Trade volume between Turkey and the United States may reach $75 billion through a free trade agreement and the removal of regulations and tariffs, the chairman of the American-Turkish Council has said, stressing that the bilateral potential has never been realized.
“I’m of the opinion that we can do a lot more, whether we go up to $75 billion or not, I don’t know, but there are some things that we can do to narrow the odds that might happen in terms of tariffs and trade policies, regulations that are no longer useful, you know. As we move more towards a free trade relationship I think that you’ll find that we’ll make faster progress to get to that $75 billion,” James Jones, the chairman of the ATC, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Feb. 5.
Former NATO Commander and National Security Adviser under the Obama administration, Jones has been ATC chairman since 2014 and is paying a visit to Turkey before a high-level conference with the participation of senior Turkish and American officials in Washington D.C.
The ATC delegation is in Turkey the Aerospace and Defense Trade mission, partnering with U.S. Commercial Service and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the chairman said, informing that 35 companies are visiting Turkey with them.
“Most of the conversation I’ve had with American companies that are coming over here is about their interest in how to not only maintain the relationship but reach the level of tradethat both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Donald Trump have agreed to, which is about $75 billion,” he said.
Both countries are interested in signing a free trade agreement to remove all trade barriers in front of them but as Jones recalled Turkey’s customs union agreement with the EU creates a restriction for the latter.
“I think that those are some of the things we have to work through or work around. We have to be respectful of agreements like that. But I do think that as Turkey and the U.S. and their bilateral agreement are able to work more towards a more and more free trade and less regulation and less government over side and less restrictions on the relationship, the more progress we make,” he added.
More optimistic than pessimistic
According to the ATC chairman, at least in the short-term the bilateral ties have appeared to be in a climate that is more optimistic than pessimistic, although there are still some big issues on the table. A healthy relationship requires mutual respect, he recalled, “If one side perceives that the other side is dictating, or not taking into account how the other side looks at the exact same problem even though they do not agree, if one side perceives that the other side is not even paying attention or taking it seriously, that’s not the basis for a healthy relationship.”
As a long-term follower of Turkish-American ties, the former general stressed that the approval rating of the U.S. in Turkey is under 20 percent and is an important problem which shows a good majority of Turks consider the U.S. as the “enemy of Turkey.”
“I know that our approval rating in Turkey today seems to be somewhere under 20 percent though, that’s intolerable. This relationship deserves much better than that and our publics need to be educated a little bit more effectively by our governments and others who can really explain the vitality and the essentiality of the Turkish-American relationship.”
He said Washington needs to think a little bit about why is it that the approval rating of the U.S. is 15 percent in Turkey, asking: “What is it that our embassies are doing about it, what is that the business communities are doing about it. How do you engage in order to change that perception? I think that’s one of the biggest problems.”
New architecture of dialogue needed
On a question, Jones described the extradition of Fethullah Gülen and the U.S. support to the YPG, a group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, as two very difficult issues between the two countries.
A new architecture of dialogue at the national level would be very useful because it’s enough to leave to ambassadors or leave it up to single-interest ministers, the chairman said, suggesting: “I would like to see these issues tabled before something like a presidential commission by both presidents. They should be in session until they solve these things or they find common ground and propose a solution to both presidents.”
Security zone should have been done
As a very-experienced senior military figure, although retired, Jones answered questions about ongoing discussions between the two nations over setting up a security zone along the Syrian border.
Recalling that the Obama administration’s decision not to react to red lines after Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against his people in 2013 was a colossal foreign policy mistake, Jones said.
“Frankly, if I recall correctly, those days the Turkish position was to take a page out of Provide Comfort [implemented in northern Iraq] and create a northeastern security zone in the country which would have materially enhanced the plight of the refugees and would also have given Turkey some comfort about the safety-security of their southern border. I personally think we should have done that,” he said.
The former general said he hears in discussions that maybe some new variation of the security zone is being considered, stressing: “Which I think, personally, is a good thing. I think it answers some of Turkey’s fundamental legitimate problems, I think it also creates a sense of stability that addresses multiple issues associated with the future of Syria.”
US defense sector concerned about Turkey’s S-400 deal
When asked, the ATC chairman, who also represents a number of American defense companies, re-affirmed that the U.S. defense sector is concerned of Turkey’s deal with Russia to acquire the S-400 anti-missile ballistic system.
“Turkey is a sovereign government and wants to be consulted and respected in all of the dealings with its partner, the U.S. I’m not sure that they felt that that’s been done, quite to their satisfaction. I think the purchase of the S-400 is indicative of the fact that in this multipolar world, countries like Turkey and others now have other choices, that they didn’t have 20-30 years ago,” he suggested.
“With all due respect to Turkey’s decision, its deal with Russia was a serious jolt to the bilateral relationship and also to the NATO relations, because the proposed system was not compatible with the alliance system,” the former general stated.
“Where that gets very complicated is with the advent of F-35 and you know Russian penetration into the alliance, wherever it is, but in this case it is Turkey, it is causing people to think hard about what they should do next. I think this is solvable, I think people of good will can find a way around this, including the U.S.,” he said.
A relationship should be based on trust and respect, but at the end of the day “the alliance is the alliance” and it’s a critically important one, Jones said. “I would hope that we can find a way to satisfy Turkey’s legitimate needs for its own self-defense using weapon systems that are standard and interoperable in the alliance either Chinese or Russian because that penetration into the alliance would make things more difficult.”