Even though Turkey and Mexico have historical ties that go back to the 19th century, relations between the two countries remained stagnant until recent years. Thanks to recent mutual visits, relations have gained positive momentum and both countries currently realize that they have a lot to share despite geographic distance. Daily Sabah sat down with Mexican Ambassador Martha Bárcena Coqui and discussed the future of relations and cooperation areas concerning the G-20, MIKTA as well as Mexico's stance on reform in the U.N. Security Council.
As you may imagine, many are unaware of the historical ties between Mexico and Turkey. Would you be able to provide us with some information on the historical background of Turkish-Mexican relations?
The historical ties go back to the 19th century. During the Sultan Abdulaziz era, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico sent the first Mexican diplomat to the Ottoman Empire.
During World War I period, Mexico received a great numbers of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. They basically came from Lebanon and Syria. There were also some Sephardic Jews from Istanbul and Thessaloniki. The Sephardic community in Mexico has its origins in the Ottoman Empire, and they are still very active doing business with the Sephardic community in Turkey.
After the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, Mexico also started a new stage of its development because of the civil war -- the Revolution lasted from 1910-1921. By 1927, we signed the Treaty of Friendship between the Republic of Turkey and the Mexican Government in Rome, and it entered into force in the following year. That means that in two more years, we will be celebrating the 90th year of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Turkey and Mexico. It is a long time. And we opened embassies in the 1950s in both countries. Then, I think it was in 2003 that a monument of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was inaugurated on one of the most important avenues in Mexico City (Paseo de la Reforma). For many years, Mexico and Turkey have been very good friends. But the relationship was not living up to its potential.
In 2008, Ali Babacan paid the first visit at the level of foreign minister of Turkey to Mexico. Then, in 2010 then-Prime Minister Erdoğan went to Mexico. In 2013, the first visit of the President of Mexico to the Republic of Turkey took place and recently President Erdoğan, this time as president, went to Mexico for the third time, since he previously went to the G20 meeting in Los Cabos. I can say that President Erdoğan, then-President Gül and President Pena's political view completely transformed the relationship between Mexico and Turkey. For many years, we were good friends, but not much was happening; there were only three agreements we had signed, and suddenly over the last two years we have signed 16 agreements. We also started negotiations for a free trade agreement.
In the last 10 years, but especially in the last two years, the relationship between Mexico and Turkey has completely changed for the good. We are becoming more interested in each other. We are doing more business, more trade, more cultural and student exchanges, and Mexicans have a lot of interest in Turkey and vice versa, which is the most important thing.
- Turkey and Mexico have a concerted attitude and similar stance towards the topic of reforming the UNSC. What are Mexico's expectations in efforts to seek reform?
Mexico is among the founding members of the U.N., and we have been working with Turkey very closely in the last years in the process to reform the U.N., particularly the Security Council. Mexico and Turkey are members of a movement called the United for Consensus group. Alongside Mexico and Turkey, there is Argentina, Pakistan, Spain and Canada among other countries.
To synthesize this, I would say Mexico is in favor of reform in the UNSC and against adding new permanent members. Mexico has worked with other members of the United for Consensus group to have a system of non-permanent, long-term members that can be re-elected and also to expand Security Council seats for non-permanent members for two years. From the beginning, Mexico has been against the veto in the U.N.. We are trying to limit the use of the veto only to Chapter 7. Mexico also wants to improve the methods of the UNSC. But what we basically want, exactly like Turkey, is a more representative, democratic, accountable, transparent and effective UNSC because the Security Council reflects the distribution of power in 1945 after World War II. But the world has completely changed. So, the new Security Council should reflect these changes, and it should give voice and more chances for constant participation to countries like Mexico and Turkey. We are working hand in hand with Turkey to reform the UNSC.
It is very clear that we want an expanded, democratic, accountable, transparent and effective Security Council because Mexico and Turkey are worried that the UNSC sometimes gets paralyzed on issues that are of direct interest to the five permanent members, and that should not happen. So, we may have different opinions and point of views on very specific issues, but we have the same objectives of reforming the UNSC.
As a member of the G20 countries, on which areas does Mexico plan to cooperate with Turkey during its term of presidency and what can Turkey learn from Mexico's being in the same post since 2012?
We are sharing many of our experiences with Turkey. The consultations in the G20 are very fluid and flexible. A few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan was telling a Mexican delegation that he talks on the phone quite often with the governor of the Central Bank of Mexico and with Mexico's finance minister.
When President Erdoğan went to Mexico, he said that he was trying to visit all the G20 countries before the summit, and he started with Mexico. So, conversations between the two country's presidents on the G20 were very intense. We listen carefully to Turkish priorities. We absolutely support the three "I"s of the Turkish presidency: Inclusiveness, Implementation and Investments for growth. We think that they are well thought out, and we are going to support them. We are very closely following all the efforts that Turkey is making, trying to implement all the agreements achieved in the previous meetings of the G20 because in every summit of the G20 there are many agreements, but nobody knows how they are implemented. Turkey is making great effort to try to find a methodology to address the implementation of those agreements. We are absolutely committed to support Turkey in a very successful presidency.
