Turkeyâ€™s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis (L) talks to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a news conference at the European Union Council headquarters in Brussels December 21, 2009.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and NATO ally Turkey launched an initiative Monday aimed at boosting trade and investment ties, but said there were no plans for the two countries to negotiate a free trade agreement.
â€œWe can … build on what is a good trade and commercial relationship and make it a much more robust one,â€ U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a press conference with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.
The initiative creates a new Cabinet-level forum to discuss ways to expand bilateral trade and investment flows and to try to resolve disputes when they arise, similar to one the United States has with China.
â€œThis framework … will be an important vehicle for expanding trade and investment and creating new jobs for the workers and the peopleâ€ of both countries, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.
The announcement followed a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Iranâ€™s nuclear program and U.S. plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Obama told reporters he believed Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and long-time U.S. ally, could be an â€˜important playerâ€™ in moving Iran toward resolving its dispute with the West over its nuclear program.
Erdogan said Turkey stands ready to do whatever it can to achieve a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue.
Turkey, which has applied for membership of the European Union, is the United Statesâ€™ fourth-largest trading partner in the Muslim world and 27th overall.
U.S-Turkey trade has dropped from a record of nearly $15 billion in 2008, but there is every reason to expect the two countries can surpass that “when the world economy gets back on its feet,â€™â€™ Locke said.
Babacan said the two countries would seek suggestions from business on how to increase trade in areas ranging from energy to agriculture to military equipment. He downplayed the chances of Ankara using the forum to press Washington to reduce high U.S. tariffs that Turkey faces on textiles and some other exports.
Kirk said the initiative was not intended as a stepping stone to talks with Turkey on a free trade agreement. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Chris Wilson)