Erdogan pushes tough foreign policy despite economic pain

Erdogan pushes tough foreign policy despite economic pain
Erdogan softened some of his most strident rhetoric and made a rare overture to Western partners after the scale of Turkey’s financial problems forced him to shake up his economic team earlier this month. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 27 November 2020

Erdogan pushes tough foreign policy despite economic pain

Erdogan pushes tough foreign policy despite economic pain
  • Erdogan is also challenging rival Greece in the eastern Mediterranean and throwing down the gauntlet to Russia by backing Azerbaijan

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly assertive foreign policy is rankling Western allies and scaring away investors — but few analysts expect him to slow down.
Critics accuse Erdogan of whipping up patriotism in a bid to shore up support after bitter municipal election losses last year saw his rivals win in Ankara and Istanbul.
The government counters that Turkey is defending its interests in a volatile region against unfriendly nations.
Erdogan softened some of his most strident rhetoric and made a rare overture to Western partners after the scale of Turkey’s financial problems forced him to shake up his economic team earlier this month.
Yet Turkish troops and military advisers are still fanned out from Syria to Libya, causing consternation in capitals across Europe and Washington.
Erdogan is also challenging rival Greece in the eastern Mediterranean and throwing down the gauntlet to Russia by backing Azerbaijan in its victorious war with Armenia over the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Analysts say this might help Erdogan attract voters in the short term — but not foreign investors who can help the flagging economy revive and thrive in the years to come.
Erdogan’s foreign policy is “creating huge uncertainty about Turkey,” said Washington’s German Marshall Fund fellow Kadri Tastan.
It creates a “combative relationship with Turkey’s main economic partners, the EU and the US,” Sinan Ulgen of Istanbul’s Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies agreed.
“Turkey’s trade and investment relationships are essentially with these two economic hubs.”

One of the main points of friction with the European Union involves Turkey’s search for natural gas in disputed waters near Cyprus and Greece.
The bloc warned last month that Turkey could face “immediate” sanctions if it continued. The next EU leaders’ summit is on December 10-11.
Erdogan appeared to extend an olive branch to Brussels last Saturday, insisting that “we don’t see ourselves anywhere but in Europe.”
France responded that it preferred to see Turkey change its behavior than hear Erdogan’s “soothing declarations.”
Turkey began talks to join the EU in 2005 but the process has been effectively frozen because of Europe’s ever-growing concerns about Erdogan’s rule.
Erdogan’s softer tone also included a promise of judicial reform that followed Joe Biden’s election as US president.
Biden represents a potential problem following Erdogan’s friendship with Donald Trump, who never made Turkey’s deteriorating rights record a top-line concern.
Greece and Egypt in particular are hoping Biden will take on a more active role to resolve the Mediterranean crisis.
Turkey also faces the threat of US sanctions after its controversial purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-missile systems, especially after Biden’s win.
“There is therefore a high risk Turkish-US relations will reach a new low in 2021,” Verisk Maplecroft risk consultancy analyst Anthony Skinner said.

Erdogan’s foreign policy push intensified after he survived a 2016 attempted coup, when he felt “left alone by traditional partners in the West,” said Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in Berlin.
Erdogan believes “Turkey can no longer trust Europe and the US to support its security,” she added, pointing to a speech he gave in October 2016 defending his campaigns against Kurdish targets in Syria and northern Iraq.
“We will henceforth protect the right of this nation with a tit-for-tat fight in the field and with a seat at the table, if need be,” Erdogan said.
And again last month, Erdogan complained of “a blatant attempt to put Turkey under siege” that involves “crisis points from Syria to the Mediterranean to the Caucasus.”
Turkey has poured hundreds of millions of dollars developing its own defenses, which Adar said meant that it can now engage in multiple fronts.
“That is an enabling factor of this increasing aggressiveness,” she told AFP.
“The boundaries between domestic politics and foreign policy have become increasingly blurred.”

This approach has compounded the pain of a Turkish economy that analysts believe has been mismanaged for years.
The lira has lost about a quarter of its value against the dollar since the start of 2020 and annual inflation hovers at around 12 percent.
“Rising geopolitical risk puts pressure on the domestic currency,” Ulgen said, and also “affects portfolio flows as well as foreign direct investments.”
Foreign direct investments — money that goes into creating jobs by building factories and helping grow existing businesses — fell to $8.7 billion last year from a peak of $22 billion in 2007, according to World Bank data.
The majority of this investment comes from Europe, Tastan said.
One example came last year when Germany’s Volkswagen postponed a decision on whether to build a new factory in Turkey after the Turkish offensive in northern Syria.
It ultimately canceled the plans in July because of the coronavirus pandemic.


How the Arab region can catch up with the future of food

A guest uses a mobile phone to take a video of a meal featuring a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat during a media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals, on December 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
A guest uses a mobile phone to take a video of a meal featuring a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat during a media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals, on December 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 14 min 39 sec ago

How the Arab region can catch up with the future of food

A guest uses a mobile phone to take a video of a meal featuring a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat during a media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals, on December 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Investors seek regulatory environment that promotes innovations like plant-based alternatives and cellular agriculture
  • Saudi Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, founder and CEO at KBW Ventures, wants tech start-ups to solve the sustainability challenge

DUBAI: Lab-grown meat may sound like an unpalatable sci-fi concoction, but thanks to new innovations in cellular agriculture, combined with growing consumer demand for sustainable alternatives, test-tube T-bones could soon be on the menu.

Threats to global food systems and agriculture have come to the fore since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted regional value chains, heightening awareness about the importance of public health and regulation of new scientific techniques.

For the Middle East in particular, the crisis has been a wake-up call for policymakers acutely aware they have fallen behind in the food sciences — a gap that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now hopeful they can close.

