25 November, 2006
Mr. President of the Greek-Turkish Chamber of Commerce,
Mr. President of the Turkish-Greek Business Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Greek-Turkish economic relations are in full bloom. This observation is supported by the numbers and developments, and is confirmed by the facts.
In 2005, our trade transactions were in the neighbourhood of $2.2 billion, and may surpass $2.6 billion in the present year.
It is significant that since 2004 the rate of increase in Greek exports has risen, which has resulted in 74% of Greek imports being covered by Greek exports in 2005 – up from 55% in 2004 – with even more spectacular improvement expected this year. Dozens of Greek businesses have invested in Turkey, and some estimate that in 2006 this will account for 1/5 – or even 1/4 of total direct foreign investment in the country.
Bilateral trade has almost quadrupled over the course of a decade.
We have important developments in the finance sector, and particularly in banking.
Beyond the National Bank of Greece’s investment in Finans Bank, which was successfully completed a few days ago, linkage is being expanded.
And the large private Greek banks are moving ahead with significant banking investments.
We had Eurobank’s investment.
On Thursday, a new, major Greek-Turkish cooperation was announced: Alpha Bank is moving ahead with an investment scheme for the acquisition of Alternatifbank.
Also impressive is the first collaboration – a collaboration of huge proportions –
of construction firms from the two countries on the construction of a whole city in Oman, with a budget of about $20 billion.
The development of joint actions in the energy sector is a strategic choice.
You know that in 2005 we signed the agreement on the 285-km natural gas pipeline between the two countries, which will complete the southern Pan-European Pipeline for the transit of natural gas from Azerbaijan.
This pipeline is to be extended to Italy. Initially, it will provide 3.3 billion m3 of natural gas annually, with the potential for upgrading to 11 billion m3.
Finally, I would like to mention tourism, where we can do better.
In 2005, 585,000 Greeks visited Turkey, whereas, unfortunately, only 60,000 Turks visited Greece.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the Foreign Minister of Greece and as a friend of the Turkish people, I am particularly pleased at these developments.
They are also an important basis for the improvement of purely political relations between the two countries.
Our political stance on Turkey is well known: we want political rapprochement, strengthening of bilateral relations and the resolution of pending issues, with the objective of stability and development in the region; a just and viable solution on the Cyprus issue, and a European Turkey that will respect the principles and regulations of the European Union.
We are very clear on this point: full respect for, and adaptation to, these principles should mean full accession.
And we say this because we have a profound belief in the catalytic influence that a European perspective can have on Turkey’s course.
As in the case of other countries, in the past, Europe is for Turkey a steam engine on the road to development and progress.
But, ladies and gentlemen, I do not intend to go further into the political and diplomatic aspect of Greek-Turkish relations.
Today – before all of you who are working together to promote cooperation in the production process – I want to emphasise the economic side of these relations, which I consider to be important for and fundamental to the future.
But I will not limit myself to the description of the optimistic outlook I expressed earlier. The objective of the Chamber of Commerce is not, I am sure, the laudatory expression of satisfaction.
It is, in fact, the ongoing identification of fields and sectors in which problems arise to hinder the smooth, further development of bilateral economic relations.
You will remember that I ended my brief statement with a reference to tourism.
The ratio of 9.75 to 1 is, naturally, not at all satisfactory.
In my opinion this ratio is the result of three factors: the still low standard of living in Turkey; the Turkish state’s practice of taxing every citizen who travels abroad; and the poor condition of certain transport infrastructures.
It is particularly important that we emphasise development of transport networks and corridors.
The rail link between Thessaloniki and Istanbul must be upgraded and modernised. The same holds true for the road network, the Turkish section of the Egnatia Odos, in Eastern Thrace – a flat section easy to construct. These should be immediate priorities.
I will also add that there is potential for an increase in ferry and air links between the major cities of the Aegean, such as Athens and Izmir.
All this has a negative effect on more than just tourism. Just as clearly affected is transport in general, and, consequently, investments. The level of economic cooperation itself is affected.
I believe that your agencies, which express and represent the collaborating productive sectors of the two countries, have by their very nature every interest in exerting pressure so that these issues can be remedied. But when they are remedied, it will be in the interest of our two countries and our two peoples.
Another point I wish to call attention to concerns the Greek side.
I am referring to the fragile make-up of Greek exports, 70.3% of which concern just three categories of products: fuel, plastics and cotton.
On the other hand, 60% of Turkish exports concern 10 categories of products. This is neither inexplicable nor totally justifiable.
In Turkey there is an increased demand for value-added products that incorporate high technology and a strong element of innovation.
So we are lacking in the ability to promote name-brand, quality, diversified products that target the new social strata of our neighbouring country.
I realise, of course, that penetration into the category of consumer products is somewhat hindered by certain controls on imports.
The Foreign Ministry awaits a full report from you on these problems, as well as on the sectors I mentioned earlier, so that we can raise them with the Turkish side, in collaboration, of course, with the other competent ministries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Another sector with great potential for development is that of Turkish investments in Greece.
Turkish entrepreneurs say that they have difficulties investing here, despite the fact that they want to very much. In its new investment law, the Greek government has taken major steps in the direction of resolving these problems.
In any case, the issue is extremely technical, and I think that it needs to be examined closely so that it can be dealt with as soon as possible. This is another sector where we see considerable inequality.
Finally, I believe there is huge potential for joint ventures, not just in the Balkans, but also in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and, of course, in the Middle East.
The example of the construction companies of our two countries in Oman must serve as inspiration for other, similar Greek-Turkish ventures on a large scale.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The globally unprecedented experiment that is the European Union has been so successful because it incorporates economic elements as well as an increasing political element.
The “theory of interdependency” has its limits. We saw this in the era that culminated in World War I.
That is why we in Greece work unceasingly, with faith and vision, and – allow me to say – with great patience, toward the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations.
Our vision is of two countries – and I would say three, with Cyprus – that collaborate closely and reap vast, mutual benefits: what the Anglo-Saxons call a win-win situation.
It is my hope that before long we will arrive at a moment like that described by Eleftherios Venizelos during the Parliamentary session of 1930. He said:
“In Ankara, the Turks and Greeks were in the pleasant position of ascertaining that rarely have two countries, while examining the present and future, found so many areas as we did where their interests coincide . . .”