Exporters feel they are left to their own devices

The state’s inability to secure sufficient direct contacts between local and international businesses in the context of the ongoing crisis has left entrepreneurs banking on their own devices to cultivate an outward-looking character and ensure prosperity amid hardship.

The Development Ministry’s plan to shut down the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (OPE SA) and join its services with those of the Invest in Greece investment promotion company and of trade offices at Greek embassies abroad, has met with the opposition of exporting companies and professional associations, as export growth has been the only way out of the current crisis for the majority of them.

The union of OPE employees (SYOPE) issued a statement last week, which besides expressing the obvious concerns of the staff over the loss of their jobs, points toward a likely “blow to the country’s entrepreneurship and its export-oriented character.” It adds that the OPE closure “creates pointless and non-desirable friction on the way toward strengthening Greek trade abroad.”

The bill providing for the closure of OPE is currently in the process of public consultation. However, OPE was far from perfect. The market is aware that the Greek state has always lagged in promoting Greek enterprises abroad, and the few resources that were previously allocated to that end have now dried up completely. This has forced local chambers and entrepreneurs to try and find their own way for improving themselves and finding new markets for their products and services.

“There is no export-oriented policy for commerce by the state. Regional authorities take some initiatives but even these do not suffice as they cannot substitute the state,” Fotis Damoulos, the chairman of the Chamber of Argolida, in the Peloponnese, told Kathimerini English Edition. “This is more than obvious when one attends an international fair and sees the strong presence of neighboring countries with their kiosks. Greece is often nowhere to be seen, or when there is some promotion it is conducted without any proper targeting. If you do not go out there to tell them who you are and what you are, then what is the point?” he wondered.

His chamber has taken the initiative to contact the Bonn Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Germany via the German-Greek Business Association (DHW) with a view to forging a cooperation on a variety of issues such as exports, investment and training.

Damoulos said his chamber chose a German partner as “this is the country where decisions about the European Union are made.” A cooperation protocol will likely be signed between the two chambers at the start of the new year, marking an opportunity for a stronger presence in a major market for local and Greek products, he noted.

“It is sad to see products from Spain and Turkey, for example, in those markets, and not ours. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of oranges and other fruit that we could send abroad, for instance. But what we found out was that the Germans did not know that much about Greece; there is a big information deficit there,” he argued.

It is a shame, he added, as the Germans “are very interested in investing in our country.

“They are interested in healthy enterprises and wish to bring along their business culture. The geopolitical assets of Greece are crucial for them as it opens the Middle East and Southeastern European markets to them,” concluded the head of the Argolida chamber.

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