ECONOMY

Hit by frost, a major export sector pleads for assistance

Greece’s peach-canning industry, a major foreign exchange earner, has been hard hit by the frost of April 8 and is now in danger of losing its leading position in the world market, where it has an approximately 60 percent share. The frost was a disaster for almost all of this year’s entire crop and only two of the 14 canning firms have secured enough quantities to be channelled into the domestic market alone. To be sure, this is not the first time the sector, which accounts for 2.5 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, has faced such problems. Due to the lack of anti-frost protection programs, it has suffered repeated blows since 1997 but it is feared that this year’s disaster will deliver the coup de grace. It will be known for certain what quantities have been salvaged by the beginning of July but they are not estimated to exceed 50,000-60,000 tons, when the normal quantities manufactured every year neared 300,000-350,000 tons. The frost also destroyed about 90 percent of the crop of fresh peaches and nectarines, estimated at around 300,000 tons. The industry, based mostly in the peach-growing districts of Imathia and Pella in Macedonia, was also affected by last season’s bad weather spell around Christmas and worked only at about 60-70 percent of capacity. According to data given to Kathimerini by the Association of Canning Industries of Greece (EKE), the average annual turnover of the peach-canning segment exceeds 250 million euros, of which 99 percent is accounted for by exports. Of this, half is exported to the European Union. EKE Chairman Costas Apostolou says the industry’s export toward orientation is due to three main factors: the small size of the Greek market; because all other Mediterranean countries grow varieties more suitable to be sold as fresh produce and because manufacturers have shown no great interest in promoting the product at home. Canning firm Conex’s Chairman Alexandros Protopappas fears that due to the shortage of raw material, prices will shoot up from about 25 cents per kilo last year to about 35 cents. This risks making Greek exporters non-competitive with US producers, with whom they essentially share the world market, and not being able to recapture their place in the world production. In order to deal with the shortages created by bad weather and to help stabilize prices, Protopappas proposes that the sector’s firms build up reserves from the good years, as the canned product has a shelf life of up to four years. He also believes that the sector is too small to support the present number of firms and that only six to seven will survive the current crisis. EKE is now calling on the government to help the industry for the first time with financial and tax measures to enable its members survive the crisis. It is also asking for research into anti-frost crop protection measures and a three-year financial program to help it recapture world markets.