Greek businesses seek to slash customs costs

Despite government pledges, the exports of Greek businesses are still being undermined by the costly and time-consuming customs procedures in place. Although some customs services have gone digital, much remains to be done before the system is fully upgraded.

Moreover, although Greece?s Development Ministry has been saying since December 2010 that it will simplify export procedures through the introduction of a ?single window? platform — basically a one-stop service center — nothing is yet official. In addition, it will take a lot of time before the open tender for the platform is complete.

In other words, any gains for the companies from Greece?s internal devaluation are offset by the state?s failure to meet a number of specific commitments that would facilitate entrepreneurial activity and boost the economy at large. It?s a lot like trying to fill a bottomless pit: Businesses are reducing salaries and profit margins to make their products more competitive, but at the same time they are faced with significant bureaucratic obstacles.

What does cross-border trade mean for Greek businesses in terms of time and money? The World Bank?s Doing Business report recently cited the following example: A medium-sized limited company based near Athens wanted to export dry bulk by sea inside 20-foot containers. The cargo was neither dangerous nor fragile — in other words, it did not need be transported inside a fridge container or be accompanied by specific certificates. It took 20 days to export just one container (14 days to prepare five documents, two days for customs clearance and checks, two days for managing cargoes at ports and terminal stations, and two days for transshipment). The total cost was 860.44 euros ($1,153). Greece ranks 84th among 134 countries regarding the ease of doing business.

However, only a few steps would suffice to significantly reduce the cost of these procedures. Speaking at a recent event organized by the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), Kleemann SA sales manager Georgios Moschovakis said that the company tries to facilitate foreign transactions by issuing a special document for the authorization of customs clearance for its employees. On top of that, the firm has secured a special license for certification of EU products. It should be noted here that when a company has an authorized economic operator (AEO) certificate, it enjoys a number of perks at customs controls.

Before these changes, Kleemann?s customs spending amounted to 0.8 percent of EU transactions, while now the cost is down to 0.25 percent. That means the company has managed to turn 68 percent of customs expenses into a profit while sales abroad have soared.

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