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It is often overlooked that the UK and Turkey are united by the Conservative vision of an “aspiration nation”, powered by an entrepreneurial, innovative, highly-skilled workforce. This isn’t an original observation. David Cameron recognised this shared drive back in 2010 when he signed a ‘Strategic Partnership’ with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Since then, UK ministers have made six trips to Turkey, including Nick Clegg’s delegation earlier this month when he renewed the UK’s promise to double bilateral trade from 2009 to 2015. This goal represents a significant opportunity for the UK that the government should maximise by supporting innovation and improving visa services for Turkish investors.

Looking at the data, it’s easy to see why the Coalition and the CBI are keen to encourage more trade between the UK and Turkey. Current deals between the two countries are worth more than £9billion, with more than 2,000 British firms actively investing in Turkey. While British companies like Vodafone are attracted to Turkey’s young, tech-savvy consumers, Turkish companies look to Britain for its technical excellence. For example, on 10 October Turkish Airlines announced the purchase of 15 A330-300 Airbus aircrafts which will help sustain nearly 6,000 jobs at the Airbus Broughton plant. Similarly, when the Turkish Navy needed propulsion equipment for three new ships in May, it offered the lucrative contract to the UK’s own Rolls-Royce.

Because these deals help drive the UK towards productivity and prosperity, the British government should encourage further exports by championing innovation. According to NESTA, the UK has experienced a “lost decade of innovation” that needs to be reversed if it is to stay relevant in a global marketplace. This is admittedly a vast policy area, but I’d like to highlight one government initiative that promises to open new export channels to Turkey. Recently, the Technology Strategy Board announced the creation of a Future Cities Catapult, a public-private partnership which will “help UK businesses to develop high-value, integrated urban solutions and then sell those solutions to the world”. With Istanbul in desperate need of solutions to its housing, traffic and pollution problems, it seems logical that a future trade delegation could showcase the Catapult’s solutions to Turkish officials. This isn’t to undermine the Turkish government’s own innovation initiatives, but rather to capitalise on the unique knowledge network here in the UK.

In the meantime, the Coalition should continue to simplify the visa system for Turkish investors. During his delegation, Mr Clegg announced a new “Business Bridge” service to ensure that key Turkish executives benefit from expedited visa processing times. While the details have yet to be published, the announcement sends an encouraging signal to the Turkish community. In his testimony to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry into UK-Turkey relations, Sir David Logan spoke for many witnesses when he stated “British visa policy is the issue which impacts most negatively on the UK’s bilateral relations with Turkey”. It’s clear that Turkish businesses want to engage with the UK: Beko PLC (the largest Turkish investor in the UK) sponsored the terrace pavilion at UKTI’s British Business Embassy during the Olympics. Reduced bureaucracy will help ensure investors continue to see great potential in Great Britain.

Enhancing trade with a dynamic economy like Turkey represents a vast opportunity for the UK. While they are differentiated by many traits like EU membership, both countries are united by the Conservative vision of an economy driven by innovative, industrious businesses. The Coalition has worked hard to strengthen bilateral relations but more must be done to meet the lucrative 2015 trade target. Increased spending on R&D to support British businesses and simplifying the visa process for Turkish investors can help realise our shared “aspiration nation”.

Jennifer Brindisi is Conservative Friends of Turkey‘s policy officer.

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