“Food science is definitely something that’s missing here,” Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, said during a recent virtual panel discussion on “The Future of Food: New Tastes, New Priorities, New Technologies.”

Vegetarian alternatives to burgers and sausages, revived by start-ups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, are enjoying a certain enthusiasm that meat giants also want to enjoy. (AFP/File Photo)

“We’ve voiced it a bunch of times and we are actually working with the UAE government to establish some sort of ecosystem to develop that.”

The panel discussion, organized as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 18-21), examined how the world’s food needs have evolved over recent decades from hunger prevention to tackling obesity, and how they must adapt to face new realities.

“Fifty years ago, food science was created for food safety. It was not created for food health,” Gabrielle Rubenstein, co-founder and chief executive of the US private equity firm Manna Tree, told the panel.

“They were just trying to feed the world and mass produce, but we didn’t know that it would cause cancer or obesity.”

Today, the cost of treating chronic diseases caused by obesity in the US is equivalent to roughly 9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), while 70 percent of deaths are caused by lifestyles linked to poor diet.

This undated handout from Eat Just released on December 19, 2020 shows a nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat at a restaurant in Singapore, which became the first country to allow meat created without slaughtering any animals to be sold. (AFP/File Photo)

Solutions could lie in the new scientific innovations led by start-ups. The missing ingredient, according to Rubenstein, is scalability. “This is something that we all need to work on together,” she said. “The only way we can do that is by scaling innovation knowledge and research. It’s not necessarily about getting food into the hands of the country — what’s totally missing is knowledge in innovation.”

Universities in the UAE, for instance, currently do not offer PhDs in food science, leaving regional startups whose goal is to create the foods of the future at a disadvantage. Rubenstein’s company wants to change that. “Let’s take our scholar model and give this to you so that the next generation are food scientists,” she said.]

One interesting takeaway from the pandemic is the shift in consumer preferences towards healthier and more sustainably produced food. Experts believe technology and regulations will have to adapt quickly to respond to these changing demands.

“We are going through what is probably the most challenging time we have gone through in the last 20 years,” Prince Khaled said. “And from my point of view, it is the most important thing that has happened to us because it has shifted people’s attention towards what their priorities are.”

Responding to these new demands, retailers are already allocating more shelf space to the likes of Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other plant-based alternatives as shoppers cut back on animal products.

FASTFACT

Cultured cells

*Singapore became the first country in the world in Dec. 2020 to approve a commercial meat product made from cultured animal cells for human consumption.

Scientists have gone a step further, exploring the revolutionary possibilities of cellular agriculture — the production of proteins, fats and tissues using lab-grown cell cultures that would otherwise have come from the slaughterhouse.

In Dec. 2020, San Francisco-based alternative protein company Eat Just announced its cultured chicken product has been approved for sale in Singapore — the first time a commercial meat product made from cultured animal cells has been approved for human consumption.

“I hail Singapore for the enormous courage that it took to just start regulating cellular agriculture,” Prince Khaled said. “This didn’t happen coincidentally during this pandemic. We’ve seen a lot of the issues that this current pandemic has driven towards; it has opened people’s eyes to the zoonotic diseases that are out there.”

High concentrations of livestock are potential breeding grounds for epidemics. Indeed, scientists believe the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic originated in animals sold at a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan before making the jump to humans.

Experts believe moving away from the mass farming of meat, eggs and dairy could not only reduce the risk of future zoonotic outbreaks but also reduce pressure on the environment.

Prince Khaled wants to see companies working in cellular agriculture and plant-based proteins demonstrate how they can address food and land scarcity. “Now’s the time to actually find solutions,” he said.

The panel discussion, “The Future of Food: New Tastes, New Priorities, New Technologies,” organized as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 18-21), examined how the world’s food needs have evolved over recent decades from hunger prevention to tackling obesity. (Supplied)

With an estimated 9.7 billion people to feed by 2050, companies involved in these projects will have to play a role in the drafting of regulations. Much will also depend on what governments choose to subsidize.

“At the end of the day, the future is definitely going to be solved through people like these panelists — people who have the money, the backing and the investors to do it,” Prince Khaled said.

“But, more importantly, it’s a match made in heaven when you have the entrepreneurs who share that vision with you. We invested in a company that ships organic seeds to people to grow in-house. These aren’t going to solve world problems or world hunger, but collectively, that’s the only real way we’re going to be able to do something about this.”

The regulatory environment will have to move with the times to ensure a smooth transition. Singapore is currently leading the way, with its food agency working closely with start-ups.

“I’m from California and I’ve been in Singapore for a few years, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Max Rye, chief strategist at TurtleTree Labs, a Singapore-based biotech company founded in 2019 with the aim of producing lab-grown dairy products.

“We meet with the agency on a very regular basis. They ask questions about how we can work together to get our products to the market, and that’s not what I’m used to hearing,” he said.

Lab-grown meat from the US is presented in the Disgusting Food Museum on December 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (AFP/File Photo)

By contrast, in the US much of that discussion would revolve around food safety and toxicology, he said.

“If there was any recommendation, it would be just to work much closer with your startups,” Rye said. “These types of companies are trying to solve the much bigger problems around climate change among (issues).”

KBW Ventures recently increased its investment in TurtleTree Labs and Prince Khaled has joined the firm as an official adviser. He also holds investments in the California-based company Beyond Meat.

Prince Khaled agrees that a nourishing environment from a regulatory standpoint will be crucial.

“The thing that struck me with Singapore is that this is a breakthrough when it comes to regulatory approvals,” he said. “I’m really hopeful the US, and the Middle East, will follow suit.”

----------------

Twitter: @CalineMalek