AN INTERVIEW WITH ISTANBUL CHAMBER OF JEWELRY PRESIDENT MUSTAFA ATAYIK ON COVID-19…
How do you evaluate this period we live with Covid-19?
We are going through a global epidemic process that started in China and has an impact on more than 200 countries of the world today. In this process, we learned both the importance of health and how valuable it is to be prepared as a country. In a sense, we live together a period in which a non-economic factor slows or stops the global economy, national economy, and industries. If I may say so, we fit life in the house and follow the developments with live broadcasts. Undoubtedly, this period will leave permanent marks in the economies of the country and in industries that contribute to their employment and production. It should be known that these difficult processes will also provide important gains for future planning for both institutions and individuals. Jewelry, like many industries, has faced a new obstacle with Covid-19 that it has not encountered until today. Turkish jewelry industry, one of the top 5 players in the world, entered the virus process with a high stock rate due to the Istanbul-Mart Jewelry Fair to be held in 2021. Our industry has either temporarily closed production workshops, wholesale and retail stores, or has continued to work at low capacity to support coronavirus-related measures for about 1.5 months. The Historic Grand Bazaar has been closed to citizens and tourists for a while, except for the area where foreign currency and gold businesses called ‘Moving Exchange’ are located. A significant portion of the businesses in Kuyumcukent, Vizyonpark have suspended their production or are working with low capacity. Some of the jewelers in the districts meet their customers’ demands by keeping their stores open within certain hours. The current condition, the relatively closed situation of the industry leads to significant losses in the domestic market and exports. The same losses are also experienced in the domestic market. According to the data of the Jewelry Exporters Association, jewelry exports in March decreased by 46 percent to $344 million, while exports in the first three months of this year decreased by 5 percent to $1 billion 565 million.
Production and international logistics stopped. How do you spend your time under these conditions?
Today, both in the eyes of the public and governmental Istanbul Chamber of Jewelry (IKO) is recognized as the representative of all the jewelers in Turkey due to the potential of the industry’s weight in Istanbul. We do not think that it is right to close our industry with all actors and units.
As a matter of fact, I believe that our country has implemented an important strategy for the future by not stopping all the dynamics of the economy as a stance. Due to the great responsibility, I assumed for our industry on behalf of the Istanbul Chamber of Jewelry Board of Directors, I never changed my daily routines. We are on our duties every day during the week by taking hygiene measures. We have changed the Chamber of Jewelry during working hours, many of our employees have been serving from home for a while. However, due to the great responsibility and mission it assumes, we keep the Jewelry Chamber open every day on weekdays. We continue to serve our colleagues by keeping member transactions, import-export, and Istanbul Chamber of Jewelry Carat House open. We want to give a message to both our industry and the public by keeping the Chamber open. That is because jewelers carry out an important public duty. People who want to buy gold or exchange their savings have no possibility to find a store where they meet their needs if all the stores are closed! If you remember, all the banks in Adapazarı Düzce did not work in the 1999 earthquake; but the jewelers served the citizen 24 hours a day. For this reason, we have let our colleagues to be free for opening and closing their shops. We advised taking the necessary hygiene measures for those who keep their stores open.
Have you undertaken any initiatives to reduce the impact of this situation caused by COVID-19?
We are in constant communication with Istanbul Governorship and Police Department officials in order to increase security measures for jewelers. We exchange views with the officials of the General Directorate of Mint in order to avoid problems with the supply of gold in the market due to constantly changing prices. In addition, we are in consultation with other representatives of our industry and the heads of chambers and associations in our 81 provinces, and we are trying to plan the post-pandemic period.
What estimates do you have about the jewelry industry after CV-19?
Jewelry, like many other industries, will come out of this process with an economic loss. The USA and some countries of the European Union announced that they will take steps to soften and relax virus-related measures in order to normalize life and trade in May. Government officials say that they will open the way for normalization of life by loosening the measures after Ramadan and by the beginning of June. If this plan is realized as of June, the wedding season, which is important for our industry, will be opened and I believe that our colleagues will have the opportunity to compensate for their past losses when the postponed demands reflect on consumption.
How can this situation be transformed into an opportunity?
Turkey is one of the first countries started to take measures before having a case. Our country manages the process in a controlled and good manner with the great dedication of the Ministry of Health and healthcare workers. We are a nation that always fights against crises very well and successfully overcomes them in difficult times. As a country, we believe that we will survive this pandemic process with less damage compared to other countries as we live in geography suffering from crises, wars, and problems. The jewelry industry is also very experienced in dealing with crises and difficult times. Our colleagues are very competent to adapt quickly to evolving terms and conditions. In order to turn the pandemic and epidemic into positive and take advantage of the opportunities that will arise during the normalization process, we need to be prepared first. For this reason, our exporters and manufacturer companies should consider this steady state as an opportunity to cover the shortcomings of this stable period. Considering the consumer preferences that will change due to the rising price graphic and pandemic psychology, it is useful for them to shape their production. No doubt that we will need an original design and R&D more than ever. We must spend these days working over new designs and collections. I am not pessimistic after Covid-19. I believe that the Turkish jewelry industry’s star will shine again in the world.