Sure, the personal relations on high levels of the governments also could create new opportunities especially in this region, in which Eastern culture is dominant to shape people’s characters and visions.
Therefore, this kind of high-level visit must be considered important enough in terms of their conclusions in the short and long term. Looking at the prevalent situation of Ukraine, Erdogan’s visit can be considered a promising step to improve bilateral political and economic relations for both sides; but particularly for Ukraine.
Having a strong relationshiop with a neighbor country which has had outstanding economic growth in last decade may give new hopes to Ukrainian government in this circumstances that the country feels itself pretty lonely in the relations with Western world. Just right after Russia, Turkey is the second biggest nominee for Ukraine as to be executed many collaborative activities at governmental and public levels, together.
Despite it is too early to talk about the concrete, promising conclusions of this visit, the last two meetings of Erdogan and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which took place in Ukraine (Jan. 25, 2011) and Turkey (December 2011) have created concrete results, such as visa exemptions for both sides’ citizens and also ongoing studies on a free-trade agreement process.
Nevertheless, these two Black Sea neighbors have more issues to be straightened out and there are still such steps to be taken vice versa. But at least we see the strong intensions by both sides to improve bilateral relations.
Let’s remember the first official visit of Turkish prime minister to Ukraine in January 2011, which coincided with the annual meeting of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey; more than 500 Turkish businessmen attended to the Economic Forum of Ukraine and Turkey, mutually led by Erdogan and Yanukovych.
Imagine and compare. How many other countries have had such events with this volume of the participants in Ukraine and feel the atmosphere created by Turkish delegation along with enthusiastic businessmen and their Ukrainian counterparts.
It was really a very important sign to give us pause to think about the potential future collaborations of two nations. At the end of the visit, in my review article at that time, I had paid great attention to the summit and the possible conclusions of it. Under the influence of the atmosphere, the two leaders unanimously agreed on the decision to increase bilateral trade volume up to $ 20 billion in very near future.
Preliminary working plan of the Turkish side included the signing of the Free Trade Agreement , visa exemption, opening of the Turkish consulate in Simferopol and to increase the frequency of the flights of Turkish Airlines and other Turkish airline companies. Also it was planned to create a strategy for economic and political cooperation between two countries. After more than a year and a half, we can draw conclusions about which objectives are achieved, and how successful are the results.
Let’s look at the macroeconomic indicators first.
In 2011, the import volume of the Turkish side from Ukraine increased by 26 percent compared to 2010, reaching $4.8 billion against the previous year's $3.8 billion. Exports to Ukraine is increased even more, by 37 percent and reached $1.73 billion, while $1.26 billion was made in the previous year. Bilateral foreign trade turnover increased by 29 percent, and the volume of bilateral trade reached $6.5 billion.
Despite a little decline in foreign trade volume of Turkey in the first half of 2012, export to Ukraine has a tendency of growth. They mutually have great expectations for the booming in trade relations between Ukraine and Turkey after signing of the Free Trade Agreement, even though there are some undetermined points yet, they do not expect any serious obstacles for the realization of this project.
The signing of the agreement definitely will be an important step towards better turnover of goods and services. And being in force from Aug. 1, a new visa regime allows the free movement of citizens. This kind of agreement is a great success for both governments. If the end of the year free trade agreement would be signed, a new era will be started in of both countries’ friendly relations.
During Erdogan’s visit, the official meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council will be taken place in Kyiv; as to be remembered the first meeting was made in Turkey, in December 2011 during President Yanukovych’ visit to Turkey. Ukraine, which wants to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, using alternative energy sources, requires close cooperation with Turkey in this matter. Turkey also intends to learn more about the Ukrainian experience in nuclear and coal industry. Thus, two countries will strengthen cooperation in the energy, and the Council will prepare good soil for this.
The next important point of mutual cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey is tourism. In 2011, 602,000 Ukrainians visited Turkey, which is 6 percent more than in the previous year, making Turkey is the most visited country by Ukrainian tourists. However, Turkish citizens, fed up with Europe, come to see the sights of Lviv and Crimea, to which Turkey is historically and culturally linked as well as with the western Ukraine. It's no secret that Ukraine intends to actively develop the Crimean tourism sector, and to do this it must adopt the successful experience in the tourism industry from Turkey.
Another area of cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey, after the economy and tourism, is the transport sector. Here the air travel comes first. Over the past year, the efforts of the Turkish government, the largest representatives of Civil Aviation and Turkish Airlines, increased the quota on the number of flights to Ukraine. Today, Ukraine is as frequent destination for Turkish Airlines aircraft, such as Germany and Russia, and perhaps in the near future, the Ukrainian direction will become the leader in profit margins. Turkish Airlines has not only increased the quota on the number of flights to 7, but also increased the frequency of flights.
Other Turkish airlines, such as "Pegasus" and "Onur Air" launched new flights to other cities in Ukraine. We are also happy because of the reduction on ticket prices, which remained high until recently. One of the primary goals of the visit of the prime minister should be to increase quotas on the number of flights not only for Turkish Airlines, but for the other Turkish airlines Companies. Increase the number of flights will be beneficial in all points.
Turkey honors Ukraine, as a civilized, democratic state, with which it has a common history and cultural values. Also, our culture is increasingly intertwined through marriages between citizens of both countries and the growing tourism. This year Ukraine marks the 21st anniversary of its independence and the cultural community should be strengthened. The best evidence of this should be the opening of the Cultural Center of Yunus Emre in Kyiv. I hope, this issue will be raised during the visit, and the two countries reach an understanding that in such a beautiful city as Kyiv, there should be a cultural center in which you can teach Turkish language and become familiar with Turkish culture.
Turkey was fairly considered to be a star of the last two annual forums of Yalta European Strategy. Yalta, which is called the Ukrainian Davos, becomes not for the first time a platform for meetings and round-table discussions at the highest levels, to discuss the necessary steps to achieve the European values in Ukraine. This year, Erdogan is attending to the meeting as the guest of honor and co-chairman together with Yanukovych. On this occasion, Erdogan is visiting Crimea for the first time. I am more than sure it would undoubtedly be the stimulating effect for the developments in economic, political and cultural relations between two countries.
Looking at the recent developments, don’t we have the right to be more optimistic in two nations’ friendly relations?
Burak Pehlivan is the vice president of the International Turkish and Ukrainian Business Association.