Greece pitches businesses to China
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.