TÜSIAD Board Member and Allianz Turkey Chairwoman Cansen Başaran Symes

Interview with Cansen Başaran Symes

TÜSIAD Board Member and Allianz Turkey Chairwoman Cansen Başaran Symes

Could you tell us what was the main objective to set up the TÜSIAD/TCCI European Economic Integration Chair? Could you please elaborate on its mission and yearly program?

In order to build on a mutual commitment to fostering Turkish-European ties, exchanging knowledge, and forging joint paths for innovation and sustainable development, TÜSIAD together with Turkey: A Culture of Change Initiative (TCCI) decided to establish a chair within ESMT in the area of European Economic Integration.

The chair focuses on research and teaching in areas related to European economic integration and competitiveness, the German-Turkish economic partnership, and the strategic role of entrepreneurship and managing technology, among others.

The TCCI initiative was founded in Berlin with a view to further develop and encourage German-Turkish dialogue on economic, political, and social issues in an innovative manner. Through this initiative, we endeavor to fill an important gap in German and Turkish public opinion and to overcome recent setbacks by establishing a sustainable network of competent partners on both sides. TCCI‘s activity fields are the enhancement of economic relations between Germany and Turkey, the dissemination of knowledge about Turkish socio-economic characteristics, and the nurturing of the political and social ties between Turkey and Germany.

How important is it for TÜSIAD to invest in research, and build partnerships with education institutes?

As TÜSIAD, we believe that the main driver of the emerging knowledge economy is building a qualified workforce. Therefore, we support policies and projects that aim at the establishment of an economy based on innovation, knowledge and R&D activities. In this context, TÜSIAD initiated a series of forums to conduct research projects at an international standard and collaborate with related research centers in foreign countries with the aim of supporting TÜSIAD’s research and opinion-forming process with academics and scientists, building more effective cooperation with universities, and enabling young academics to gain experience in their applied fields. In this framework, the “Foreign Policy Forum” on international relations was set up in conjunction with Boğaziçi University, the “Competitiveness Forum” was established with Sabancı University to cover the concept of competition and the “Economic Research Forum” devoted to micro and macroeconomic research was established with Koç University.

The chair was established with TCCI to mark the occasion of the German-Turkish Year of Research, Education, and Innovation. The holder of the chair, Stefan Wagner, focuses on innovation in his research and some of the barriers to innovation. What do you see as the main challenges for firms seeking to innovate?

Globalization and increased international competition require innovative firms to focus on a long-term competitive advantage. Innovation challenges are dependent on the nature of operations of firms but broadly, there are common issues which are faced by a majority of organizations. To begin with, access to finance is critical to unlock the innovation potential. Secondly, firms need to possess knowledge-based assets and these assets have to be adjusted for changing global trends, policies, and environmental liabilities. Finally, a framework of university-led innovation is fundamental for the firms seeking to innovate simply because direct interaction with business is essential for the knowledge transfer. In order to build a cooperative, multi-dimensional, and long-term industry-university partnership, a well-educated work force, mainly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, is crucial.

Can you tell us about the work of TÜSIAD in Germany and your values as an organization?

TÜSIAD Berlin Office aims at developing and encouraging German-Turkish dialogue on economic, political, social, and cultural issues and strives to accurately inform German public opinion regarding Turkey’s EU accession process, to communicate the opinions of the Turkish business community to those in positions of political responsibility, and to raise Turkey’s profile vis à vis the policy makers, civil society actors, media representatives, and academic community.

Within this framework the Office nurtures close ties with the Federation of German Industries (BDI), TÜSIAD’s counterpart body in Germany, and further German institutions as well as leading civil society organizations, think tanks, research institutes, academic establishments, media outlets in Germany, and regularly engages in institutional exchanges of views.

What are the biggest challenges for businesses in Turkey at present?

Ambiguities in the legal system are among the key challenges for doing business in Turkey. These ambiguities adversely affect the efficiency of the judicial system in terms of resolving disputes, including the duration to resolve the dispute, the number of procedures and costs associated with them.

The complexity of the Turkish tax system has been one of the key challenges for businesses in Turkey. Simplifying the tax system will increase the level of voluntary compliance with tax laws and combat against the informal economy. Furthermore, issues with tax audits still persist despite the organizational restructuring in the tax administration including the establishment of the Turkish Tax Inspection Board. Also frequent tax amnesties in Turkey discourage voluntary tax compliance and lead to the informal economy.

Moreover, the informal economy in Turkey impedes the development of more sophisticated and productive larger corporations. Tax system and high redundancy payments are the major factors that encourage informality. The informal economy creates huge negative externalities for the formal businesses and it’s a source of unfair competition to registered, formal firms. Also, an informal economy erodes the tax base and increases the tax burden of formal businesses.

On another note, it is also necessary to highlight the energy sector when talking about Turkish economic growth and business challenges. As a crucial sector fueling the economy as a whole, the energy sector has been the stage for both challenges and reforms. While developments in the power sector are remarkable, process in the gas market needs to follow suit in order to achieve full liberalization.

Last but not the least, we have conducted a study in prioritizing the bottlenecks in Turkey’s economic growth. The findings showed that the level and quality of education remains insufficient to advance the right technical competencies, experience, and soft skills. Therefore there is certainly a need for reform there. Also, we’ve observed that the ubiquity level of Turkish products is very high, leaving only the price of the product as the competitive advantage. Here, we attribute great importance to the IPR framework and commercialization of IPR. Unfortunately, the legislation is neither adequate for an innovative environment to flourish, nor for the necessary awareness in the business community.