If Turkey’s ambassador had her way, more of the world-famous Turkish coffee would be made from beans grown in the Philippines.
Ambassador Esra Cankorur, who recently hosted a lunch for top local newspapers that included The Manila Times, said much needs to be done to improve Turkey’s economic ties with the Philippines. She added that coffee, along with cacao and coconuts, was among the Philippine products that Turks were looking to buy more of from Filipinos.
Drinking Turkish coffee, which is prepared by boiling unfiltered beans and served in espresso cups, is common among Turks and tourists in Turkey. In a trip last month to Istanbul organized for Asian journalists that also included a representative from The Times, a Turkish coffee vendor said his beans were from Brazil. He explained that the famous Turkish coffee was simply coffee brewed in Turkey.
In Makati City, Cankorur said, “We need to improve our trade and economic relations.”
She added that bilateral trade between Turkey and the Philippines has gone down in past years because of an anti-dumping measure imposed on her country’s main export to Manila — wheat flour.
Before that measure, wheat flour accounted for 60 percent of Turkey’s export to the Philippines. Cankorur said her country had much more to offer, including nuts and dried fruits. She added that Turkey was the leading producer of hazelnuts, particularly those grown around the Black Sea, and that its pistachios and dried apricots were also famous.
The ambassador said there may even be bilateral trade potential in the medical field, including pharmaceuticals.
“We’re also getting pharmaceuticals from the Philippines, but it could be vice versa,” she added.
The Philippines and Turkey could also improve defense cooperation, especially since President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he was open to buying arms from China and Russia, Cankorur said. She added that three Turkish ammunition-manufacturing companies were in Manila recently to participate in a trade fair.
The point, the ambassador said, was that there was much potential.
As of 2014, bilateral trade between Turkey and the Philippines was only $252 million, according to Turkish government statistics. That pales in comparison with other countries in the region. Also in 2014, Turkey’s trade volume with Asean exceeded $8.5 billion, and over the last decade, that figure has increased four-fold.
Like most of the world, Turkey is looking to tap the 600 million market of Asean or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an economic bloc of 10 countries that includes the Philippines. Taken together, Asean’s economy is the second-fastest growing in the world after China, expanding at about 300 percent since 2001.
Cankorur said the Philippines was important to Turkey, even more so because it was a member of Asean. She added that having direct flights between Manila and Istanbul was helpful in enhancing economic cooperation.
The Manila Times was invited to attend a news conference in Istanbul held by M. Ilker Ayci, chairman of Turkish Airlines.
Speaking through an interpreter, Ayci said Turkish Airlines was committed to Asia, adding that Turkey was open for business and was a safe tourist destination, despite the negative press attention given to its fight against terrorism, the civil war in neighboring Syria and even the failed coup attempt there last July.
Earlier this month, Turkish Airlines increased the frequency of its non-stop, direct flights between Manila and Istanbul by one daily. Before that, the airline, which has a code-sharing agreement with Philippine Airlines, offered flights three times a week.
Turkish Airlines, which recently won the Best Airline in Europe award from Skytrax, is also beefing up its destinations to Asia, the latest being the Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Skytrax is a consultancy based in the United Kingdom that runs airline and airport reviews.
About 70,000 Filipino tourists visit Turkey every year, according to the Turkish government.
Cankorur said Filipinos fly to Turkey for two main reasons — to have a European experience by passing through Istanbul as a gateway to Europe or North America and to go on a pilgrimage and visit the many holy sites around Turkey.
A Turkish Airline official told The Times that its Manila-Istanbul flights were practically full, although the airline was looking to improve its business-class sales.
Turkey, which is one of the major Islamic centers in the world, is also home to Orthodox Christians and
important Catholics shrines, such as the house of the Virgin Mary.
The ambassador, who was previously posted to Manila in the 1990s, said she has not met a Filipino who had a negative feeling about visiting her country. She added that Filipinos “feel at home” in Turkey.
“They find themselves at ease in Turkey,” the ambassador said.
She, however, added, “High-level visits are something we have to work on.”
The Turkish prime minister visited Manila in 2014. Sen. Franklin Drilon, when he was Senate president, went to Turkey the following year.
Those visits were more than symbolic, and hopefully soon, the ambassador said, the next wave of travellers from both countries would include more people looking for trade and investment opportunities.