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Change Itself is an Opportunity to Bring new Actors together – An Interview with ATC’s President Howard Beasey

Upcoming 36th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations, Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdoğan Invited to Attend

Ayşe Akalın Evers of Defence Turkey magazine caught up with ATC’s President Howard Beasey for an exclusive interview on 17th February, 2017. Mr. Beasey shared insights from the 35th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations, thoughts on recent developments and details about upcoming events.

Expanding Business Footprints into the U.S.

The 35th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations was held in Washington, DC, on Oct 30 - Nov 1, 2016.  This was the second conference that Mr. Beasey had the opportunity to run, and he shared that “We felt that it went really well.  We had good participation.”  A post conference report was created in order to capture and continue the themes from the conference.   He shared that attendance good, sponsorship was tremendous which shows there is still very strong interest in the relationship, the economic relationship particularly. He said “Of course we did have to touch on the political environment, particularly the July 15th coup attempt, which was on the minds of many of those in attendance. I think we hit the right tone with this event. I’m hoping this year’s event will be even more focused on economic issues. There is a lot of interest in Turkish companies investing in the US, including defense. As we saw for the first time ever, last year, the example of the Turkish company Havelsan acquiring Quantum3D, a company in San Jose. It’s a good starting point. We are seeing expanding business footprints into the US.”

Change is an Opportunity to Bring new Actors together – Building Strategic Relationships  

The defense topics on the radar for this year’s event will include the important U.S.-Turkey strategic relationship. Mr. Beasey reflected upon the whirlwind of recent administrative change “There is so much change going on in Washington now with the new administration and President Mr. Trump. Within 30 days he ordered a counter ISIL counter terrorism strategy review, particularly as it relates to Syria. We should see something come out on this shortly. There have been some visits to Turkey recently.  The CIA director Mike Pompeo was here in Turkey, last week.”  The visit by the newly appointed CIA director Thursday, February 9th, was less than 48 hours after a phone call between Mr. Donald Trump and Turkish President Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the nation’s highest military officer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is likely to be here this weekend.  These meetings are all talking about where are we going in this relationship as it relates to Syria.

Mr. Beasey touched on the tremendous amount of turn-over in Washington saying “Changes have been made and are being made at all levels of the department of defense, at all levels of the state department.  There’s a whole new set of key players in Washington. The upcoming conference will perhaps be the first time for some individuals to be able to meet their Turkish counterparts.”  

The industry topics to be discussed this year are not necessarily new topics, but there are new and interesting ideas of cooperation and joint ventures on the horizon. Mr. Beasey shared “We’ve seen joint venture partnerships in Turkey, and to do it in the U.S. would be a whole new ball game and would show some maturity in the industry relationship between the two countries.  From selling, design, R&D, coproduction, we will try to capitalize on some of those areas.”

We’re Going Big – Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdoğan 

General James L. Jones, Chairmain of the ATC, has good relationships in the current administration, and according to Mr. Beasey a high-profile list of attendees is expected at this year’s prestigious event.  

High level participation is anticipated for this year’s conference. Mr. Beasey mentioned that President Mr. Erdoğan and President Mr. Trump have not yet met in person and this year’s ATC conference is a prime opportunity. He said “We’re going big. We always go big.  It could be an opportunity for the presidents to meet. We are going to certainly invite the 2 presidents, Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdoğan.  Because of the timing of the conference in May, we think it might be one of the first opportunities for them to physically meet.”  In addition, Secretary Mr. Tillerson is another guest that the ATC would like to see in attendance this year.  Mr Beasey commented that they “Are excited to hear Mr. Tillerson’s perspectives. He’s a business executive coming to this position, so we hope that he will bring a different perspective on trade laws such as ITAR.”  

Mr. Beasey commented on the fact that high level NATO meetings had recently occurred “The Turkish Minister of Defense Mr. Fikri Işık and Defense Secretary Mr. James Mattis had an opportunity to meet this week with NATO.”  On February 15, at the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium, the secretary recognized that contributions that Turkey has made to the NATO alliance. The Department of Defense reported that Secretary Mr. Mattis assured Minister Mr. Işık of the support of the United States as a strategic partner in the counter-ISIS campaign, welcoming transparent dialogue.The secretary and minister agreed to continue their full range of bilateral defense activities and consultations, and to look for ways to further strengthen defense cooperation in the future.

Mr. Beasey shared that the ATC has received very good feedback from Turkey, noting “The Turkish General staff reached out to us and shared with us who they would like us to invite. Turkish Undersecretary for Defense Industries, SSM, and Prof. İsmail Demir have made good commitments that they would like to attend. We always look to set the stage for a tangible result to come out of the conferences, some sort of industry cooperation or the resolution of a specific issue.”  In addition, Mr. Beasey noted that Gen. Hulusi Akar of the Turkish Army and General Dunford know each other very well. General Dunford was the first international leader to visit Turkey after the coup attempt. 

“The name of the game certainly under Trump is going to be Bilateral”

Mr. Beasy discussed his thoughts regarding how the new administration may impact the ATC. He said “Trump and his administration is marked by tremendous change. A change in mindset, a change in people. Some have indicated concern about the America first, America-centric approach. As far as trade, the name of the game certainly under Trump is going to be Bilateral. We can achieve some movement with bilateral trade. From my perspective, we are the bookends of NATO, (ATC) Turkey on the East, the U.S. on the west, the 2 largest armies of NATO, two solid anchors on either side.  Secretary Mr. Mattison recently underscored that NATO has always been the bedrock and the best deal that the United States as ever struck as far as collective defense. This recent talk in NATO about the 2% GDP spending threshold is nothing new. It’s been discussed for years. I still think that the relationship between the United States and Turkey is anchored on our strategic common interests and we need to get back to that. We converge more than we diverge. It’s ok not to have 100% agreement between allies. Those areas where we can connect, where we can converge, we really need to get back to them to make this relationship really be what it should be. That will allow more economic engagement, investment in each other’s economies, building a stronger relationship as well.”

