,” the foreign minister said.