Greek importers see foreign mistrust easing

Greek importers of commodities ranging from cars to electrical appliances and baby food are starting to report a warming in relations with their foreign suppliers or multinational parent companies thanks to the restoration of the country’s image abroad over the last year. However some importers say their foreign partners and associates tend to display rather “imperialistic” attitudes characterized by mistrust.

The outbreak of the financial crisis in Greece and the major risk of default and a eurozone exit for about two years made multinationals and suppliers extremely cautious when dealing with their local partners and associates, and to a lesser extent with their subsidiaries in this country.

Depending on the sector, the credit terms imposed by multinationals and exporters on their Greek partners became particularly harsh, according to the latter. “The terms have always been rather ‘imperialistic,’ but the situation grew even worse with the crisis, as our foreign felt they had a pretext for that,” Joseph Sinigalias, president of the Association of Electrical Appliances Manufacturers & Importers (SVEIS), told Kathimerini English Edition.

In a letter to Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras a few weeks ago, the head of the Central Union of Chambers (KEE) and the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA), Constantinos Michalos, stressed that “not only do foreign suppliers not offer any credit to Greek importers, but they also demand that the full price of the traded goods be paid before loading and forwarding.”

Also speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, Dimitris Patsios, general director of the Association of Motor Vehicles Importers-Representatives (AMVIR), added, “We were asked to supply high guarantees as part of our contractual terms, while the average period of credit was also reduced,” given that the country risk had foreign companies worried about whether they would eventually be paid in euros or in drachmas.

Some importers – of baby food, machinery spare parts and other commodities – not only saw their credit lines evaporate but were asked to pay up front for imports at a time when local banks were also unwilling to extend credit. “Foreigners won’t accept letters of guarantee from Greek banks because they have no confidence in them. They only accept them if issued by banks abroad with a top credit rating,” noted Andreas Christoforidis, chief commercial officer at auto importers Viamar.

Of course it’s not the same for all sectors: “The greater the volume of imports, the smaller the problem,” explained Christoforidis. “When importing cars, the problem isn’t so bad, especially after several years of cooperation, but if we were to import, say, pillows, it would have been very different indeed.”

Savvas Balouktsis, president of the Machinery Importers & Representatives Association (SEAM), said: “In our sector there was a significant lowering of credit levels. This came along with a feeling of reservations on the part of the foreigners, though not to the extent that would have stopped trade. At least now things have improved somewhat.”

Indeed, it appears that several sectors are starting to enjoy a small recovery in confidence from their foreign suppliers thanks to the risk of a Greek default being averted. “Foreign companies are clearly still worried, but the atmosphere is calmer and we no longer see the panic moves of two years ago,” said SVEIS’s Sinigalias, who is also the president of Candy Hoover Hellas: “It seems we are bottoming out.”

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