Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas yesterday appealed to traders to show restraint in price rises and prevent profiteering. «Those attempting to exploit circumstantial developments and reap opportunistic super-profits do a disservice to commerce and do not contribute to the growth of healthy entrepreneurship,» he said in an address at the presentation of the National Confederation of Greek Commerce’s (ESEE) report for 2001-2002. Sioufas said the government’s initiatives in support of small and medium-sized commercial enterprises (SMEs) include an extension of investment incentives to the sector, the activation of a credit surety fund and the rationalization of requirements for access to credit facilities. The ESEE report paints a dismal picture of developments in the commercial SMEs sector in the last two years, with increasingly lower turnover and profits for most firms, particularly in the urban centers of Athens and Thessaloniki. As a result, four in five firms were not able to carry out any investment and the volume of credit to customers rose. Ninety-five percent of Greece’s 281,120 commercial enterprises are SMEs; of these, 40 percent said sales in 2002 were lower than in 2001 – a rate double that for one year earlier. An even higher rate, 46.5 percent, said their profits were down appreciably. The percentage of businesses that was not able to carry out any investment rose from 51.8 percent in 2001 to 80 percent in 2002; almost half (48.2 percent) said they had increased credit to customers, particularly in the regions, against 30 percent in 2001. In sectoral terms, car and spare parts dealers had come under the strongest pressure, with 52.9 percent of them reporting lower sales, although the total was up 5 percent for the sector. As a whole, it appears that large commercial enterprises benefited from the worse position of SMEs; their sales in 2002 rose 6.9 percent and net profits were up 16.2 percent to 1.66 billion euros. As a whole, retailing profits were up 11.7 percent, compared to 5.8 percent for wholesale trading firms. According to the report, commerce in 2003 accounted for 698,500 jobs, or 17 percent of total Greek employment; retailing accounts for 68.4 percent of them. Commerce also accounts for 25 percent of Greek employers, 21.5 percent of self-employed and 13.8 percent of salary and wage earners.