We are also supportive of Turkey's working methods and schedule. We are trying to participate with technical people in all the working groups of the G20. Of course, we hope that the Turkish summit in Antalya will be a successful one. We know that it is an important year, not only because of the G-20 summit, but also because this year the Sustainable Development goals post 2015 are going to be adopted and the COP 21 will be held in Paris to deal with a new agreement on climate change. The whole world will be looking to the summit in Antalya.
We are absolutely convinced that Turkey can make a difference and have a great leadership in all these matters through the G20 Presidency.
With devoted efforts to develop stronger bilateral ties, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently visited Mexico in which the relations have moved forward to an improved stage. In this regard, how do you see the future of bilateral ties of these countries?
Personally, I have great expectations for the future of bilateral relations, and I know that my president and my foreign minister do the same too. I think Turkish authorities do as well. We have a very comprehensive agenda.
First, as I've said, we have signed 16 agreements in only two years. Now, we have the challenge of implementing them. Some of them have just been ratified by both the Turkish and Mexican parliaments. They will enhance our cooperation because there are agreements on customs cooperation, protection of investments, double-taxation, cooperation and the fight against organized crime. So, we have big challenges to implement all the agreements.
Second, we have the task of advancing and concluding free trade negotiations. As you know, for many years we tried to start negotiations on free trade, and during President Pena Nieto's visit to Turkey in December 2013, we established the Strategic Partnership for the 21st century. Two presidents, Abdullah Gül and Pena Nieto, instructed their governments to start the negotiations on free trade. We started them, and we are negotiating using the "fast track negotiations" model. That means that 11 working groups are negotiating at the same time. There have been three rounds of negotiations, and the fourth one will take place in Mexico in May. We not only hope, but there are the instructions of President Erdoğan and President Pena Nieto that free trade negotiations should be concluded by this year. We hope that this can be done, since it will be one of the greatest achievements in bilateral relations. Trade is growing very fast, almost 20 percent per year. In 2006, trade volume was $200 million, but it is $1.2 billion now. The target is $5 billion by the year 2023, and it may be even larger.
While Turkey displays an insistent attitude to a multi-dimensional free trade agreement, which became the most important agenda item for the two countries' intense contacts in the last years, what is the reason behind Mexico's hesitation towards placing this agreement into practice?
There are not any specific obstacles. It's just that we are very sophisticated economies. We complement each other in some areas but compete with each other in other areas. We have to negotiate an agreement that is useful for both parts. We are very strong economies, Mexico is 14th and Turkey is 16th. It is not like negotiating between two small countries. Mexico has NAFTA with the U.S. and Canada, while Turkey has the customs union with the EU. Mexico also has a free-trade agreement with the EU. We have to take into consideration all these aspects. Negotiations have no obstacles; they just take time.
We are negotiating access to free markets, agriculture, services, investment, standards, intellectual property rights and dispute settlement. It is a complex free trade agreement, not a simple one. It does not only include goods but also services, in part because Mexican investments in Turkey are starting to pick up and vice-versa.
Both countries are members of MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia), and what are some of the cooperation areas established between Turkey and Mexico under the scope of MIKTA?
We have the expectations of increasing the dialogue with countries that are very much like us, that share the same values and also have more or less the same economic size. We are trying to see in which areas we can speak with one voice because sometimes in meetings of the G20 or the IMF, positions are very polarized. The G7 and the West are on one side, while the BRICs are on the other side, and then the middle-size countries like Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and Korea. We are just left apart. Now we have a voice. We are very important economies; we are solid democracies, although with some challenges, we are very relevant countries. And we should be listened to. But if Turkey does it alone, it is more difficult to be heard. If Mexico speaks alone, also it is more difficult. If we talk together, we can be better heard.
On the one hand, Mexico is very far away from the Middle East and this region. So, we are very interested in learning Turkey's opinion on what is going on in the region because that would improve our knowledge of this area of the world. On the other hand, I'm sure Turkey is very interested in knowing Mexico's opinion on what is going on in Latin America and Central America. In this logic, we learn a lot from listening to Korea on what is happening in the Far East. By listening to Australia and Indonesia, we learn about what is happening in the South Pacific and their respective regions.
So we are big countries, young countries with young populations, with democracies. Democracies that have challenges because without any doubt Mexico has many challenges, Turkey has challenges, Indonesia has challenges, Korea too. So, we think we can work together. Our ambassadors in New York, in Geneva, in Vienna are meeting regularly. They exchange points of view; they try to work together, in searching areas of common interest. Here in Ankara we meet every two months, all ambassadors of MIKTA, and these meetings are held as well in other capitals. We are working together more often, which is something that we were not doing three years ago.