Businessmen as Diplomats: The Role of Business Associations in Turkey's Foreign Economic Policy

By Atli, Altay | Insight Turkey, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Businessmen as Diplomats: The Role of Business Associations in Turkey's Foreign Economic Policy


Atli, Altay, Insight Turkey


An inescapable feature of the current era of globalization is the increasing dependence of the state on capital, which, among numerous other effects, has influenced the way we think about the patterns of interaction between the state and business. (1) Until the early 1990s, the state was thought to be subject to the domestic pressure of the business community since it depended on capital for the pursuit of any objective that required material resources. However, with the emergence of a greater interconnectedness brought about by globalization, international dynamics began to be highlighted as the leading factor influencing the policies of the state. It was the dawn of a new type of economic space called by Manuel Castells as the "space of flows" whereby the functional integration of production and trade units across boundaries through information networks enabled increased flexibility and decentralization in production and management. (2)

These two arguments, one emphasizing the influence of domestic actors on the state and the other underlining the influence of global forces, have two features in common. First, they both argue that the economic policies of a country are shaped through the interaction of the state and business, and second, both assume that this interaction is seen to occur between two separate, monolithic entities. This second point was widely refuted by scholars such as Timothy Mitchell, who argued that the distinction between the state and society has to be drawn within the network of institutional mechanisms through which a certain social and political order is maintained. (3) This approach blurs the business-state distinction and consequently neither the state nor the business is seen as a distinct entity. Whereas the former is regarded as "a complex network of heterogeneous and overlapping concerns," (4) the problem with the latter is that "businessmen seldom, if ever, speak with a single voice." (5) Business as an entity interacting with the state is by no means a homogeneous one since it brings together different interests, different goals and different attitudes.

One of the most crucial components of the interaction between the state and business is the role of business associations that translate common interests into collective action. As Stephan Haggard and his colleagues have stated, business associations can "maximize the positive effects of government-business collaboration by limiting the pursuit of particularistic benefits" and "promote collective self-governance of business, or private interest governance, that can be equally if not more efficient and effective than direct state intervention." (6) Over the past two decades, the way that business associations were viewed by scholars has been influenced by the changes brought about by globalization. The traditional view, which implied that business associations were transmitting information and expressing opinions in order to influence the decisions of policy makers, changed dramatically in the face of the rapid economic and political transformation that the world has been going through. Business associations, which have hitherto been studied within the larger context of interest or pressure groups, have come to be taken as separate entities with particular characteristics and, more importantly, the emphasis has shifted to functions other than transmitting information and expressing opinion.

Stephen Bell offers a typology of roles assumed by business associations: (1) Limited quasi-public roles or state service functions: collecting information and passing it on to policy makers, expressing the opinion of the business community, sitting on state advisory bodies, explaining public policy decisions to members, and trialing proposed new legislation; (2) Policy formulation: the association is entitled to a public status and in collaboration with public officials and politicians, it plays a formal role in the shaping of public policy; and (3) Policy implementation: a formal quasi-public role in implementing public policy. …

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Businessmen as Diplomats: The Role of Business Associations in Turkey's Foreign Economic Policy
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