“We want and expect foreign investment to come to all fields of economic life in Turkey without discriminating against any of the nation’s [81] provinces,” says Mr Küçük. “Since Istanbul, the heart of Turkey’s economy, holds a vision of becoming a centre for services, culture, finance, tourism and high-tech development, we believe it will be more beneficial in the long run if investments in the city were directed into these industries. ”

Regional hub

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With 15 million inhabitants, Istanbul is one of the world’s most populous cities. One out of every five Turks lives in the city and its outlying areas. Istanbul has served as capital of three world empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman – and has been a regional hub for trade since it was founded 2,701 years ago.

Uniquely straddling two continents, Europe and Asia, and located along the maritime routes linking the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, the city has always acted as a bridge between the Occident and the Orient and blended the cultures of the Middle East and Europe like no other urban centre.

ISO is one of the nation’s largest and most powerful business groups. It lists hundreds of foreign manufacturers among its members, including car makers Ford, Fiat, Renault and Mercedes-Benz; cigarette producers Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International; soft drinks manufacturers Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola; and pharmaceutical giants Roche, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline.

Foreign manufacturing companies already play a pivotal role in Istanbul’s commercial life and Turkey’s economic development. Of the largest 500 industrial companies in Turkey, 149 are either fully or partially foreign owned, according to an ISO survey published last year. Of these companies, 89 are based in Istanbul and registered with ISO. In 2004, foreign manufacturers carried out 42.5% of sales and 49.3% of exports of the nation’s 500 biggest industrial concerns, the survey found.

Myriad roles

ISO promotes industrial development in the city and in the 32 counties that make up Istanbul province. It provides professional advice and information for all sectors of industry, carries out statistical research and publishes books and research on the economy, holds conferences and seminars, and hosts laboratories to test the quality of commercial products. It also provides educational and training services for skilled workers, and assists small and medium-sized companies.

Pressure group

Mr Küçük, a lawyer by training who heads a family chocolate and confectionery manufacturing business, says the chamber acts as a “pressure group” to prod the government to improve Turkey’s investment environment, and “offers technical services” on how to attract FDI.

“Annual industry congresses that ISO has organised since 2002 have highlighted Turkey’s need for foreign investment to enable sustainable economic growth,” he says.

In the past, a lack of laws and regulations governing investment, political and economic instability, and delays in structural reforms have prevented Turkey from drawing sufficient foreign investment for a country of its size, he says. “Turkey fell far behind other developing countries in attracting foreign investment,” says Mr Küçük, who has been president of ISO since November 2001.

In 2004, Turkey attracted only $2.55bn in FDI, including $1.34bn from real estate purchases – less than 5% of the total investment that China drew in 2003 alone, according to ISO. In the first five months of 2005, Turkey raked in $807m in foreign investment, up 20% from the same period last year.

Turkey is now set to pull in extensive investment, says Mr Küçük, as the nation aligns its legal system and tax laws with those of the EU ahead of membership talks in October, privatises the biggest state enterprises and keeps its economy growing at a blazing pace. It grew 9.9% in 2004, the highest among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries.

“It is a pleasing development that foreign interest in Turkey has increased in recent years,” says Mr Küçük. “We can easily say that the economic and political stability achieved has been effective. This favourable development has strengthened our hope.”