The exchange was under-reported. The U.S.–Turkey relationship involves multiple difficult and urgent regional issues. The civil war in Syria, stability in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Turkey’s relations with Israel all demand the attention of Turkish and American policy-makers. However, the opportunity that has presented itself with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership announcement should not be overlooked.

The U.S. and EU account for nearly half of world GDP and 30 percent of global trade. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that “a complete elimination of tariffs would increase combined U.S.–EU GDP by $180 billion in five years.” But there is room for more.

Turkey’s dynamic economy and integration with many European institutions make it a natural partner. Associating Turkey with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would strengthen the transatlantic economy, enhance the policy convergence capability within the G20, and bolster prospects for Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Turkey is the 16th largest economy in the world and Europe’s sixth largest trading partner. It is a part of the European single market through a customs union since 1996, and remains in accession negotiations with the European Union for full membership. Over 55 percent of the European economic legislation is already transposed to the Turkish legal order. Thus, Turkey technically belongs to the European economy.

Moreover, the Obama administration has been keen on expanding the U.S.–Turkey economic relationship. In 2009, Turkey and the United States established the Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation (FSECC) – a cabinet-level structure charged with improving bilateral commercial and economic relations. The U.S.–Turkey Business Council was launched to invite private-sector input. Along with the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, bilateral investment and tax treaties, and the Economic Partnership Commission the two governments have institutionalized bilateral mechanisms to enhance economic ties. The Turkish and American business world has been eagerly supporting the effort. This commitment has yielded results: In 2011, bilateral trade reached record levels, increasing by 35 percent to $20 billion. However, this is far below potential.

Turkey’s customs union membership precludes it from negotiating bilateral free trade agreements with those counties that do not already have an arrangement with the EU. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership announcement provides a turning point. While Turkey may not be able to have a seat at the table, an observer status would have a very positive effect. Washington should also pursue a parallel track with Ankara. Unless an arrangement is made, as a customs union member, Ankara must take on all the obligations associated with the free trade agreement without requiring the United States to extend any trade privileges to Turkey, which would further the trade imbalance. The EU, on the other hand, has already concluded a free trade agreement with NAFTA member Mexico and negotiations with Canada are ongoing.

Involving Turkey in the emerging economic agreement between the United States and Europe would not only improve U.S. – Turkey economic and political ties, but would also strengthen the trilateral partnership. It would also generate significant political and geo-strategic energy for the strengthening of Western democracy. The economic and strategic value of this enterprise is self-evident and well worth the effort.

Kaleagasi is international coordinator and representative to the EU of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD). Ornarli is the Washington representative of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD).