Turkey´s relations with the Latin American and the Caribbean Countries

Turkey’s relations with the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region date back to the second half of the 19th century. There had been several waves of migration from the Ottoman Empire to Latin America from the 1860’s till the end of World War I. Those emigrants, mostly Arabs, were called "Los Turcos" as they had Ottoman passports. Diplomatic and consular contacts between the Ottoman Empire and some Latin American countries began in the same period. Later, Chile was the first country in the region to recognize the young Republic of Turkey. First resident embassies in the region were opened from the 1940’s onward.

Until 1990’s Turkey's relations with the region had been friendly, but stagnant. The main reasons behind this stagnation were geographical distance and differences of foreign policy priorities.

H.E. President Süleyman Demirel’s official visit to Argentina, Brazil and Chile in April 1995 was the first presidential visit from Turkey to the LAC region. H.E. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s LAC tour including Mexico, Colombia and Cuba in February 2015 became the second presidential visit after an interval of 20 years. From January 31 to February 4, 2016, H.E. President Erdoğan made his second tour to the LAC region in a year, visiting Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

Turkey’s Opening towards the LAC Region

Over the last twenty years, in line with its multi-dimensional foreign policy, Turkey has been pursuing a more active opening policy towards the region with a view to strengthening its relations with the LAC countries. In this regard, “Action Plan for Latin America and the Caribbean” was developed with the participation of Turkish Ambassadors in Latin America, Turkish public and private sector representatives and Honorary Consuls of LAC countries in Turkey and was put into effect in 1998. The Action Plan was reviewed in 2006 and the same year was declared as the “Year of Latin America and the Carribbean” in Turkey. The said Plan was a roadmap regarding the opening policy to the region.

Political Relations

Within the framework of Turkey’s LAC opening policy, Turkey gives priority to the exchange of high level visits and meetings in order to strengthen political relations with countries of the region; concluding trade, economic, military, cultural and technical cooperation agreements to solidify the existing legal framework; establishing business councils, participating in fairs, initiating promotional activities to increase trade volume; and increasing diplomatic representation in the region and increasing cultural interaction to ensure better and more accurate representation.

In line with this policy, reciprocal high level visits between Turkey and the LAC region have gained momentum. H.E. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s LAC tour to Mexico, Colombia and Cuba in February 2015 became the second Presidential visit after an interval of 20 years. From January 31 to February 4, 2016, H.E. President Erdoğan made his second tour to the LAC region in a year and visited Chile, Peru and Ecuador. Foreign Minister H.E. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Argentina, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic and Mexico during the first months of 2017.

In 2011, the President of Brazil H.E. Dilma Roussef and the President of Argentina H.E. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner; in 2012 the President of Chile H.E. Sebastian Pinera, the President of Ecuador H.E. Rafael Correa and President of Colombia H.E. Juan Manuel Santos; in 2013 President of Mexico H.E. Enrique Pena Nieto; in 2015, on the occasion of G20 Leaders’ Summit President of Mexico H.E. Enrique Pena Nieto and the-then President of Brazil H.E. Dilma Roussef; in 2016 and 2017 President of Venezuela H.E. Nicolas Maduro visited Turkey.

Turkey’s relations between Brazil and Mexico were elevated to the level of strategic partnership. To strengthen our relations in every field with these two countries, in 2006 Turkey-Brazil High Level Cooperation Commission and in 2013 Turkey-Mexico High Level Binational Commission were established. Legal framework of the relations between Turkey and the LAC countries has also been completed to a large extent. Political consultation mechanisms have been established with 17 LAC countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela).

Economic Relations

With a population of over 629 million people, a GDP of more than 5,3 trillion US Dollars, developing economies such as Brazil and Mexico, rich natural resources and growing middle-income classes, the LAC region has increasingly become an area of opportunities. During the last 10 years, remarkable improvements have been recorded with regard to average per capita income and living standards. Global economic statistics show that positive economic growth will be expected for the region in the period 2018-2021, leaving behind the problems such as economic contraction, high inflation and unemployment rates experienced during the 2014-2016 period.

While Turkey’s trade volume with region was 3,4 billion US Dollars in 2006, in 2016 it reached nearly 7 billion US Dollars. In 2017, Turkey’s trade volume surpassed 9,2 billion US Dollars. In order to provide reliable and regular information to the business environment regarding the opportunities of the region, the number of Turkish commercial offices has also increased. There are Turkish commercial offices in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

In line with the goal of developing our economic and trade relations with the LAC countries, as envisaged in the Action Plan, Turkey has signed Economic and Trade Cooperation Agreements with 19 countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela). The Joint Economic Commissions based on these agreements contribute to enhancing our economic relations with those countries.

The first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the region was signed with Chile in 2009 and entered into force on 1 March 2011. Negotiations for an FTA with Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and Peru are underway. In addition to the LAC countries, Turkey aims at concluding FTAs with important regional organizations such as CARICOM, MERCOSUR and the Pacific Alliance.

