Gulf businesses checking out opportunities in Greece

Frequent business and diplomatic visits to Athens by officials from Persian Gulf countries are generating a good deal of optimism over the possibility of new investments being made in Greece by Arab funds. The most recent of these visits took place this week, when a large delegation representing companies in the United Arab Emirates, led by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met with local businessmen on Wednesday and Thursday.

According to the office of Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, who coordinated the two-day visit by potential UAE investors, despite the crisis, the Gulf states see significant investment opportunities in Greece in the fields of energy, tourism, transport, new technologies, food and agricultural development, and pharmaceuticals.

Arab countries, meanwhile, have become more determined to seize opportunities in Greece, according to sources, following the dashing of plans by Qatar Holding to invest in gold mines in Halkidiki, northern Greece, after the acquisition of European Goldfields, the main shareholder of Hellas Gold (which holds the license to mine gold and other ores in the area), by the Canadian metallurgy company Eldorado Gold for just under 2 billion euros. Losing this deal has compelled many Gulf state companies to look into similar investments, as well as others in energy and real estate — especially property for tourism.

In the energy sector, the state-owned Emirates National Oil Company will be holding talks in regard to developments at Hellenic Petroleum, while Abu Dhabi?s Dana Gas is also expected to explore the possibility of participating in an investment in the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA). Another deal that is on the table is the possibility of a concession in any hydrocarbons found in the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone, though developments here are expected to take some time yet given the competition from Israel and American companies.

Meanwhile, Gulf state groups such as Emirates Post are expected to express an interest in Hellenic Post and the broader courier services market.

However, well-informed sources tell Kathimerini that investors are not ready to make a move until the uncertainty clears regarding whether or not Greece will receive the next tranche of aid from its international creditors and when there is a better idea of what the future holds for Greece in terms of its economy and politics.

However, say the same sources, the most important thing is the backstage meetings that have already been held between potential investors from the Gulf and Greek businessmen as these will help Athens to determine the potential breadth of likely investments and the areas on which most of the interest is focused.

The recent meetings coordinated by the deputy prime minister?s office meanwhile came just 20 days after the Money Show conference organized in Athens under the aegis of the Arab-Greek Chamber of Commerce, which was attended by 80 Greek and foreign companies and associations, including Qatar Airways, Athens International Airport, the Greek Photovoltaic Industry Association and the Hellenic Shipbrokers Association.

Such openings in Greek-Arab business ties find fertile ground after the already successful participation of Qatar in the merger of Alpha Bank and Eurobank EFG, or that of Abu Dhabi in Marfin Investment Group and Hellenic Shipyards, and create well-justified optimism among local businesses and in the Greek government for strategic investors.

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