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Back from the brink

   Aug 31, 2020
Credit : GMI Post

It took just a little more than 10 years for Greece to recover from the global recession of 2008 to 2009. The hardest hit among European Union members, the country, at the height of the crisis, saw more than a third of businesses in Athens shut down.

Unemployment surged to more than 35 percent and sparked mass immigration. Property prices plummeted. The economy shrunk 25 percent.

Then, the global coronavirus pandemic hit. But in facing a grave health crisis, Greece defied the trend in Europe. A strict lockdown and the ready cooperation among residents in the country tamed the spread of the deadly virus, preventing any serious strain to the country’s health system. In fact, the government received widespread praise for the way it has handled the crisis.

As Europe reopens its borders and restarts its economy, Greece hopes it can pick up from where it left off. At the start of the year, consumer confidence was rising to pre-recession levels and many businesses were planning to expand their activities.

“Purchasing power is still low but consumer confidence is very high, which shows there will be quick growth in the economy. That’s what gives businesses the incentive to invest. And when businesses invest, job opportunities rise and salaries increase. So, we need confidence in the market,” said Dimitrios Patsios, general manager of the Hellenic Association of Motor Vehicle Importers and Representatives.

Widespread optimism over Greece’s economy prevails because of new measures promised by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, such as tax cuts, investment incentives and labor market reform.

“Since the new government came to power last July, the New Democracy Party made it clear that it is very much pro-business. The prime minister is a graduate of both Harvard and Stanford. He knows the American way of business. He is an ethical leader with a modernized vision for the people of Greece. This has created a very good impression among the business community and the market has responded very positively. These are excellent signs for the country,” Ambassador of Japan Yasuhiro Shimizu said.

This year, the government’s most immediate challenge is to attract foreign direct investment to make up for that lost decade. As of this year, FDI makes up only 12 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product, way below the average in other EU economies.

As part of its efforts to lure more foreign capital, the government sent a trade mission to Japan early this year. Led by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kostas Fragogiannis, Deputy Energy and Natural Resources Minister Gerassimos Thomas and Deputy Development and Investments Minister Ioannis Tsakiris, the delegation met with senior government officials, heads of banks and business leaders to strengthen ties between both countries.

“There are a lot of opportunities in Greece. After 10 years of crisis, our economy experienced under investment. So, we have numerous needs. And with the new laws that we are putting in place, we are making it easier for foreign investors to conduct business in the country and ensure they will not encounter any problems here. We also have a very good labor market with well-educated, highly skilled individuals and offer reasonable labor costs,” Development and Investments Minister Adonis Georgiadis said.

Among Greece’s most dynamic sectors, the agricultural and food industry survived the extended economic slowdown by selling their goods outside the country. In the process, these companies have become export-oriented companies with a wide network of customers around the world. A few of them, like Evoiki Zimi S.A., struck success in quality-conscious Japan.

“We met our Japanese partners in a trade expo held in France. They were familiar with our product and already had a supplier from France. But they were attracted to our quality. The Japanese want excellent products, even when it comes to packaging. We have been working together since 2010. We have many plans for the Japanese market and we are going to invest in it,” Evoiki Zimi CEO Charalampos Konstantakis said.

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