Greece’s National Export Council (NEC) has set the «ambitious but realistic» target of implementing a new, outward-looking trade policy that will significantly boost the share of exports as part of the country’s gross national product (GNP) in the next four years and their contribution to further growth. The target is set in a National Export Plan, presented by Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis who chaired a NEC session yesterday, and includes all the measures formulated in the nine months of its operation. «While we have an economy growing at most impressive rates in relation to the past and to other European Union members, the sector which should par excellence express this dynamism is not a participant in this particularly important process,» Christodoulakis said. He noted that despite a 7.7 percent fall in exports last year, imports were falling by a higher rate, resulting in the trade deficit falling from 12.5 percent of GNP in 2001 to 11 percent. The deficit is projected to improve further this year and the target is to reduce it by three percentage points over the next four years. Exports have been rising at a rate of 2 percent this year and are projected at 6.7 percent in 2004. The National Export Plan (NEP) lays out a host of measures facilitating the growth of exports, including proper procedures for the return of value added tax (VAT) to exporters, simplifying registration on the exporters’ register and a full reorganization of trade missions abroad and their incorporation in the Foreign Ministry. VAT returns have been a hot issue; Christodoulakis noted the curious phenomenon of exports having cumulatively declined in the last two years by 5 percent and VAT returns having risen by 20 percent. His deputy, Apostolos Fotiadis, said exporters producing authentic documents would be reimbursed on the same day, but priority will be given to returns to those exporters who have not been suspected of filing bogus claims in the past. In parallel, the Finance Ministry intends to strike off the exporters’ register firms actually found of having committed the irregularity. Other NEP goals include the gradual devolution of responsibilities of the Export Promotion Organization (OPE) to sectoral industry chambers and the creation abroad of bureaus for export promotion and attracting investment. Two such bureaus are planned to be opened in China and Japan. Individual strategies have been developed for a combined promotion of Greek tourism, products and cuisine, for olive oil, export promotion to China, Canada, USA and Turkey, and for export transport costs. These are awaiting implementation. Olympics NEC has drawn up and is implementing a program for tapping business opportunities within the framework of next year’s Olympic Games. The goal of the program, which promotes the country’s potential, is to turn Greece into a major destination for trade, investment and tourism, and boost relevant deals with foreign entrepreneurs during and after the Games. The program was extensively based on a strategy drawing on the experience of Sydney in 2000, and involves close collaboration with Athens 2004, the organizing authority, which enjoys international prestige, a wide network of business contacts, data bases and knowhow.