Syrian newcomers have potential to boost Turkish economy: experts
by Daily Sabah with Reuters
GAZIANTEP, TurkeyJan 06, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah with Reuters
Jan 06, 2016 12:00 am
Sitting in the bare office above his factory where thousands of baby rattles and plastic bottles are cranked out every hour, Saad Chouihna believes that if you can make it in Turkey, you are ready for anything in the business world--because the competition is definitely tough.
"The Turkish market is the hardest," said the 28-year-old Syrian from the city of Aleppo, with the tough competition and a business culture that depends on networking and valuing long-term business partnerships.
But armed with a knowledge of Turkish and the local culture, Chouihna is finding his way and knows that if he makes it, it will be very rewarding.
He has opened a branch of his family's plastics business in the southeastern city of Gaziantep, where the many Syrian restaurants and Arabic signs in some districts bear witness to the proximity of the border and the growing Syrian population.
His firm is one of nearly 2,000 set up by Syrians in Turkey in the almost five years since their homeland descended into civil war. A quarter of a million people have been killed since then and millions more displaced, with Turkey now home to 2.2 million Syrians, the world's largest refugee population.
"Our business is plastic - that's what we know," Chouihna said. "But the established companies here have the contacts and experience locally so as a new company here it is really hard to get contacts or get contracts from big medical companies, for example. A lot of them don't even come to the phone."
But Chouihna, who has a wife and baby daughter, said he saw "no difference between me and a Turkish company" because he employs Turks as well as Syrians and pays his taxes.
In November Ankara agreed to help stem the flow of refugees trying to reach Europe in return for $3.2 billion in aid and renewed talks on joining the European Union.
Ankara has spent more than $8.5 billion on feeding and housing Syrian refugees since the start of the war.
According to TOBB, an umbrella body for local chambers of commerce, more than 1,000 companies were established in Turkey with at least one Syrian partner in the first seven months of 2015, compared with 30 in 2010, before the start of the war.
Although there is no estimate yet of the increase in output from these firms, economists say they have boosted trade with Syria in parts of Turkey where instability and violence in border areas have dented trade with neighbours.
"There has been a big jump in the numbers of businesses founded by Syrians probably because they are finally realising they are likely to remain in Turkey for many more years," said Esra Özpınar, a researcher from economic think tank TEPAV.
BOOST TO EXPORTS
In Gaziantep, new buildings have sprung up beside the city's medieval fortress and old market thanks to investments and economic incentives offered by the government which have helped it become an economic hub and the most industrialised city in Turkey's south.
Chouihna exports to Egypt, Lebanon, Romania, Tunisia and Yemen and does some trade in Turkey. He also sells his products in Syria, helping Turkey's exports to its neighbour get back close to their pre-war levels.
Turkish exports to Syria dipped in 2011 and 2012, but have recovered significantly. In the first 10 months of 2015, Turkey exported $1.3 billion in goods and services there, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, compared to less than half a billion in 2012.
TEPAV research suggests the rising number of Syrian firms in border provinces such as Kilis, Mardin and Hatay has helped the recovery in exports. But their composition has changed, reflecting the needs of a war economy, with food, generators and pick-up trucks eclipsing building materials and cars.
Economist Harun Öztürkler of the Centre For Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara says these businesses could in the long term be crucial to the Turkish economy.
"The most important contribution will be their network in the Arab world because the owners of these firms were merchants in Syria," he said. "Finding new markets for Turkey is going to be the most important."
Another Syrian living in Gaziantep, Abu Tareq, said he had found investors for his plan to start a company producing $1 million worth a year of refrigerators for restaurants, food stores and factories.
He plans to base his firm in the same industrial district as Chouihna's and intends to hire 14 people, he said.
After working in the same business in Syria, he saw an opportunity in the Turkish market.
"There are business options here for Syrians and I realised I will be here for a long time," he said.