EUROPE BUSINESS NEWSSource : http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903374004576580762778734264.html
SEPTEMBER 19, 2011, 1:16 P.M. ET
U.S. Seeks to Strengthen Trade Ties With Turkey
By JOE PARKINSON
ISTANBUL—The U.S. is seeking to triple trade with Turkey over the next five to six years, the U.S.'s undersecretary of state for trade and commerce, Francisco Sanchez, said Monday, underlining Washington's commitment to anchor an increasingly assertive ally at odds over Israel.
Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul after attending the inaugural meeting of the Turkey-U.S. business council, an advisory group to boost commercial ties, Mr. Sanchez said business links between Washington and Ankara had "never been better," singling out Turkey's energy sector as a potential target for future U.S. investment.
"I'd like to see us triple [trade] in the next five or six years. I think it's very doable," Mr. Sanchez said, adding that "I don't believe any two partners will ever agree 100% on everything. The key is to look at how we manage those differences."
The business council was launched in part out of recognition that for strategic allies, the two nations had relatively weak trade ties. But data show that trade between the U.S. and fast-growing Turkey has begun to strengthen. In 2010 bilateral trade swelled to a record $15 billion, while the first seven months of this year have already seen $12 billion in trade volumes, Mr. Sanchez said. Turkey's economy expanded 11% in the first half of 2011 compared with a year earlier, outstripping China to post the fastest growth of any G-20 economy.
The call for strengthening commercial ties comes at a politically sensitive moment for the longtime allies, who wield the two largest militaries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Diplomatic tensions have escalated rapidly between Turkey and Israel—Washington's closest partners in the region—most recently over Israel's refusal to apologize for an operation to board a Gaza-bound ship last year that killed nine activists, eight of whom were Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American. Ankara expelled top Israeli diplomats, cut military ties and vowed to send navy vessels to escort aid ships in the future.
That has coincided with Turkey showing signs of trading its vaunted "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy for a more muscular approach, bidding to become the leading power in the Middle East and North Africa.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set similar goals to boost trade with partners around the Middle East. Last week he pledged in Cairo to triple trade and investment with Egypt, after signing ambitious, if largely political, energy agreements.
The U.S.'s Mr. Sanchez acknowledged that political challenges could burden efforts to boost commercial ties, but stressed that the importance of the relationship for both parties meant solutions could be found.
"There is no challenge that can overcome the importance of this relationship. You can see it in the numbers; we have a growing and vibrant relationship. This relationship is too important and too valuable to the U.S. and Turkey," the undersecretary said.
The potential for such challenges was on display Monday as U.S. company Noble Engineering Inc. began exploratory drilling for gas off the southern coast of divided Cyprus, ignoring Turkish warnings that it would retaliate by launching its own explorations in the eastern Mediterranean.
Mr. Sanchez wouldn't comment on the Texas-based company's operations, and brushed off questions over how the U.S.'s fast-sinking popularity in Turkey could hamstring its efforts to boost business collaboration, stressing that the commercial objectives of the allies were aligned.
The latest global poll by the Pew Research Center in May showed that the lowest approval rating for the U.S. of six Muslim nations surveyed was in Turkey—at just 10%, down from 17% last year. U.S. President Barack Obama didn't fare much better, with only 12% of Turks expressing confidence for the U.S leader, against 73% who didn't.
Write to Joe Parkinson at email@example.com