Greece offers unique investment opportunities despite crisis
Despite an acute debt crisis that has alarmed the world over the past two years, Greece still offers numerous unique investment opportunities one should not ignore, Aristomenis Syngros, Executive Chairman of the Invest in Greece Agency told Xinhua in a recent interview.
"Crisis always offers opportunities ... We have a lot of opportunities in many sectors, very important sectors for the Greek economy... I think that everybody who will come and invest in Greece, will take a lot of advantages," Syngros said in his office overlooking the Syntagma square in central Athens.
According to Syngros, Greece is now trying to change its growth model and is turning to the utilization of its comparative advantages to boost development to overcome the debt crisis that has threatened the country with a disorderly default that could have major global repercussions.
The country's advantages compared to other EU countries, given its geographical position, its highly qualified human potential, low-cost environment within the euro zone, natural resources as well as development infrastructure, are untouched by economic crises, Syngros said.
Greece remained a leading economy in South Eastern Europe and an entry point into the European Union. By establishing a presence in Greece, any entrepreneur could gain immediate access to a market generating over one trillion U.S. dollars in GDP each year, which comprises of over 140 million consumers, he said.
And since Greek businesses are building on their presence in the Middle East and North Africa as well, Greece would be the ideal destination for support operations on three continents.
Syngros stressed that investment and trade flows would withstand the crisis. Last year Greece attracted more than 3.2 billion euros (4.24 billion U.S. dollars) in Foreign Direct Investments inflows (FDIs), up from 2.7 billion euros in 2010, according to the latest provisional data by the Bank of Greece.
In regard to trade, the austerity economic policy has affected the domestic demand and reduced imports from some 46 billion euros in 2009 to 42 billion euros in 2011. However, exports have risen from approximately 14.6 billion euros in 2009 to 22.4 billion euros in 2011.
Syngros cited Chinese COSCO's multi-billion-euro Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT) investment plan to upgrade Piraeus port, the largest and busiest port of Greece and a strategic gateway to Southeast Europe, over the past two years as a great example of a major profitable opportunity one can find in Greece.
The port is now working much more effectively than in the past and its productivity has doubled. In 2011, the PCT has experienced a 73 percent increase in traffic of containers compared to the previous year.
"I think that this is a very good example why not only investors from China, but also from other countries should come to Greece to invest," he told Xinhua.
Cosco's investment in Piraeus Port is of strategic importance for both countries, said Syngros, adding that the presence of Chinese companies in Greece was more than welcome and Greece looked forward to the expansion of economic cooperation with "one of the most important economies in the world."
Exports from Greece to China reached 260 million euros in the first 11 months of 2011, up by 84 percent from 2010. But on the other hand, China's investment activity in Greece was regarded quite low.
Greek officials hope to improve the picture after a business trip towards the end of the first half of this year organised in cooperation with China's Ministry of Commerce, to meet Chinese companies in Beijing and present investment opportunities. Two more missions aer planned for the second half of 2012.
The officials call on Chinese entrepreneurs to explore business opportunities in traditional sectors such as tourism, real estate, and food and beverage, as well as emerging markets including information and communication technologies, pharmaceuticals, mining, transportation and oil and gas exploitation.
"Besides all the private projects that we have in Greece - and we have a lot of such private projects - we have the biggest privatization program in the world and this is also a very important area in which Chinese companies should explore the possibilities," Syngros added, referring to a 50-billion-euro program of utilizing public assets to slash public deficits and boost growth by 2015.
He stressed that the Greek government has recently introduced significant structural reforms to create a business-friendly environment, support entrepreneurship and attract investments, offering generous incentives.
They include the so-called Fast Track law which accelerates strategic investments, a new Investment Incentives Law which offers incentives in the tax level for investors and covers almost all business sectors, and a new bill to reduce all procedures of business start-ups.
But Syngros said the best argument to persuade a businessman to invest in Greece in less than five minutes for Syngros was still COSCO's case.
"I would say that they have to see the example of COSCO. We had a very good example of a win-win situation between a Chinese company and Greek economy," he stressed, noting that a walk around COSCO's premises in Piraeus port to see how rapidly this venture is growing, would be revealing.