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Turkish Businesses Cast Wide Net to Promote Exports

Turkey's economy has been steadily growing thanks to measures put in place when Istanbul was actively trying to enter the European Union. Turned down, Turkey no longer seems interested in joining the EU. Instead, it is looking elsewhere to promote its exports and expand its considerable regional influence.

Exporters like Erenson, a company that produces industrial boilers, are thinking globally. In the past, Turkey geared its exports to European countries hungry for quality yet inexpensive goods that could be delivered quickly.

"And this boiler entails information about every welder that workd (on it)," said Erenson CEO Ali Eren. He says roughly 55 percent of Turkey's export market is Europe. But he is working closely with top government officials to end his country's dependency on western markets. "We are growing into Asia, Asian markets are very important for us, Africa, starting from North Africa and the Middle East is a big market and also South America is one of our targets. Of course in the north, Russia is very important market for us."

Turkey is now the world's 17th largest economy. The streets of its largest city, Istanbul, glitter with the priciest name brands. The ancient market at the city's center also draws daily crowds. The Bosphorus is one of the busiest waterways in the world.

International Crisis Group analyst Hugh Pope says Turkey has had a great decade. "It's increased its exports three times, and it has given a lot of wealth to a lot of citizens and you can feel the tide rising in many places, even in the far poor east of the country. So, that is a great success," he said.

But Turkey's once flourishing textile industry is beginning to feel the bite of a slowing world economy. So far, the country has managed to avoid the main blows of the world financial crisis. But some industrialists worry the country is headed for tougher times.

T-shirt factory owner Turan Comert is worried about rising prices and competition from Asia. "Salaries are getting higher every day, electricity is going up, and I cannot compete with Bangladesh. They have less expenses than we do. The only thing we have now is that our quality is better," he said.

Economists say that the country's currency has slipped. The gap between imports and exports is unsustainably high. Growth rate predictions have been pushed down from previous years to 2.5 percent.

Economist Emre Alkin says the low growth rate presents an obstacle to Turkey's plans. "There is fear of a slow down, not a soft landing, and actually, the slow down is bad," he said.

Turkey's economic future, he says, will depend on how successfully it builds on its traditional exports toward more high-tech value-added industries such as hybrid cars, software and aerospace.

Until then, Turkey will have to bet on the entrepreneurship of businessmen like Eren.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.