The Ghana-Turkey economic relationship has grown from strength to strength especially in the last decade as Turkey’s overall Africa policy began to take shape. Bilateral trade and investment in the Ghanaian economy by Turkish companies has grown significantly culminating in record growth at the end of 2020. Today, there are Turkish companies operating in many key sectors of our economy including aviation, energy, construction, water generation, education among several others.
Turkish brands and products are increasingly getting a foothold in our markets while our own exports to Turkey keep growing year on year. Yet, experts on both sides agree that given the potential of the two countries, overall economic activity between the two countries could be far greater.
In view of the fact that the President only recently appointed a new Ambassador to Turkey, the ever-affable Mrs. Francisca Ashietey-Odunton, it is vital to reflect and reanalyze the vital role this fast-growing relationship could play for our economic development as a nation, especially in view of the extraordinary external headwinds brought on by Covid and the fast-changing political and economic climate in the west. This missive seeks to zero in on a few critical sectors which could get a major boost from deeper economic relations with Turkey and how that could pay enormous economic dividends to our economy in general.
Naturally our first area of interest should be trade. The sheer size of the Turkish economy as well as its incredibly diversified and manufacturing-biased nature make it an ideal destination for our non-traditional exports. 2020 was interestingly a blockbuster year for Ghana-Turkey bilateral trade.
In a year like none other, in which global trade plummeted to record lows, Ghana-Turkey trade soared some 62%, jumping from $476m to $771m. Even more exciting was the sharp growth of our exports to Turkey. Recording an incredible 188% growth over our exports in 2019 to about $294m. Yet, a closer inspection of the data reveal an all too familiar story.
Traditional exports like Cocoa and Gold dominated, with the major surge in Gold demand especially accounting for the bulk of the growth. Non-traditional exports such as Soy beans, Copper and Scrap Aluminum also made up a fraction of our exports, but overall still a very small part.
This massive growth is obviously very encouraging, however, to ensure sustainability of our export numbers and revenue, more has to be done to boost our non-traditional exports especially given the massive potential Turkey offers. There’s currently strong potential for commodities like Shea Butter, Starch, Cocoa Butter as well as fruits such as Avocado, Banana, Mangoes and Pineapple and even our lovely paintings and artifacts.
With deliberate strategies and specific support to local producers of such products as well as support from our Embassy in not only promoting our products but also matching reliable producers here to buyers there, we can do far more to boost our exports while generating more foreign currency as well as creating more jobs for our teeming youth.
Another key target that I sincerely hope will be central to the agenda of the new Ambassador will be to radically improve the level of cooperation between the two countries in the manufacturing sector. Fortunately, President Akufo-Addo has rightfully elevated manufacturing to the forefront of the agenda for his presidency especially with the introduction of the flagship 1D1F initiative.
The need to reconfigure our economy to a more manufacturing one is absolutely crucial especially with AfCFTA in the works. As it stands now, we are hardly prepared to leverage the massive opportunities AfCFTA offers as we produce almost the same unfinished products as most of our neighbors.
This severely limits export opportunities to these neighboring countries. We can only expand our export opportunities if we do more to boost our manufacturing capabilities of products that our neighbors and other countries in the sub region import from oversees. To be able to achieve this goal, Turkey could be an incredibly important ally. Over the last several decades the Turks have built their manufacturing capabilities to the point that they’re now the manufacturing hub of Europe.
Many products, from Clothing and Textiles to Cosmetics, Cars, Electronics and building materials used in Europe are now manufactured in Turkey. Made-in-Turkey products are currently highly coveted in Ghana and many African markets as a result of the fact that they’re of far better quality as compared to those made in China and other Asian countries and are also much cheaper as compared to those made in Europe and the US. This makes Turkey an ideal ally in this crucial endeavor.
Deliberate strategies need to be implemented to ensure more collaborative efforts between Ghanaian and Turkish manufacturers to help scale up our factories. Also, we need to put in place solid and aggressive marketing plans to sell Ghana to the Turkish industrial sector as the ideal destination to set up factories to take advantage of the AfCFTA. Many Turkish investors and businessmen are already flocking to Africa with the firm support of the Turkish Government. What we need is a good strategy to harness this strong interest in Africa and draw them towards Ghana.
Another sector where we could benefit immensely from collaborating with Turkey on is Tourism. Our reputation as one of the safest destinations in an otherwise troubled region, as well as our numerous natural, historical and cultural attractions make us a major tourism haven. Yet, we have only scratched the surface of this incredible sector in terms of the national revenues we currently generate. Turkey is the exact opposite. Like us, Turkey is a major safe haven in a volatile region and also blessed with incredible historical, natural and cultural wonders.
