Greece pitches busi­nesses to China

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

China and Greece have grown closer this year af­ter Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang’s visit to Athens and Crete in June and Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s trip to Rhodes in July, with a CCTV re­port sug­gest­ing that as Greece re­cov­ers from the most se­vere economic cri­sis in decades, its busi­nesses are ex­plor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to be­come valu­able part­ners in China’s boom­ing mar­ket.

Greece is a dream des­ti­na­tion for many Chi­nese, yet less than 30,000 peo­ple vis­ited last year ver­sus the mil­lion-plus tourists who went to France. Six years of re­ces­sion has been a wake up call for Greek busi­nesses. Now they’re look­ing over­seas, es­pe­cially to China, send­ing big del­e­ga­tions to Bei­jing and wel­com­ing ma­jor Chi­nese in­vest­ments, the CCTV re­port said.

Semi­ramis Paliou, whose fam­ily has a tourism and ship­ping busi­ness, launched the luxury tourism agency My Odyssey last year to lure China’s rich­est with key pro­mo­tions in­clud­ing spon­sor­ing the film ‘Bei­jing Love Story’.

“I think if the cri­sis hadn’t ar­rived we would still be in our old set ways of mass tourism, of we’re happy as we are, we don’t need to change any­thing, and we would have stag­nated,” Paliou said.

Pav­los Kon­tomicha­los has been work­ing in China for two decades, but with the cri­sis Greek com­pa­nies are fi­nally reach­ing out to him for help. Among them, olive oil mak­ers. While Greece has some of the best qual­ity olive oil in the world, it’s long been sold in bulk to pro­duc­ers in Spain and Italy.

“It gets peo­ple more think­ing that we need to pro­duce our own end-prod­uct that is at par if not bet­ter than the ones that other coun­tries pro­duce so the value added is cap­tured by the Greek com­pa­nies and the Greek prod­ucts,” Pav­los said.

Greek ex­ports to China have more than dou­bled in the past five years but are still dwarfed by Chi­nese im­ports, the CCTV re­port added.

But Greece is de­ter­mined to boost ex­ports in­clud­ing tourism to make up half of its GDP from about 30% to­day, said No­tis Mi­tarachi, vice min­is­ter of the devel­op­ment min­istry.

“As the do­mes­tic mar­ket was re­duc­ing in size, Greek com­pa­nies started to travel more, started to ex­plore more of the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in more fairs, try­ing to cre­ate more links and be­cause of the qual­ity of the Greek prod­ucts, they have been suc­cess­ful in grow­ing their mar­ket share in key mar­kets like China,” No­tis said.

Michalis Boutaris, whose fam­ily trades in pre­mium Greek wines re­cently inked a deal dur­ing Chi­nese pre­mier Li Ke­qiang’s visit to Greece to sell $50 mln worth to China through state-owned firm COFCO over the next five years.

“Be­ing com­pla­cent in our own par­adise, not sharing the goods we have with the rest of the world, as a Ger­man friend had said. Now we’re obliged to do it, and that’s why ex­ports in the last few years have re­ally, re­ally sky rock­eted com­pared to the past,” Boutaris said.

Bi­lat­eral trade showed dou­ble-digit growth in the first quar­ter. Statis­tics from the Min­istry of Com­merce show trade vol­ume between the two coun­tries was nearly $1.37 bln in the pe­riod, a sharp rise of 19.4% year-on-year.

“Trade will con­tinue to grow thanks to ef­forts of en­trepreneurs from both coun­tries,” said Sun Yongfu, head of the min­istry’s di­vi­sion of Euro­pean af­fairs.

De­spite its large deficit in com­mod­ity trade with China, Greece is nar­row­ing the gap with the help of the ser­vice sec­tor, said Sun. One ex­am­ple is Greek com­pa­nies gen­er­at­ing at least $2 bln in rev­enues each year by ship­ping some 60% of China’s crude oil and other bulk cargo, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the min­istry.

Mar­itime ship­ping is one of Greece’s most com­pet­i­tive sec­tors. By the end of April, the coun­try had 4,894 ships with a com­bined ca­pac­ity of 170 mln tons, some 17% of the global to­tal.

Sun said the sec­tor of­fers great op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially in ship­build­ing, ship­ping-re­lated fi­nance and port devel­op­ment.

In 2013, Greece or­dered 165 ships from China while the Cosco Group has helped turn Pi­raeus into one of the largest ports world­wide, han­dling 2.52 mln con­tain­ers in 2013, a 20% rise from the pre­vi­ous year.

Greece is also ex­pected to at­tract more Chi­nese visi­tors as the coun­try gives more pri­or­ity to tourism, said Sun.

It had 18 mln over­seas visi­tors in 2013, just 28,000 of them Chi­nese de­spite the fact that China over­took the US as the world’s largest source of over­seas trav­el­ers. Greece is giv­ing more ef­forts to tourism as it is seen as an in­dus­try that will help pull it out of the debt cri­sis, said Sun.

Abun­dant sun­shine has en­dowed the coun­try with rich so­lar power and the Greek gov­ern­ment has also pro­mul­gated some favourable poli­cies to boost the devel­op­ment of clean en­ergy.

Sun said the in­dus­try of­fers great po­ten­tial as China is the largest pro­ducer of pho­to­voltaic equip­ment and the sec­ond largest wind power mar­ket in the world.

Chi­nese com­pa­nies al­ready ex­port so­lar pan­els to the coun­try and have been mak­ing in­roads into the mar­ket of power plant fi­nanc­ing and con­struc­tion since 2011, said Sun.

They are also scal­ing up in­vest­ment in other in­dus­tries. Tele­com equip­ment man­u­fac­turer Huawei has built a lo­gis­tics cen­tre in Greece and an­other gi­ant in the tele­com in­dus­try, ZTE, is fol­low­ing suit.

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