Turkish Ambassador to New Delhi Firat Sunel, who has also been accredited to Nepal, was in Kathmandu last week. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times talked to Ambassador Sunel on how both nations could further enhance their bilateral relations. Excerpts:
You are going to open your embassy in Nepal. How do you think our bilateral relations should advance in the new age?
Relations between Turkey and Nepal, both on bilateral and multi-lateral levels are excellent. We support each other at international organisations and have very close contacts abroad.
Next year, we are going to celebrate our 60th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations. During these 60 years, we have not had any problems over bilateral issues. We decided to announce the opening of our embassy in Kathmandu.
I cannot tell when our Embassy will be operative but I am here in Nepal now to search for an appropriate building for the embassy and to initiate other processes required for the opening of our embassy. This is a very important landmark and milestone in our relations.
Nepal is an important country with almost 30 million population.
Our commercial and economic relations are good. Turkey is among the top five countries where Nepal exports its goods and that is very important. After we open our embassy in Kathmandu, we hope that Nepal also opens its embassy in Ankara. At present, Nepal's Embassy in Islamabad is accredited to Turkey. Once we have our embassies in both of our countries, then our relations will be even deeper.
During COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of our bilateral trade decreased a little bit, but now the volume of trade is growing and we are expecting it to increase even further. Turkish investors are showing keen interest in Nepal, I am very happy about it. Turkish construction companies can also come and assist Nepal in building Nepal's infrastructure.
They have experience all over the world.
Cooperation in tourism can also be a top item in our bilateral agenda. We have a lot of common points in tourism as both Nepal and Turkey are naturally beautiful countries and have historical and cultural richness. Whenever I have a chance between the meetings, I try to explore your beautiful country.
We went to Patan city. I was really impressed by the hospitality of your people.
I know that Nepal is historically and culturally very rich, but when I see all these with my own eyes, it is very satisfying. Next time I also want to explore nature of the Himalayan region.
On the other hand, Nepal has not used its full tourism potential. Nepal deserves to attract more tourists from all over the world. Turkey being the sixth most visited country globally has good experience in this regard and we are ready to share our experience with Nepal. We also want to encourage more Nepali people to visit Turkey and vice versa. People to people contacts are very important and in this regard, tourism is not just a source of revenue, but also an instrument of cultural interaction. The more you visit a country, the more you know about each other. More visits from foreign countries can help develop cultural ties between them and that contributes to the whole relations.
Another main sector is agriculture where we can work together. Nepal has abundance of water and monsoon rains and the soil is fertile. Turkey also has well-developed agriculture sector.
Turkish investors can bring new agriculture technologies to the country to increase productivity.
When exactly will you open your embassy in Kathmandu?
Well, we have taken the decision and initiated the process but it will take awhile. We have to complete a long process, that's why I cannot tell you when exactly we will open our embassy.
But I can say as soon as possible.
What items do you think Nepal can export to Turkey?
We import yarn from Nepal, which we shall continue because Nepali yarn is very good. We are good at producing agriculture machinery which we think we can export to Nepal. We can also export to Nepal most of the fabrics, textiles, raw materials, blankets, electronics, other machineries and spare parts.
We shall further work on the lists of items that both countries can export to each other.
What can Nepal learn from the growth of Turkey's tourism industry?
Nepal has a good chance of promoting its tourism. Everybody knows about Nepal and its landmarks such as Mount Everest. That's why Nepal does not need too much to promote itself and that's the advantage. Nepal has been visited by people from all over the world for the last half century.
They know Kathmandu and other historical and cultural richness elsewhere.
Your traditional hospitality is also awesome!
All these are advantages for Nepal in terms of attracting tourists. But there are lots of things to do at the operational level, and I think we can cooperate in this regard. Turkey can share its experiences with Nepal to develop its infrastructure.
Turkey as a destination has always been a popular place for tourists.
Thanks to the tourism infrastructure, high quality of service and promotional activities conducted all over the world, the country ranks among the top 10 favourable destinations of the world. In this regard, having hosted 51.2 million international visitors in 2019, Turkey became the sixth most visited country in the world.
Do you think we need to liberalise our system more to attract FDI?
To increase FDI, promoting the quality of local products and services, improving human resources, reducing social problems and creating job opportunities are important. To attract FDI, a country's infrastructure and legal frameworks need to be developed.
We are planning to sign bilateral agreements with Nepal and after signing these agreements, it will be more favourable for Turkish investors to invest in Nepal.
