According to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) data, Turkey has the second-biggest current account deficit in the world. There were a few sharp intakes of breath, then, when Mehmet Habbab, a board member of the foreign economic relations board of Turkey (DEIK) told Exporta’s Turkey trade and export finance conference that Turkey plans to increase its exports volume to US$500bn by 2023. Over the course of two days of discussion though, it was hard to come away without a feeling that the target is entirely possible.

Turkey is currently the 17th biggest economy in the world, and its ambitious government aims to join the top 10 within a decade. Coupled with the large import volume, this exponential export growth would make Turkey a US$1tn foreign trade economy. Perhaps unlike the comparably listless economies that surround it in the CIA’s list (France, the UK and Italy), Turkey is certainly heading in the right direction.

Everybody export…

Exports are currently growing at 15.3% annually. Given that last year the country’s exports came in at US$163bn, in order to meet its target, growth could slow to 12%, as long as it’s maintained for 10 years. In the year 2000, Turkey had 12,000 exporters. It now has 32,000, spread across the country.

Habbab recently enlisted a carpentry firm of 40 people to carry out some work for him. After visiting the workshop, Habbab learnt that his carpenter was slightly behind schedule because he was dealing with a large export order to Kazakhstan. It is this entrepreneurial spirit that Turkey hopes will be the catalyst of its growth.

Turkey is in a good position to capitalise on the strong emergence of other developing economies. After all, if the country can be a successful exporter to the EU, described as the “hardest market in the world”, then why not Africa and Asia?

Toygun Ozmen, HSBC’s head of trade and supply chain in Turkey, emphasised at the event the opportunities in Asia. Much has been made of Turkey’s change in tack post-2008’s financial crisis, when it turned its focus to the Middle East at the expense of Europe (Turkey’s Mena exports will grow by 16% by 2015). But greater opportunities lie in markets further east, in the likes of China, India and Bangladesh.

In China, there are 160 cities with populations of over 1 million. Six cities alone have a combined GDP of US$1tn. For Ozmen, Turkish exporters need to become more flexible to take advantage of Chinese growth. Many Chinese companies will offer discounts for settling in renminbi (Rmb). Considering the fact that half of Chinese trade with emerging markets will be done in Rmb by 2015, those that fail to adapt risk being left behind.

Even as Turkey has diversified its trade routes, though, it has maintained the same relatively low-tech basket of goods. It must, warned the World Bank’s Turkey director Martin Raiser at Exporta’s conference, try to make the leap towards high-tech if it is to make hay from the booming consumer demand in emerging markets. Currently, it is second only to India in terms of exports value growth, but the trend must continue and Turkey must encourage its SMEs to swap textiles for technology.

On the imports side, the government has been making the right noises. “I love the strategy to reduce their import dependency,” Cihat Takunyaci, BNY Mellon’s country manager in Turkey told GTR. “It’s important to stop importing things that don’t create value add.” Rather than importing cheap nuts, bolts and threads from Indonesia, Bahrain or China, why not produce them yourself, adding real value to your margins?

Finding the finance

Turkey’s government has been putting its money where its mouth is. In 2012, Turk Exim Bank was involved in the financing of 14.4% of the country’s exports (US$15.1bn in loans, US$6.9bn insurance cover). Its local banking sector has being growing in strength too, with many offering export finance in foreign currency (possibly due to the eye-wateringly high pricing of Turkish lira transactions – one banker puts it at around 11%).

But the general consensus is that government bodies, local and international banks and companies of all sizes will have to collaborate if Turkey is to realise its potential. “The 2023 target is very ambitious,” says BNY Mellon’s Takunyaci, “and it’s not possible for Turkey to achieve without the support of all the involved parties. It must be a joint effort.”

For foreign financiers, the opportunities are plentiful and come in the form of partnerships with local banks, as well as local companies.

“Most of the Turkish banks need liquidity and refinancing on commercial terms for trade business,” Ralph Lerch, head of export finance at Commerzbank told GTR in Istanbul. “If Turkish companies are exporting to emerging markets, we have the expertise to give them what’s needed there – Turkish banks are on a learning curve.

“Today we met with a company that are active in Turkmenistan, Iraq and Uzbekistan; countries we’ve been in for more than 20 years. This expertise will be needed as Turkey exports more.”