Creating a Platform for Dialogue

ATCs role is that of a platform setter, with a number of events that create the opportunity for dialogue.

Chairman’s Trip

“We will have our Chairman’s trip this year. We’re looking at leading a Transportation Technology delegation from March 26-31, 2017. It is a commerce certified delegation to Turkey from the US, which is a good vote of confidence in the Turkish economy.” The Transportation Technologies Trade Mission to Turkey will help facilitate further U.S. company participation in this market, the U.S. Department of Commerce is planning an executive-led trade mission in the transportation technologies sector. The trade mission will stop in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir and will feature U.S. firms that provide hi-tech equipment, systems and technology solutions from the four major modes of transportation (air, rail, land and marine).

Turkey has long served as the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Utilizing this strategic geographic location, the Government of Turkey has planned to make significant infrastructure investments, funneling over $ 250 billion into upgrades in roads, airports, and other infrastructure by 2023, the hundredth-year anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.

It is thus an opportune time for U.S. companies to seize these opportunities and pursue business development in the Turkish transportation market. Some U.S. firms have already participated in some large infrastructure projects in the past few years, including the following:

The new Istanbul airport, which when completed, will be the largest in the world with an anticipated 150 million passengers per year

The recently completed Bosphorus and Gebze bridges in Istanbul

A two story Bosphorus car tunnel in Istanbul that is currently under construction

Large scale expansion of the high-speed rail network

Planned liberalization of the freight rail network

To help facilitate further U.S. company participation in this market, the U.S. Department of Commerce is planning an executive-led trade mission in the transportation technologies sector from March 26-31, 2017.  The trade mission will stop in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir and will feature U.S. firms that provide hi-tech equipment, systems and technology solutions from the four major modes of transportation (air, rail, land and marine).  This mission will provide an excellent opportunity for companies to meet with Turkish business partners, industry representatives, Turkish municipal officials, and government officials. It will also include unique one-on-one meetings, networking events, and site visits, in addition to interactions with private industry representatives and U.S. Embassy specialists. Participants will not be limited to the Turkish market; participating companies will also have the chance to meet with U.S. officials from the “partnership posts” of Turkey, namely Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkmenistan.

Vice Chariman’s Trip

“For the first time we are doing a Vice Chairman’s trip. At the 35th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations, the American-Turkish Council’s Board of Directors elected Mr. Tamer Saka, CEO of Kibar Holding, as the new Vice Chairman. Mr. Tamer Saka will lead a delegation to the Midwest.  We are planning on a tri-state tour of Indiana, Michigan and Illinois, traditionally the heart of manufacturing in the US. We will be looking at manufacturing opportunities. The states in this area have done a lot to incentivize investments. We’ve already seen that some Turkish companies made investments there.  One of the keys to investment in the U.S. is understanding the states.  The states control land policy and tax policy. We’ll culminate the Vice Chairman’s trip in Chicago in September with our summit series.”

Summit Series

“Last year our topics were innovation and investment partnerships. This year will be retail and manufacturing in Chicago. The way we decide on the summit topics is by looking at the stats, surveys, participation feedback, from our conference. We can only scratch the surface at the conference on a broad array of topics. We build the summit series around those topics that we think the relationship wants to know more about.”  Mr. Beasey noted that the ATC wants to expand the footprint in the U.S. as well, with an intentional effort to go West, outside of Washington. They were in Boston last year, Chicago this year.   

Mr. Beasey discussed that for the ATC to continue to grow and to be vibrant, they need get out and explain the opportunities that exist in Turkey. He noted that this is a subject that comes up every time, the challenges of perception. He said “There are perception problems about what the environment is in Turkey, political, security investment. We are trying to do what we can to present the right perception. Certainly, there are challenges.  Elections, referendums, questions around political stability, security. The message needs to get out that it is safe for business and travel in Turkey. Many companies in the U.S. use the U.S. the state department for their benchmark of their security posture and travel decisions. The state department decisions are made entirely on a different risk profile. This different risk profile is for U.S. residents in Turkey 24/7 in Turkey. Often times businesses use the state department as their baseline. Business travelers have a different risk profile, with much less exposure. They are here for a short while, from airport to hotel and back to the airport. Perhaps there should be a business traveler index that would give a better assessment for the business traveler risk profile. In order for individual companies and their security teams make their assessments, they need valid information. The business environment is strong in Turkey.  The message needs to get out to business travelers, they need to know that it is safe to come, and to tour and see all that Turkey has to offer.  It’s an amazing country for many reasons and people need to know that.” 

IDEF – Networking Reception 

ATC is organizing a reception this year at IDEF.  On May 11, ATC is hosting a reception that will bring the leadership from the 2 sides of the industry together in a more casual setting. Mr. Beasey shared that he reception is “Not in the hussle and bussle of the IDEF event itself.  It’s more of an intimate setting to perhaps discuss potential business opportunities.”  He continued “AUSA decided they could not attend IDEF this year. We are not here to replace them.  AUSA is a big organization and they bring a lot of value, we cannot bring the same resources that they can, and that is not who we are.  We are just focused on keeping things going, to help facilitate the relationships.  We’ll be at IDEF certainly.”  

The upcoming 36th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations 

May 21 2017, 4:00 PM - Tue, May 23 2017.   This year’s conference venue is new, it will be at the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. It is a beautifully transformed century-old post office building.  With its recent Grand Opening on October, 26, 2016, it is one of Washington’s most talked about hotels.