Australia is interested in investing in Greece, the country’s Minister of Economy and Growth, Dimitris Papadimitriou, has found out. Mr Papadimitriou visited Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane where he had meetings with state and federal officials, Greek Australian community leaders, and representatives of the business world as part of a roadshow put together by Enterprise Greece, the Greek government agency that promotes Greek exports and incoming investments.
“This trip has been very constructive, and had many positive results,” Mr Papadimitriou told a Greek Australian media conference on Saturday at the Greek Consulate General in Melbourne.
“There has been great interest in the country and its investment potential by representatives of the diaspora and Australian officials,” he added, mentioning the most significant outcome of the roadshow: an expression of interest from Australian superannuation funds to invest in Greek state assets.
“Private investment in seaports and airports can create more employment opportunities,” said the minister, making reference to the precedent set by the privatisation of the Port of Piraeus (now operating under the Chinese giant Cosco) and the 14 regional airports of Greece (which are managed by the German company Fraport), and other examples of investment in wind farms and solar parks throughout Greece.
“There are many examples of big investment already under way, which prove the seriousness of investors coming from abroad, but also the government’s commitment to this target,” he said.
ENTERPRISE GREECE TO OPEN OFFICES IN AUSTRALIA
Earlier on the same day, the Greek Minister of Growth had a meeting with the president of the Greek Community of Melbourne, Bill Papastergiadis, and other members of the board and community stakeholders.
“Their suggestions are worthy of consideration, particularly the idea to set up a branch of Enterprise Greece in Australia, possibly located at the GCM building, or at the Consulate General. This is something that will certainly be discussed in Athens, because we need this kind of presence here, if we want to focus on promoting exports and investment.”
Apart from meetings with community leaders and state and federal officials, the Enterprise Greece roadshow also led to contacts with private investors interested in direct investments in Greece, particularly in tourism and agricultural development.
“Their enquiries need specific answers,” Mr Papadimitriou said.
“We offered to provide them the services of Enterprise Greece for free and I think that they will respond to that. We made an effort to reassure them that we are here to listen to them, to assist them and facilitate processes.”
Asked to explain how Greece will gain the trust of private investors, concerned with the country’s instability, its infamous tax environment, and its dependence on the bailout program which dictates all policies, Mr Papadimitriou pointed to the signs of progress already visible.
“Great changes have been made during the last two and a half years, and unfortunately investors here are not aware of this,” he said.
“Which is why we need to have representation here.”
Stressing that the bailout program is ending in August 2018, Mr Papadimitriou said that any discussion with investment was long-term and not short-term.
“We are looking at the day after the program. Trust is based on what we have to offer: Greece’s credit rating has been upgraded by international agencies and this is the first thing an investor sees. We don’t make promises that we cannot deliver.
“It is a matter of fact that Greece has turned a page, or even a chapter,” the minister emphasised.
“All financial indicators confirm that the country is on a path to great growth; this year this will proceed at a pace of two per cent which will give us the momentum for a stabilised growth of three per cent over the next few years. All the programs initiated by the government, as well as any business going on in the country, have brought great growth in exports, which saw a 15 per cent rise this year. There has been a 161 per cent rise in big foreign investment, compared to the 2016 statistics. There is no doubt that we have turned a page. Bureaucracy is still a very serious issue and we are making efforts to change it, we [are simplifying] procedures for various permits, particularly around strategic investment. This is the first Greek government to establish a Ministry of Digital Policy.
“Along with the Ministry of Administrative Reform, it tackles bureaucracy, but this takes time.”
TAX INCENTIVES FOR STRATEGIC INVESTMENTS
The minister mentioned incentives offered to investors. “I will not claim that taxation will get lower, but I can say that there are various tax incentives on offer at the moment, for strategic investment; they have to do with the sum invested, with the kind of investment, with the area where investment is made and the jobs created by the investment,” he said and described tax rate cuts, employment subsidies, and other procedures which can make investments in Greece attractive.
“These are details that are not seen on paper; investors should discuss these issues with Enterprise Greece and describe the kind of investment they are interested in so that they can get as much as they can out of the fast track system set to speed up the permit process for investments.”
Mr Papadimitriou expressed his satisfaction that during his meetings in Australia investors made very specific and targeted enquiries, which proves “significant interest in specific investments”, particularly in transport infrastructure, such as the Egnatia Motorway and the Port of Alexandroupolis, and the energy sector, where Greece has been very active lately.
Mr Papadimitriou specifically mentioned the Southern Gas Corridor linking Azerbaijan’s gas fields to the networks of Europe, and the 2,000 km East-Med pipeline, a €6 billion project which will link Israel, Cyprus, and Greece – potentially even Italy.
He also referred to the potential created in transferring and storing Liquified Natural Gas, with a floating storage and regasification unit set to be hosted at the port of Alexandroupolis, a project already attracting funds from abroad. He added that one of the top priorities of the Ministry of Growth is to invest in information and communication technology (ICT).
“There are a lot of opportunities to engage in the ICT sector, as well as in telecommunications,” Mr Papadimitriou shared.
“Our country is lagging in this department, compared to the rest of Europe – for instance, in usage of e-banking tools. Many parts of the country are still not covered by optic fibres. This is what we [want to] focus on at the moment, to cover the whole of the country. There are opportunities to invest and there are investors very keen on participating, mainly from France and the UK – I hope to see some from Australia, as well.”
GOLDEN VISA FOR INVESTORS
One of the key factors in the Greek government’s attempts to attract investors is the Golden Visa program ‘Greece My Residence’, which grants resident status to investors from non-EU countries who are not Greek citizens.
Describing the program, Mr Papadimitriou said that an Australian investor could get a (renewable) five-year Golden Visa for themselves and their immediate family by investing €250,000 in Greece.
“The existing program has generated €1.5 billion so far and has brought in investors from China, Russia, Turkey, and other countries. Our anticipation is that it could be a major factor to attract investment in the country.”
Commenting on the phenomenon of a large number of properties in Athens being bought by foreign investors, Mr Papadimitriou stated that there is an attempt to promote different types of investment: “We are in discussions with the Athens Stock Exchange and the Bureau of Public Debt Management to divert investment from real estate to portfolio,” he said.
Apart from foreign investment, there are many investments from within the country, going forward quietly.
“Sometimes, we don’t even hear about it,” said the minister.
“Greek investors know how to do the investment themselves and usually it’s about expanding their existing businesses.
“Many businesses are already veered towards export, it is embedded in their production process. For our part, we hold campaigns to provide information on European Union funding programs and European financial institutions.”
In conclusion, the minister agreed that there is still a lot to be done for these positive changes to have a tangible effect in the day-to-day activities of Greek citizens.
“If Greek citizens are dissatisfied, that is because they are still not aware of all that has happened. This is understandable. Unemployment is still very high despite having been brought down by seven points, since this government took over.”
Mr Papadimitriou mentioned programs undertaken to tackle unemployment and to manage the humanitarian toll of the crisis, such as the €1.4 billion dividend announced by the Prime Minister to assist the most vulnerable members of society.
“All these measures are aiming to change everyday life.”