Greece has a long way to go in improving its export performance, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday. «In the 1996-2003 period, only 0.2 percent of the average 3.7 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) was due to exports,» he said in an address to the inaugural session of the National Export Council. The percentage of exports as part of GDP has fallen from 10.4 percent in 1995 to 8.6 percent in 2003, when the 15-member European Union average rose from 23.4 percent to 26.3 percent, he added. As a result, the country’s trade deficit over the same period has grown from 12 percent of GDP to 16 percent. Reversing this situation would require a «clear identification of the sectors in which we have comparative advantages, and of the target-regions to which exports are destined, in order… to identify new opportunities and markets.» But such an effort could only be successful by improving the quality of Greek exports. «We must proceed without the taboos of the past, using a great deal of imagination about what we must do to promote Greece abroad. And, of course, we have to use the great opportunity we now have with the Olympic Games,» Alogoskoufis said. He invited the National Export Council to undertake initiatives and submit proposals for the elimination of disincentives to exports. Representatives of the Export Credit Insurance Organization referred to the many structural problems and inadequate infrastructure that prevent exports from «taking off.» They also cited a lack of «export culture» among thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises, and the fragmentation of responsibilities among the agencies responsible for promoting exports. According to Economy Ministry analysts, the percentage of exports as part of GDP could be almost doubled to about 18 percent by 2012, and this would add 1.1 percent to the country’s annual growth rate. A report by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) points out that the changes of Greece’s external trade balance with the other EU member states proves the lack of competitiveness of the Greek economy. The share of Greek exports in EU markets has fallen from just 0.27 percent in 1995 to a dismal 0.17 percent in 2002. The trend has been one of decline in the traditional sectors of beverages, tobacco, olive oil and labor-intensive manufacturing with an increase in capital-intensive industrial products. Olympic opportunity The Economy and Finance Ministry will be promoting two programs tying the Olympic Games to the export promotion effort. First, the Athens Business Club 2004, which will operate during the Games at the Army Officers Club (Sarogleion Mansion) on Rigillis Street, will provide opportunities for contacts and possible commercial and investment deals between Greek and foreign businesspeople. The Hellenic Center for Investment’s (ELKE) www.athensbusinessclub.gr site offers the possibility of registration as members and opportunity for direct communication between them. Secondly, the Greek Innovation & Technology Showcase program, which will operate out of the National Bank building in the seaside suburb of Glyfada, will promote export-oriented competitive firms employing advanced technology.