Through years of dedicated investment, deliberate policy and marketing, Turkey is now consistently ranked among the top ten most visited countries in the world, notching about 40 million visitors in 2019 before the onset of the pandemic. On the policy and marketing level we can learn a lot from the way the Turks have successfully segmented their appeal to different types of Tourist. Thousands of Tourists visit Turkey for different reasons. Some are nature lovers, religious and historical tourists, students, medical and sports tourist and so on. Like Turkey, Ghana has so much to show tourists beyond our beaches and Forts.
We have to start putting deliberate strategies in place to sell our wonderful culture and cultural events such as Festivals, cuisine etc. We have to take advantage of the interest in Ghana from people from neighboring countries to market our Universities and healthcare facilities which are far advanced than most in the sub-region.
There’s a lot we can learn from Turkey in this regard and I hope the new Ambassador will put structures in place to create mutually beneficial collaborations to enable players in our tourism sector both public and private to work with their Turkish counterparts as we aim to grow this crucial sector to contribute far more to the economy.
Another key area I’ll strongly encourage our new Ambassador to pay close attention to is the tech sector. Our tech start up scene is buzzing now with lots of young people working very hard to create solutions to the myriads of challenges we have in Ghana. The likes of Meltwater and other players have helped greatly by supporting the ecosystem develop as we continue to wait for a major breakout success or as they say in the industry a ‘unicorn’ we can all be proud of. The Turks however are miles ahead of us at the moment.
For instance, Istanbul is now referred to as the Silicon Valley of the mobile gaming industry. As a matter of fact, according to ‘Rest of the world’, an online platform reporting global tech stories, in March 2021, six of the top ten Apple App store’s mobile games came from Turkish studios. Many of the industry’s biggest game studios including Crytek and Voodoo have offices in Istanbul. Last year, gaming giant Zynga bought Peak for $1.8 billion making the company Turkey’s first Unicorn.
Subsequently, in June 2021, Istanbul-based Dream Games also became a unicorn just four months after its first game Royal Match. The success of the Turkish start up scene expands beyond gaming. Getir, the Turkish retail delivery app, for instance recently became Turkey’s most valuable start up after being valued at $2.6 billion in its third round of funding according to Blomberg.
Certainly, there’s a lot we can learn from the Turkish tech start up sector both in terms of Government policy and creating direct collaborations among the players in both countries. I strongly urge the Ambassador to use her office to build strong and mutually beneficial networks as well in this crucial sector to enable our local players to tap into the experience of the much developed tech sector in Turkey.
Finally, the healthcare industry is another key sector we could benefit greatly from working more closely with our Turkish friends. Like most crucial industries, this is a multifaceted industry which spans training of healthcare personnel as well as their management and compensation, investment in health infrastructure, public and private health insurance and most crucially the national health policy which guides the overall sector.
Over the last two decades or so the Turkish Government has done a magnificent job in building a robust, world class health industry as I have written extensively about in the past. The Turkish Government has invested over $50 billion in building world class infrastructure across the country.
This infrastructure covers not just ultramodern hospitals but more importantly cutting-edge equipment and technology that is able to treat all manner of cancers as well as perform the most complex surgeries and cosmetic procedures faster and cheaper. Furthermore, they are also investing heavily to support hundreds of world class state Universities across Turkey such that young, brainy Turks who wish to study for a career in all aspects of health care industry can do so at comparatively lower costs.
These concerted activities by the Turkish Government has made their health industry the envy of the sub region, delivering world class health care services at far lower cost than in Europe or the US. The result of these efforts have been simply amazing. As we speak, Health tourism is one of the key cash cows of the broader tourism sector of Turkey.
Indeed, health tourism generated over $1 billion for Turkey in 2019 alone. Last year, over 662,000 foreign patients visited Turkey despite travel restrictions. The Turkish Health Ministry plans to expand that number to 1.5 million people by 2023, projected to generate about $10 billion for the Turkish economy.
The Turkish example shows us the huge benefits that can accrue when national policy and investment is broadly agreed on and sustained over a significant period of time. I am hopeful that in the interim at least the new Ambassador will work to create strong collaborations between players in the health sector. This will obviously allow both sides to get better acquainted and allow players in our sector both public and private to pick up some important tips from their counterparts in Turkey.
The world as we know it has obviously changed forever. The foreign policy of many of our traditional foreign partners has been significantly affected. It is time we work harder to build stronger bonds with other friendly emerging powers to safeguard our economic progress. In this regard Turkey is a key and ideal candidate in my opinion.
I’m convinced that with the experience and unique skill sets of the new Ambassador and her team, we should be able to build on the great work of the former Ambassador to develop this relationship to the point that will allow us to finally realize its full potential.
The author is the founder of turkafriq.com. You can reach him with questions, queries or suggestions via the following addresses;
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: Aboagye T. Mintah