Confidence is gradually returning to Greece, and exports have began to mount along with that trend. Elias Athanasiou, CEO of Enterprise Greece, says that Greece companies are now actively entering more markets to shift the economy towards an export model.
How would you describe Greece’s export economy today?
The Greek economy has changed drastically since the crisis began eight to nine years ago. We have witnessed quite an increase in exports and have become more extroverted in investment promotion. In 2009, exports contributed 19% to GDP, and in 2016 that figure exceeded 30%. The first half of 2017 we experienced export growth of 18%. There is room for improvement, but undoubtedly we have taken some noteworthy steps. Greek companies now understand that they have to actively compete in the international market, and in the last three years we have entered 10 more markets.
How does Enterprise Greece help the private sector improve competitiveness?
Enterprise Greece is now focusing on this direction by organizing more than 50 trade shows per year. Today, we cooperate with 900 Greek companies that we promote trade-wise, and we communicate with the international investment and banking communities to bring clients into contact with trade finance.
What new investments are redefining Greece?
It is a very good time now to invest in Greece given that we are witnessing a return to large deals, such as Luxembourg’s CVC Capital Partners’ acquisition of Metropolitan Hospital, one of Greece’s largest private hospitals, and the $1 billion deal by the US’s Calamos Investments and the Netherland’s Exin Partners to jointly purchase National Bank’s insurance division, Greece’s oldest insurance lender. We can also look forward to new business opportunities being created through domestic investment. Greek developer Lamda Development is awaiting a casino permit as part of their Hellinikon Project, located in Athens, which would green light the construction of the first casino resort in Europe. Hellinikon is approximately a 70 billion euro development and may take at least six years to complete. The project will benefit 50,000 employees when construction is finished, which is great news for Athens. As far as pure greenfield investments are concerned, today there is a 408 million euro project to build a hotel resort on Crete coming from a group of Russian investors. It will be constructed in an area with no pre-existing facilities.
What sectors are French investors interested in?
French investors have shown great interest in aquaculture. Currently, 75% of the two major Greek aquaculture companies here are holding a process with a French bank, Lazard, in order to sell these stakes. Furthermore, there is also great interest in pharmaceutical projects, and in food and beverages.
How does Enterprise Greece smooth friction points between investors and local communities?
We are responsible for the fast track of strategic national projects, which are automatically classified as such if they are over 100 million euros. It’s our job to prepare a smooth path out for these large-scale investors and ensure minimal negative social impact. Sometimes we will ask investors to provide something to local communities in order to maintain a friendly environment and avoid unnecessary conflict. For example, we have seen investors build kindergartens and fund them for 20 years.
How do you want Enterprise Greece to be perceived by foreign investors?
Enterprise Greece represents the state and secures confidentiality with our clients. Our investment department meets with over 2,000 investors per year, which is comparable to multinational investment banks.
What evidence can you point to that high risk is finally leaving Greece?
The most important metric for studying the perceived risk of a country is government bond yield rates. Greek ten-year bond yields have dropped by 75% during the past five years, and 33% over the past year, which has created a lot of confidence. Moreover, the stock market has increased by 41% over the past year. The improvement in the structural reforms and the laboring force are finally showing dividends.