Back To Top

Korea, Turkey cement ties through adversity

New Turkish envoy talks about FTA, nuclear issue and local cuisines

About a week ago, Koreans heard the tragic news that one of their closest friends, Turkey, had been struck by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake near the eastern city of Van, killing over 530 people.

“It was a very tragic event, unfortunately we lost many people,” said Turkish Ambassador Naci Saribas to The Korea Herald.

As soon as the news broke, the Korean government offered assistance. A few days later, Turkey accepted foreign aid to help with their rebuilding and clean up efforts.

Turkey requested winter tents, prefabricated houses and containers from Korea.

The embassy also announced the opening of three separate accounts at Turkish banks that will accept donations to help with humanitarian assistance.

Information about the banks and account numbers can be found at the embassy’s site at

Korea-Turkey trade

Koreans came into contact with Turks during the Korean War when Turkey became the second country, after the United States, to answer the call of the United Nations to defend the South from a Northern invasion.

Turkey lost 721 men and had 2,000 wounded in the war.

“In Turkey and as Turks, we are proud to address our relations with Korea as blood brothers because almost three decades ago we fought for our independence and freedom,” he said.
Turkish Ambassador Naci Saribas points to a painting of a traditional Turkish wedding hanging in hisoffice. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Turkish Ambassador Naci Saribas points to a painting of a traditional Turkish wedding hanging in hisoffice. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

“We are happy and proud of our commitment during the Korean War.”

Today, relations between both countries shine brightly with constant high-level visits on both sides and a healthy and growing trade relationship that will take on new facets as soon as both countries ink a free trade agreement.

Trade volume between the two countries grew to $4.2 billion last year, according to the Korea International Trade Association, with the majority resting heavily on the Korean side.

“It’s one of my desires to bring more balance to our commercial relations and I believe that this commercial total does not reflect the potential that we have. It’s much bigger than that,” Saribas said in his first interview with the local press.

To bring balance to the trade relationship, Saribas is planning to team up business leaders from both countries through different avenues such as an economic commission and a purchasing delegation.

The construction sector stands to gain heavily under Saribas’ plans.

“Both countries’ construction companies are very strong in Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.

To take advantage of those strengths, Korea and Turkey signed a protocol agreement to lay the groundwork for construction companies to work together in third party countries.

“There will be a Korean construction firm visiting Turkey to discover our opportunities and also search for possibilities to cooperate in third countries next week,” he said.

Turkish Delights

Turkish cuisine is considered one of the top 5 cuisines of the world.

At next year’s food fair in Seoul, the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce plans to bring at least 50 Turkish food companies to Korea to find ways in which they can penetrate the market and the local taste buds.

While food can be considered a part of a country’s culture, it is also an important facet of a country’s overall trade and business.

At the 2012 Yeosu Expo, Saribas confirmed that Turkey will take part with a strong display of cultural activities and Turkish delights that cover the rainbow of their kitchen.

From there, the ballet troupes, fashion shows and their military marching band will head to Seoul to showcase the beauty and variety of Turkey.

“Turkish dishes are very rich, we can make at least 25 different meals using just eggplants, so imagine how big our Turkish kitchen is,” he said with a smile.

Saribas is also here to attract more investment and noted that Turkey’s geographical location can be the gateway for Korean firms wanting to enter Europe, North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Investing in future

“A couple of years ago, when foreign direct investments in the world was going down, Turkey received $20 billion of FDIs,” he said.

While the world is currently entering into a new phase of the ongoing economic crisis, Turkey has been posting record growth rates in the past two quarters, 10 percent and 8.8 percent respectively.

“So the growth rate of Turkey gives at least some indication and we have a very stable country politically and economically.”

But not everything is a Turkish delight between the two countries.

The road to signing a free trade agreement has been long and at times bumpy.

Saribas explained that the FTA signed between Korea and the European Union will have a negative impact on trade relations with Korea due to possible trade diversions.

“In order to avoid that and to bring our potential into realization, we would like to conclude this FTA with Korea as soon as possible.”

Concerning the nuclear power plant issue, Turkey is still interested in bids from Korean firms to build their second nuclear power plant.

Turkey’s first nuclear power plant will be built by a Russian company. The second plant depends on the offer that will be made by the Korean side. Saribas hopes that this time, the Korean offer will meet Turkish expectations.

By Yoav Cerralbo (