The Turkish state minister for foreign trade, Kursad Tuzmen, visited campus at the end of March, his first trip to Urbana since receiving an MS in 1991. Accompanied by a delegation from the Turkish Consulate General in Chicago, Tuzmen toured new campus buildings, including the Beckman Institute, and met with faculty and staff.
In an address that concluded his visit, Tuzmen said that his homeland is very little known in the US, something he hopes to change through a new strategy to boosting trade with six states, including Illinois. By increasing trade with Illinois, Georgia, New York, Florida, Texas, and California, Tuzmen and his staff hope to capitalize on Turkey’s strategic geographic location spanning two continents.
In recent years, Turkey has been successful in significantly increasing its regional trade by recognizing that it needs to co-exist with its neighbors even when the foreign policies of both nations are at odds. “We took a political risk with this policy,” he said. In addition to seeking increased trade with immediate neighbors, the country is hoping to enhance its sales through trade with slightly more distant markets in the EU and the former Soviet republics in the region.
Because of its central location, Tuzmen said that the country is home to numerous regional headquarters of large US firms including Microsoft, GE, and Coke. With the 16th largest economy in the world, Turkey is “not just a textile producer” he noted. Turkish companies also produce auto parts, ceramics, and small appliances and mine marble for export. Those production sectors are the focus for the foreign trade office he heads.
The most difficult part of his job, said Tuzmen, is dealing with Turkish unemployment rates in part created through currency adjustments and through upgrading factories. He cited tariffs with China as an example of a trade issue that is complicated by political realities.
He is proud of his investment in people, citing his higher education initiative that encourages government employees to seek advanced degrees. “We’re upgrading through you,” he said to the Turkish students attending his public lecture that attracted more than 75. “The U of I contributed a lot to my life and career,” he observed. “You’re at an excellent institution. You’re lucky to be here.”
After receiving his graduate degree in business in 1991, Tuzmen returned to Turkey and served as undersecretary of the treasury and foreign trade until he was appointed state minister of the environment in 2002. He was appointed to his current position in 2003. He is also the current president of the World Economic Processing Zones Association.