I have regular contacts with Turkish business people. They have already invested here and some are planning to invest. We think Nepal has not fully tapped all its potential. Nepal has a young population like Turkey. Almost 40 per cent of Nepal's population is young. Nepal would need better services, investments, know-how, technology, partners and foreign investors to give a promising future to the young population. We consider Nepal as a big trade partner. Turkish companies are projecting their products at European standards but at cheaper price.
Turkey has progressed a lot in past 20-30 years. Do you think Nepal can learn from your success story?
Yes, Turkey is a G20 country and we have developed our economic infrastructure, especially in the last 20 years.
We carried out important reforms in many areas from democracy to foreign policy, from healthcare to defence industry, from trade and investment to tourism. All these reforms elevated the country's position to the level it deserves in the new global order.
We can cooperate with Nepal to share our experiences. On the other hand, located in a region adjacent to approximately 60 per cent of the world's proven oil and natural gas reserves, Turkey has become one of the biggest natural gas and electricity markets in its region.
What were the measures that helped your country to prosper in a short span of time?
Decisive steps for economic reforms, which enabled us to integrate with the global economy were most important.
We succeeded in attracting FDI. According to FDI Markets, Turkey became the 9th most popular FDI destination with 160 projects in overall Europe in 2020, retaining its ranking in 2019, while increasing its overall share in Europe from 3 per cent in 2019 to 3.1 per cent in 2020, despite the severe effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, among its peer countries in emerging Europe, Turkey ranked the second most popular FDI destination after Poland, with a 16 per cent share in 2020, up from the third spot in 2019. In 2020, according to Purchasing Power Parity GDP figures, Turkey ranked fourth in Europe.
Over the past two decades, Turkey has put in a noteworthy performance by increasing the size of its overall economy from $ 236 billion in 2002 to $ 717 billion in 2020. Turkish economy expanded by 1.8 per cent in 2020. And the GDP growth rate of the second quarter of 2021 is 21.7 per cent.
Turkey's economic growth during this period has been driven by a robust domestic market and an entrepreneurial private sector that combined, has spurred investments and exports.
Turkey successfully generated approximately seven million new jobs during the 2009-2020 period. GDP per capita increased from $ 3,608 in 2002 to $ 8,597 in 2020.
The positive effect of fiscal discipline has been reflected as a noticeably diminished deficit in Turkey's budget balance during the past two decades.
Turkey has outpaced its peer economies, and the growth momentum is set to continue in the coming years.
The Turkish economy posted record growth and climbed from 18th place to 11th globally from 2003 to 2020 at Purchasing Power Parity.
How is your country dealing with the influx of refugees coming from Syria and other neighbouring countries?
Turkey's geographic location is not an easy one. We have war-torn regions in our neighbourhood and when war occurs in your neighbourhood, you cannot close your eyes. Turkey's human-centred state tradition is reflected in its developmental and humanitarian aid programmes. Turkey is currently the top refugee hosting country in the world. It hosts more than 4 million externally displaced people, approximately 3.7 million of whom are Syrians under temporary protection. Turkey has spent more than $ 40 billion to provide aid and services to the Syrians which makes Turkey to be one of the largest humanitarian donors globally.
Turkey ranks first if one takes into account national income ratio. Its humanitarian aid spending was almost 1 per cent of its GDP. Therefore, it is fair to state that Turkey has been the most generous country in terms of humanitarian assistance globally.
What else you want to tell our readers about Nepali-Turkish relations?
When the Gorkha earthquake struck Nepal in 2015, Turkish rescue and health teams consisting of 97 experts were the first to arrive in Nepal to help in the rescue operations. We have good experience in managing and dealing with natural disasters and I think this can be another area where Turkey and Nepal can cooperate.
Last year, we provided scholarship to about 50 Nepali students. We can increase this number in the coming years. Providing scholarships to foreign students is a part of cultural interaction between countries.
We have direct air service between our two countries and I am happy to announce that we are going to increase the frequency of air services between our countries. Turkish Airlines is among the biggest airlines worldwide and except for a short period during the COVID-19 wave, it has not halted its flights between Istanbul and Kathmandu.
I am very happy to be in your beautiful country. I have been warmly welcomed by the local people everywhere and that made me feel at home. I consider the person who will be the first resident Turkish Ambassador in Nepal a very lucky diplomat.
A version of this article appears in the print on December 3, 2021 of The Himalayan Times.