Doing Business in The Republic of Turkey

Learn more about doing successful business in Turkey. This page has information about Turkey's economy, history and even some useful phrases. Expand your international business expertise with Lingo24's International Business Knowledge Base.

Facts and figures

General

Because of its geo-politically strategic location straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey has seen long been a hub of commerce and cultural exchange. The land was called Anatolia in ancient times and can lay claim to the oldest urban dwellings on the planet, which has led some to call it the birthplace of civilization. In fact, it has been home to a dizzying number of cultures ranging from the ancient, Hittite, Hurrian, Assyrian, Greek, Phrygian, Lydian, Scythian, Cimmerian, Parthian, Thracian, Persian and Urartu cultures to the more recent Roman, Byzantine Arab and Turkish cultures. The land of Turkey has an extremely rich cultural heritage and draws approximately 15 million tourists every year with its beautiful Mediterranean and Aegean beaches and such popular historical sites as Ephesus, Cappadocia, Antioch and Istanbul.

The Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the political and military genius responsible for saving the country from being partitioned up among the victorious allies who intended to divide the country between the Greeks, Italians, French and Russians. He waged a long and difficult war of independence, won against extremely long odds, to establish a secular and democratic country.

Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952 and enjoys a customs union with the EU. It is a candidate for EU membership and accession negotiations began in 2005. Though the process has at times been agonizing, accession to the EU is an important consideration in national legislation and reform, and the country is moving towards compliance with European norms.

Turkey is has a population of approximately 70 million people, 99% of whom are at least nominally Muslim. Annual population growth is 1.06%, which together with Ireland is the highest in Europe. The area of the country is slightly larger than the US state of Texas or 2.5 times as large as Italy. Ankara is the capital city with 4 million residents but the largest city is Istanbul, a world class city with a population of 11 million. Izmir, a port city on the Aegean coast, is the third largest urban center with a population of 2.5 million.

The currency is the New Turkish Lira (YTL), which was introduced in 2005, and is essentially the old currency minus 6 zeroes.

Climate

Turkey borders 3 different seas, the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas, exhibiting a wide range of climatic conditions and geological formations. The country is very mountainous and is crisscrossed with active fault lines. The southern Mediterranean region experiences hot dry summers and mild wet winters. The interior of the country is composed of high plateaus that are quite barren and receive little rain. The summers are hot dry and winters are cold and snowy as is typical of continental climates. The Black Sea coast is mountainous and receives substantial rainfall. The highest mountain is Mt. Ararat, which is believed to be the general area where Noah's Ark came to rest.

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Economy

Turkey’s economic meltdown in 2001 sparked a series of reforms that were long overdue. For 25 years, the Turkish people were plagued with rampant inflation which averaged 60% per year. Government corruption and poor resource allocation negated the positive effects of a growing economy, but in recent years there has been a concerted effort to implement the necessary structural reforms. The standby agreement with the IMF, which expires in 2008, and the first non-coalition government in decades have provided the macroeconomic stability necessary to make solid progress on a number of fronts. The government has also embarked on a privatization program that has played a major role in the economic restructuring prompted by IMF intervention in the last crisis. This not only helps liberalize a very state-controlled economy but generates much needed revenue as well. In fact, the current political/economic climate with lower corporate taxes (down from 30% to 20%), the prospect of EU membership, strong economic growth and privatization all combine to attract significant direct foreign investment. Turkey is considered one of the 10 major emerging markets in the world. In 2005, foreign investment was 9.65 billion. One example of this is the major foreign investment in Turkish banks that has occurred recently, with Citibank purchasing a 20% stake in Akbank, Turkey’s most profitable financial institution, and GE buying a stake in Garanti Bankası.

Currently, economic indicators are quite positive with inflation down in the single digits for the first time in 35 years and real GNP growth coming in at 8%, but the national debt of 259 billion dollars is unsettling. Another drag on the economy is the government’s inefficient tax revenue collection. Instead of reforming the system, the government has chosen to tax energy and as a result the most expensive gasoline and electricity in Europe is found in Turkey.

Although the country is becoming increasingly industrialized, 30% of the population is still employed in agriculture and the country produces more agricultural products than any other Muslim country. Turkey’s main agricultural products are hazelnuts, apricots, figs, tea, tobacco and citrus fruits. The country’s industry is also quite advanced and is growing rapidly, especially the automotive, steel and shipbuilding sectors. Primary exports are textiles, vehicles and electrical machinery. Europe accounts for 52 percent of Turkey’s foreign trade and 42 percent of its imports so it has a positive trade balance with Europe but its overall trade balance is negative.

Tourism contributed 18.2 billion dollars to the economy in 2005 with 21 million visitors. The country’s rich historical heritage, sunny Mediterranean climate and proximity to Europe are the major drawing cards. Ottoman palaces in Istanbul, ancient cities like Ephesus, or Hittite and Phrygian excavations and the bizarre landscape of Cappadocia are just some of the fantastic sites one can see. In addition, Anatolian peoples were among the first to accept the teaching of Jesus's disciples and the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, as well as the birthplace of St. Paul are all located here so the burgeoning tourism industry has attempted to capitalize on this in recent years with a focus on “faith tourism”.

