According to Mr. Halim Neyzi, president of ABFT and one of its founders, one of the important factors behind the foundation of the association is the fact that US-Turkish trade relations are way behind the level of military cooperation between the two countries. To be eligible for membership, 50% of a company’s capital has to be held by a US company. The president of the ABFT responded to some questions posed by Turk of America.
What were your intentions in founding the association? How many of these goals have you achieved?
US companies based in Turkey have never been represented before outside the Turkish-American communities. However, the military cooperation between US and Turkey goes back to the foundation of NATO. Why have the trade relations lagged behind so much? We discussed this question, consulted with the American commercial mission for two years, and decided to bring US companies together in an association. In January 2004 we officially founded the AFT, American Business Forum in Turkey. In a short period, we realized how big the need to fill this gap was, over 50 companies became members, and we organized around 40 meetings.
Our main goal is to respond to the needs of US companies doing business in Turkey and become a bridge between US and Turkish governmental organizations. I have to state with satisfaction that due to our success in this matter we are gaining new members. We are looking for members in need, we are looking for members who can serve. Our aim is not to collect membership fees but to provide quality services with the fees collected.
Besides TABA, what was the contribution of an association with US only members to US-Turkey trade relations? Are you collaborating with TABA and other associations?
We are at equal distance to TABA, TAIK, ATC, TAA, ATAA and all other Turkish-American associations and we would like to collaborate with all of them. We have already had some different joint activities and we will continue to do so. We can add associations such as GYIAD, MUSIAD, TUGIYAD to this list. On social matters, we support two associations, ‘Berikoy’ and ‘Yuvam Olsun’, and the Red Crescent.
But we only invite our members to activities on subjects directly interesting US companies. This is our difference. In this way many of our members can share their problems and, with the help of our board, produce balanced solutions.
Can you give us information about activities you are planning for this year?
2004 was a year filled mostly with activities. This year we are going to be more focused on the needs of our members. We are going to organize business trips to neighboring countries. In the scope of this, we went to Cyprus this February and established two action groups. The first meeting of our action group was held in March and we composed a list of projects. In April we went to Baku.
How does your association reach out to companies operating in Anatolia?
We only accept companies with US capital as members. Outside Istanbul, we have members only in Izmir and Ankara. We try to include these locations in our activities. In Ankara we work close with the Assembly of Turkish American Associations.
How do you define your mission in terms of Turkish-American business relations? What is your perspective towards the current political tension between two nations?
Our mission is to protect and insure the continuation of US capital in Turkey, and while doing this, encourage new investments. Our aim is pure business. Our expectations from the politicians in US, and in Turkey as well, are that they allow us to do business. We believe that through trade mutual understanding between the politicians in both countries will develop and ways will open to establish peace.
How many members do you have? What are the requirements to become a member? How much do your members pay in membership fees?
With the 4 new members joining us at our anniversary dinner, the number of our members became 57. Considering that the number of American companies operating in Turkey is 220, this is a remarkable achievement for an association with 14 months of history.
To become a member, the company needs to have 50% or more US capital or a 100% service agreement with an American company or main franchiser or be a representation office registered with the Turkish Treasury. In general, we accept membership of companies, but under some conditions we have also accepted membership of individuals. The entrance fee is 1.500 YTL and the annual dues are 3.000 YTL.
There is a growing Turkish business milieu in the US. What are your relations to these business circles?
We plan to travel to the US at least twice a year. On every trip, we visit different governmental offices around Washington, DC, and have meetings according to the needs of our members. In December 2004, we became a registered representative with the American Chamber of Commerce, and with this our contacts will increase.
Can you give us some information about the New York – Istanbul project?
Through a cultural and social approach, we will try to bring New York and Istanbul closer. We dedicated 2005 only for planning. Right now our association manager and project manager are initiating contacts in Istanbul and New York.
ABFT BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Halim Neyzi (Shaw/Stone & Webster) President
Günsan Çetin (GAP International) Vice President
Neslihan Tonbul (Bank of New York) Vice President
Serdar Yanaşan (FedEx) Vice President
Ayşe Çetinel (Johnson & Johnson) Secretary
Gülnihal Soydan (Marsh) Member
ABFT FOUNDING MEMBERS
Halim Neyzi (Shaw / Stone & Webster İnşaat), Neslihan Tonbul (The Bank of New York), Günsan Çetin (GAP Int.), Rint Akyüz (ADM Yağ Sanayi), Şerif Kaynar (K Partners Int. Müşavirlik), Alp Sevindik (Pfizer İlaçları), Haluk Ündeğer (Ünsped Paket Servisi ve Ticaret), Ayhan İzmirli (ESBAŞ), Rainer Bürkle (Som Otelcilik), Serdar Yanaşan (Coneks Uluslararası Taşımacılık), Haluk Özel (Salans Müşavirlik)
(July 2005, 17th Issue)