A resolute policy

At the turn of the century, Turkey’s willingness to approach LAC with steadiness occurred within the framework of three developments. First, the unipolarity that for two decades had led to the United States becoming the most powerful actor in the system changed into a hybrid system. World power became more diffuse and diversified, thus opening up new spaces for rising countries. Towards 2006 the predicament of US foreign policy in the Middle East helped Turkey to regain confidence and to push harder for a regional (Middle Eastern) and global role (Almuedo 2011). After 2002 the competitiveness of the Turkish industrial sector was one of the main incentives in the search for such a role and for new markets. Favourable opportunities for investments worldwide, capital flows and the positive business climate for emerging economies, together with a politically stable national environment, undoubtedly contributed to Turkey’s solid economic performance, reflected in an average annual growth rate of approximately 3.8%. This set of factors allowed Turkey to reorient its economy and to compete on a global scale (Donelli and Gonzalez Levaggi 2016: 93-115).

Second. South-South trade and investment flows rose significantly. Emerging powers in the global economy modified the paradigms of foreign policy in developing countries. Latin America experienced a boom of exchanges, especially with the People’s Republic of China. All LAC political leaders perceived that there was an opportunity to broaden the horizons of their potential economic associations. This went beyond the ideological orientation of governments.

Third, Ankara declared 2006 as the ‘Year of Latin America and the Caribbean’. The Turkish government sought to create an institutional framework to promote political, economic and cultural cooperation with Latin America (Seyfettin Erol 2016: 54-55). State organizations such as the DEiK began to prepare specific studies on LAC to inform the government and business organizations (Atli 2011: 116).

Institutionalization o f intergovernmental political and economic relations

Under the flag of South-South relations, Turkey and Latin American policymakers embarked on a flurry of cross-regional visits. The reciprocity of interest, the increase in presidential visits and the extension of diplomatic representations confirm the densification of ties. Indeed, the sustained activism can be illustrated by the frequent multiple state official visits that took place between 2004 and 2014. Additionally, Turkey’s interest in diversifying markets and projecting international influence led it to double its diplomatic presence in LAC, from six embassies in 2009 to 13 in 2017.

Turkey also created institutional ties with several regional organizations. It shares diverse common platforms with the LAC region, namely the G20 together with Brazil. Mexico and Argentina. Furthermore, in 2010 a Political Consultation and Cooperation Mechanism with MERCOSUR was established, and political consultation meetings have been held since. Another political consultation mechanism was created with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 2011. The Framework Agreement for the Establishment of a Free Trade Area between Turkey and MERCOSUR was signed in 2008. In 2013 Turkey obtained observer status in the Pacific Alliance. Turkey’s application to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean was accepted in 2017. Additionally, Turkey signed an agreement to become an extra-regional observer state in the Central American Integration System (SICA) in 2015 during the visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevliit Cavu§oglu to Guatemala on the occasion of the First Turkey-SICA Foreign Ministers’ Forum.

Between 2002 and 2008 the volume of total trade with the region increased from around US $900 million in 2002 to more than $4 billion in 2008. However, LAC accounted for only 0.5% of Turkey’s total trade in 2009. In 2009, under the negative effects of the global financial crisis, Turkey’s trade volume with the region fell sharply again. Turkey’s application for membership of the EU stalled over issues including the divided island of Cyprus, an EU member. In 2011 popular massive protests and unrest (known as the Arab Spring) broke out in several Arab countries, including the neighbouring Syrian Arab Republic. Civil wars forced Syrians to flee by the millions, mostly to neighbouring countries like Turkey. In contrast to previous recessions, Turkey could afford to adopt counter-cyclical polices and the financial markets proved resilient (Rawdanowicz 2010: 2). Moreover, the global financial crisis prompted a search for new markets (Oni§ 2011: 55; Gonzalez Levaggi 2013: 104).

With the intention of pursuing economic ties beyond political-electoral alternations, the governments of Ricardo Lagos in Chile and Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva in Brazil multiplied their initiatives towards Turkey. In 2004 Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim, visited Ankara. Two years later the visit was reciprocated by the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Gtil. In 2009 Chile became the first country to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with Turkey. Negotiations continued for FTAs with

Ecuador, Colombia and MERCOSUR, but these were frozen after several rounds. Some governments, such as Ecuador, have pointed out that Turkish agricultural supply was not as beneficial in terms of tariff reduction (Emba- jada del Ecuador en Turquia 2016). Moreover, Turkey’s ability to sign an ETA with these countries is determined by common EU tariffs, which is why these agreements should be designed in line with those of the EU (Tahsin 2016: 147-148).

For many years Brazil stood out as Turkey’s main trade partner in Latin America. Brazilian-Turkish ties were advanced through documents such as the 2001 bilateral visa waiver agreement. In 2006 Gul’s visit to Brazil spurred the creation of the Turkish-Brazilian Business Council (Lazarou 2011). The volume of trade between Brazil and Turkey doubled between 2008 and 2012.

Bilateral contacts continued despite the failure of the brokered deal with Iran over its nuclear programme,2 and the change in the presidency of Brazil in 2011. The early period of the Dilma Rousseff administration and the appointment of Antonio Patriota as minister of foreign affairs led Rousseff to visit Turkey in October 2011. Both presidents signed a joint declaration entitled 'Turkey-Brazil: A Strategic Perspective for a Dynamic Partnership’ and concluded further agreements for bilateral cooperation in higher education and justice, among others. On that occasion, the Brazilian president expressed Brazilian support for the Turkish position regarding the Palestinian question (Lazarou 2016: 135).

Nonetheless, the bilateral relationship slowed down. The change of priorities in the Brazilian domestic policy under President Rousseff sentenced the strategic partnership with Ankara to a situation of 'continuity in positions, and change in practice’. This meant that Rousseff 'presented a different working method in diplomacy, particularly regarding her relations with the Ministry of External Relations, bringing unexpected consequences on the links with the Middle East’ (Brun 2016: 47). Furthermore, Rousseff announced a wide array of new protectionist policies and the use of stimulus packages to protect the country’s economy from the European crisis.

Mexico gradually replaced Brazil as Turkey’s main commercial partner in the region. The intentions of Mexico, unlike those of Brasilia, were exclusively economic. At a meeting with a large group of businessmen in istanbul, Mexico’s President Pena Nieto stated that both countries were beginning 'a new era’ in their bilateral relations; these were elevated to the level of 'Strategic Cooperation Framework and Association for the 21st Century’. Presidents Giil and Pena Nieto underlined the importance of the two countries in the global economy, as well as the virtues of their geographical positions. Undoubtedly, an element that facilitated Mexican and Turkish rapprochement was their membership in the G20, in the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development, and in MIKTA, an informal multilateral forum comprising the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia. In 2015 President Erdogan visited Mexico, where seven rounds of negotiations were held for the signing of an

FTA. Disagreements over the agricultural and textile sectors, essential for both national economies, however, could not be overcome.

 
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