Important products

There are a variety of Turkish dishes and desserts that are famous throughout the world. Turkish delight, Turkish coffee, baklava, shish kebab, Turkish tea and apricots are some of the most well-known. However, each province typically has its own special dish or product. Turkey also produces a stone known as meerschaum, which is easy to carve into ornaments or intricate pipes and its export is forbidden. The famous Van cats, a breed of cats with one green and one blue eye, come from Turkey. Gold jewelry is very popular and reasonably priced. Turkey has one of the highest per capita gold consumption rates in the world.

Turkey has the world’s largest boron reserves, as well as important uranium, copper, gold and marble deposits. Turkey is a net importer of petroleum and natural gas but deposits have been found in the Black Sea and if the deposits are large this could boost the economy significantly.

Other useful information

Language

Turkish belongs to the Ural-Altaic family of languages, which also includes Finnish, Hungarian, Kazak, Mongolian and other Central Asian languages. The language used a modified Arabic script until the Republic was established. Now it uses a modified Latin script and is very phonetic. The language is a rich tapestry formed over many years with influences from a variety of cultures. Its proverbs are particularly insightful. This year's Nobel prize in literature went to Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author.

Relations with the West

Although it is a Muslim country with a long history of religious, military and cultural rivalry with the West, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I and the foundation of a secular republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey made a concerted effort to integrate with Europe and the West. Its admission to NATO is just one indication of its integration with the West. Another indication is the construction of the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline project to transport petroleum from the Caspian Sea to western markets without passing through Iran or Russia. This pipeline is one of the world’s largest construction projects in the last decade and was officially opened in 2006. Kazakhstan is reportedly planning to build another pipeline that will bring its products to Western markets via the same route. This will generate transit fees of almost 200 million dollars a year. Turkey is viewed as a strategic partner and important energy corridor.

EU membership is an issue that is hotly debated in the country and though some people oppose it, most believe that Europe is where Turkey belongs. However, Turks do not view Turkey as a melting pot and are keen to preserve their own culture.

Major Players

Many of the larger holdings in the country, like Sabancı, Doğan and Koç are essentially family businesses that have grown into international conglomerates operating in a wide range of sectors. They are well-versed in international business and very sophisticated. Here is a list of the top 10: 1.Turkcell 2. Arçelik 3. Koç Holding 4. Sabancı Holding 5. Vestel 6. Garanti Bankası 7. Ülker 8. Coca Cola/Unilever 9. Eczacıbaşı Group 10. Procter & Gamble.

Things to Keep in Mind When Doing Business

Turkey’s relationship with the West has not always been easy due to a variety of sensitive historical issues, such as the Armenian question dating back to WWI, the division of Cyprus or the Kurdish uprising and terrorist activities over the last 25 years. Visitors should avoid these types of political issues because of the potential for heated debate.

Transition from Empire and sultan to democracy and a Republican government was not easy and the last century has been one of constant political upheaval, change and even military coups. The intricacies of Turkish politics are intimidating and the uninitiated would do well to leave these issues alone.

Turkish culture is quite formal with the polite verb form (plural you) used to address colleagues. Exchanging business cards is something you should definitely do as part of your introduction. The Turkish equivalents of Mr. and Mrs. are Bey and Hanım but are used with the first name not the surname and are placed after the name so the English, Mr. Robert Johnson, would be Robert Bey in Turkish. Turkish people are also extremely hospitable and friendly to a fault, especially with foreigners because they view them as their guests.

Relationships, trust and rapport are very important in business so face-to-face meetings are generally preferred to telephone conversations, especially for serious deals. Turks are proud of their culture, history and food and when foreigners indicate their appreciation of it as well, rapport is much easier to establish.

Turkish people may view informal posture or dress as a lack of seriousness. Sitting with your legs crossed, especially with the bottom of the foot pointing at someone, is considered poor taste, if not downright rude. A respectful Turkish person will sit almost on the edge of their seat with their hands in their lap and avoid or “sprawling” back on a couch, spreading their legs or stretching them out in front of them.

Turkey is proud of its historical heritage and the government now recognizes the importance of historical artifacts. In the 19th and early 20th century, many research teams from the West took important archeological finds out of the country and they are now on display in Western museums. Turkey is determined not to let this happen again and there are stiff fines and jail terms for attempting to take antiquities out of the country without permission. If you are purchasing such items, be sure that you have the appropriate approval.

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Useful Phrases

Phrase Translation
Hello Merhaba
Good morning Günaydın
Good evening İyi akşamlar
Thank you Teşekkürler
Nice to meet you Tanıştığımıza memnun oldum
My name is XXX Benim adım XXX
Goodbye Hoşçakal
How much is it? Kaç para?
That is too much Çok pahalı
Yes Evet
No Hayır
Please Lütfen
How are you? Nasılsınız?
I am well İyiyim

Prepared in cooperation with Turkish English.