20 November, 2006
Greek Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis stressed the substantial changes in the Greek investment environment during a press conference held at Greece's Press and Communications bureau in New York.
At the same time, he pointed out that Greece's image abroad would not change overnight and he underlined the need for consistency, credibility and a serious approach at all times.
"It requires great efforts that are sometimes cancelled out by isolated incidents, either in connection with specific investments that may come up against insuperable obstacles or the practices of some Greek exporters that take a short-term view and thus blacken Greece's image," the minister said.
Regarding the prospect of early elections in the country, Alogoskoufis said that the government's entire economic policy was planned around the government's commitment to serve a full four-year term.
"We pushed through reforms and in 2005 and 2006 we implemented these reforms. Some are also being made in 2007. We will go the end of the four-year period having the satisfaction and countenance to tell the Greek people that this was our specific program that we successfully carried out. But also to announce a second round of reforms for the next four years. We still have a lot of time because the reform program for these four years has still to be completed," he said.
The minister also outlined in detail the activities and initiatives begun by Greece via the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board to cultivate export markets for Greek products in the large markets of the U.S. and Canada, particularly for foods, beverages and building materials. Part of this effort was the recently launched "Kerasma" program, in which promotional events based on a series of recipes based on Greek products were held every three months in New York to help place Greek agricultural exports like olive oil in the market.
During the press conference, Alogoskoufis also dealt extensively with the disillusionment experienced in the past by Greek expatriates seeking to invest in Greece, pointing out that many of the uncertainties caused by an unclear legal framework had now been ironed out.
"The Greek diaspora that had bad experiences in the past can today, with greater confidence, if it wishes, activate itself in the Greek economy and contribute but also gain from the investments that if can make in Greece," he added.
Among the improvements he listed a reduction in taxation of business profits from 35% to 25% in 2007, as well as the clarifications to issues concerning specialized forms of tourism that were being introduced by a bill currently being drafted by the Tourism Development ministry.
To a question on Greek-U.S. relations in economic affairs, Alogoskoufis said that these were to a great extent determined by relations between the U.S. and the European Union, of which Greece was a member, which had now entered a difficult phase after the U.S. President failed to get the approval of Congress to continue the "Doha Round" negotiations on trade and tariff issues at the World Trade Organization.
"It would be very desirable if there could be a new U.S. initiative so as to untie the hands of the U.S. representative at the Doha Round and we can conclude an agreement within 2007, if possible, or maybe a little later. Because it would be very bad and detrimental to both the U.S. and the EU and to the developing world if we returned to practices like protectionism, or limited protectionism or to a logic of bilateral trade agreements, because we all know that such bilateral trade agreements are damaging to third parties that don't participate in these," Alogoskoufis told reporters.
Commenting on the Greek government's privatization program and the results of his talks with the senior management of investment banks based in New York - including whether Greece's privatization plans extended to banks apart from the National Bank of Greece (NBG) and Emporiki - Alogoskoufis underlined that the government's top priority in the coming months was the further privatization of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) by finding a strategic partner.
"It is a project that is fraught with difficulties and has been attempted in the past without much success. I believe that conditions are now much better because OTE has adapted to the competitive environment that exists in the telecoms market. It also has significant advantages in the Balkans but could, nevertheless, do still better if it found the right strategic partner. In issues of technology it has evolved greatly but, of course, needs a strategic partner in order to continue its expansion in other markets," the minister explained.
Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas, meanwhile, told reporters that the privatization of Olympic Airlines was not addressed at all during the Greek delegations current visit, since Greece was still engaged in sensitive and difficult negotiations on this issue with the EU.
"As soon as this is cleared up and we know exactly what it is that we are offering investors, we will begin a new round of contacts," he added.
During his visit, Alogoskoufis was interviewed Business Weekly magazine, BBC World and the Bloomberg TV network.
In these interviews, the main points raised by Alogoskoufis were the significant fiscal reforms achieved by Greece, which has managed to reduce the public deficit while maintaining one of the highest growth rates in the euro-zone.
He also stressed the government's ongoing reforms program and the role that this played in the development of the Greek economy.
One of the aspects particularly emphasized by the minister were tax reforms designed to boost enterprise, such as the reduction in the taxation rate for business profits from 35% to 25% and reduced tax rates for natural entities from 30-40% to 25%, effective from 2007.
Alogoskoufis also pointed to the increasingly outward-looking orientation of the Greek economy and the country's role in southeastern Europe, as well as outlining the government's privatization of Emporiki Bank, which has been concluded, and the ongoing efforts to privatize the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE).
Source: Athens News Agency