Greece is one of FYROM’s chief trading partners, despite thorn

October 13 was the expiration date of the seven-year, so-called Interim Agreement for confidence-building measures signed between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in 1995, whereby the two sides tried to bypass the thorny problem of the official name of Greece’s neighbor in order to tackle more pressing practical issues. As expected, neither side notified the other that it did not wish the pact to be renewed, and so it remains tacitly in force. During these seven years, relations, particularly on the economic front have made considerable progress, which seems to consolidate a steady course of cooperation. FYROM gave much greater attention to the effects of the agreement on the full range of bilateral relations than Greece did, publicizing relevant reports but focusing particularly on the issue of the name. Now, a seven-member team of experts, coordinated by Evangelos Kofos, formerly of the Foreign Ministry, and Vlassis Vlassidis, the director of the Research Center for Macedonian History and Documentation (KEMIT), is about to complete a comprehensive study that fills the vacuum on Greece’s part. The report covers all aspects of bilateral relations, including politics and culture, and is projected for completion by the end of January 2003 and due to be released in February. Although the name remains the greatest thorn, it had no effect on the development of economic relations. From a historic low in 1991, when FYROM was declared an independent state, but also during Athens’s subsequent embargo, Greece became FYROM’s second biggest trading partner after Germany as regards imports, and third largest as regards exports after Germany and Yugoslavia. Now it is also the second biggest investor in the country, losing the first place it held up to 2000, after Hungarian investors acquired the national telephone utility. It is worth noting that bilateral trade grew even in periods when FYROM’s overall volume of trade with other countries fell at a higher rate than usual. A significant increase was also recorded in bilateral transactions in the sector of services; the number of tourists from FYROM has been on a continuous rise in recent years and in line with the number of students who come to study at private colleges in Thessaloniki. And a significant part of Greek clothiers’ production is accounted for through outsourcing it to small firms in FYROM. The study under way includes detailed data on all aspects of economic relations, but also extends as far as the content of schoolbooks and the images thereby conveyed on how each side views the other in a historical context.

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