Explosive deterioration of its relationship with Israel. A trip of the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Turkey’s foreign policy is generating quite a lot of attention in the Middle East these days.
Beyond its political implications; however, the policy of courting key Middle Eastern countries like Egypt also has a serious domestic driver: Turkey’s economy is charting precarious waters.
Turkey has been struggling with a rising current account deficit driven by strong domestic demand. The rise in household consumption has been financed by capital from Europe, making Turkey increasingly vulnerable to an outflow of short-term capital as European economies continue to struggle.
The other pillar of Turkey’s economy – exports, is also threatened by the potential of a Eurozone recession. With over 50% of Turkish exports going to the EU, Turkey is particularly vulnerable to a drop in demand from such key countries as Germany, Italy, and Spain. FSG Monitor estimates that a US-EU recession would lead to a 2% drop in Turkey’s GDP in 2012. The projected decline may not be as dramatic as in other countries in the region, but compared to Turkey’s Q1 2011 11.6% GDP growth, followed by 8.8% for Q2 2011 (Turkey had the highest H1 2011 GDP growth in the world), it’s very significant.
In this unstable environment, the Turkish government has announced it will seek to promote export-oriented domestic production. But this strategy will only work if there is enough demand for Turkey’s increased exports. With the European economy in a shaky state, Middle Eastern markets will be increasingly instrumental to Turkey’s economic stability. Currently, the Middle East is the second biggest regional market for Turkish exports, accounting for 20% of the country’s exports, plus another 4.9% of exports going to North Africa.
Turkish businesses are clearly seeing the writing on the wall and are aggressively seeking expanded influence in the Middle East, as evidenced by Prime Minister Erdogan’s large business delegation on his recent trip to Egypt and his promise to increase trade between the two countries to US$5 billion.
In this context, MNCs should expect Turkish competitors to aggressively pursue opportunities in the post-Arab spring markets. As we already discussed, MNCs with overly risk-averse strategies in the region can fall behind regional competitors with a greater risk appetite. It also means, however, that MNCs with Turkish partners can use these relationships in support of strategic expansion in the MENA region, benefitting from the good will Turks are enjoying among the region’s populations and leadership.
In this context, the role of Turkey as a manufacturing hub for the Middle East and North Africa region is becoming increasingly attractive, not just to MNCs but also to the Turkish government itself. As a result, MNCs with local production facilities meant for export to the region are well-positioned to lobby the Turkish government for additional incentives and support.