Turkish Airlines (THY), in addition to Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo, expanded its flight network to Bogota, Caracas, Havana and Panama in 2016. THY aims at further developing its network by direct flights to other cities in the region or through code-sharing agreements with the important regional airlines companies. THY flights have had significant contributions to our relations with the LAC region in many fields such as economy, trade, tourism and culture.

Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance

Turkey provides humanitarian, development and technical assistance to the LAC countries. In this respect, Turkey has sent humanitarian aid to the Central American and the Caribbean countries following several hurricanes and the devastation of major earthquakes.

Turkey aims at increasing its visibility by providing solidarity with regional countries through development cooperation and humanitarian aid carried out by Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) offices. TIKA opened its first regional programme coordination office in Mexico City in 2015, in Bogota in 2016. TIKA has undertaken more than 127 projects and activities amounting to nearly 11 million US Dollars in the fields of Education, Health, Water and Sanitation, Emergency and Humanitarian Assistance, Institutional Capacity Development, Meeting Social Needs, Contribution to Cultural Life, Transportation, Agriculture and Livestock.

In addition to TIKA projects, Turkey has contributed to the peace, stability and prosperity of the LAC region as well. Turkey has been providing support to the various dimensions of the peace process between the Colombian Government and FARC, financial and technical support to resettlement of the border issue between Belize and Guatemala and personnel support to the OAS Peace Mission in Colombia (MAPP/OAS). Turkish Security Officers have been working since 2004 at the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) which was established in order to ensure stability and security in the country and at the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) which replaced MINUSTAH as of 15 October 2017.

Cultural and Academic Cooperation

With regard to the cultural and academic dimensions of Turkey’s LAC opening policy, preparations have been underway to open Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centres in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. Within the framework of cooperation between the University of Ankara and the University of Havana, the Turkish History and Cultural Center was established in Havana in 2013. Studies regarding the opening of a Department of Turcology in the Central University of Ecuador in Quito are ongoing. Turkish History and Culture and Turkish language lessons are given at the National University in Bogotá. Within the Turkey Scholarships Program, more than 300 students from the LAC countries have received scholarships. Anadolu Agency's LAC Office, which plays an important role in terms of Turkish public diplomacy, was opened in Bogota in October 2017 and launched its broadcasting language service in Spanish.

Relations with the Regional Organizations

Turkey has established institutional ties with a multitude of regional organizations which provide important platforms for our relations with the LAC countries. Turkey became observer member of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1998, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) in 2000 and the Pacific Alliance in 2013. In 2010, Political Consultation and Cooperation Mechanism with the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) was established and two political consultation meetings were held. An MoU establishing institutional relations with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was signed on 4 June 2016 on the margins of the 7 th ACS Summit took place in Havana.

Since the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) does not have an observer membership system, a Consultation and Cooperation Mechanism between Turkey and CARICOM was established in 2011. In March 2014, Turkey participated in the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM held in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as a special guest. In July 2014, the First Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Turkey-CARICOM Consultation and Cooperation Mechanism took place in İstanbul with the participation of 11 ministers (Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago) out of 14 members of CARICOM.

Turkey signed an agreement to become an extra-regional observer state to the Central American Integration System (SICA) on 13 February 2015 during the visit of H.E. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Guatemala on the occasion of the First Turkey-SICA Foreign Ministers’ Forum. Turkey hosted the Second Turkey-SICA Foreign Ministers’ Forum which was held in İstanbul on 20 April 2017.

Turkey also regularly meets with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Quartet at Foreign Ministers level. The first Turkey-CELAC Troika (later became Quartet with the participation of the Term-President of CARICOM) Foreign Ministers Meeting was held in September 2013 on the margins of the 68th UN General Assembly in New York. The second Turkey-CELAC Quartet Foreign Ministers Meeting took place in September 2015 on the margins of the 70th UN General Assembly and the third one in September 2016 on the margins of the 71st UN General Assembly. The fourth Turkey-CELAC Quartet (the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador and Guyana) Foreign Ministers Meeting was held on 21 April 2017 in İstanbul following the Second Turkey-SICA Foreign Ministers Forum.

Turkey applied for membership to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) during the visit of H.E. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Chile on 1 February 2016. Turkey’s application was accepted at the meeting of the Committee of the Whole of ECLAC, which was held on 30 January 2017. Turkey’s membership to ECLAC was formally approved at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meeting on 25 July 2017 in New York.

In order to strengthen inter-parliamentary relations, which is an important dimension of its LAC opening policy, Turkey aimed at establishing institutional relationships with parliamentary organizations as well as national parliaments in the region. In this regard, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) applied for observer status to the Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO). Turkey also established contacts with regional parliaments such as the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), the Forum of Presidents of the Legislative Bodies of Central America and the Caribbean Basin (FOPREL), the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas (COPA), the MERCOSUR Parliament (PARLASUR) and the Parliamentarians for the Americas (ParlAmerica). Initiatives to establish institutional ties with these parliamentary organizations continue.