ECONOMY

Wilbur Ross: I am optimistic about Greece

wilbur-ross-i-am-optimistic-about-greece

Αmerica has great confidence that the Greek economy, under the leadership of the Mitsotakis government, will quickly return to its pre-Covid pattern of rapid economic growth. Our confidence stems from the fact that in less than a year, the Mitsotakis government has managed to make real progress in implementing its reform agenda. Greece’s government has delivered on its pledge to reinvigorate the economy by fostering economic growth and creating a business-friendly environment. Its reputation was further bolstered by a strong response to the pandemic, which helped increase the digitization of key government services in partnership with US tech companies.

It was my pleasure to attend the 2018 Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, where the United States was the honored country and which underscored our nations’ close ties. It was also where I had my first meetings with New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his then VP Adonis Georgiadis.

Based on these first impressions, I knew Kyriakos Mitsotakis, now as prime minister, would be committed to continuing to strengthen the bilateral relationship by implementing policies to foster economic growth and help Greece become an even stronger American trading partner and ally. My expectations were exceeded in our subsequent meetings at the White House in January and at Maximos Mansion in Athens in September 2019, where I was honored to be the first visitor to Greece from President Donald Trump’s cabinet after the new government’s election.

The Greek government managed to address longstanding US concerns regarding the use of unlicensed software, make progress in online enforcement, and introduce legislation to impose fines on those possessing counterfeit products. This prompted the Office of the US Trade Representative to remove Greece from its intellectual property Watch List in its annual Special 301 Report that was published this past April, which Greece had been on for the previous 12 years.

Our trade figures in 2019 also mirrored the upswing of investors’ growing confidence in Greece’s economic recovery. By the third quarter of 2019, we started to see dramatic improvements take hold in the economy with Greek GDP growing by 2.8 percent from 2018 levels and unemployment levels coming down to 14.4 percent in March of this year, its lowest level since 2010.

I’m proud to say that American companies have contributed to this upswing with bilateral trade in goods between the US and Greece reaching $2.95 billion in 2019. In the first four months of 2020 alone, bilateral trade in goods topped $1 billion.

Complementing our strong bilateral trade relationship, US-Greece investment stands at over $2 billion dollars and contributes to thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in exports for both our economies. In the past year, American pharmaceutical and technology companies have demonstrated their confidence in the future growth of the Greek economy by seizing opportunities to help Greece advance its innovation economy.

For example, the relationship with Microsoft that began with the government’s efforts to improve intellectual property rights resulted in announcements about Microsoft’s investment in an augmented reality tourism product for ancient Olympia, its acquisition of the Greek company SoftoMotive, and the most recent announcement that the company will launch a Robotic Process Automation development hub in Athens. Greece’s improved investment climate and the value proposition of Greece’s highly skilled tech force also resulted in the May 4 announcement that Think Silicon, a startup specialized in graphic processors based in Patras, had been acquired by California-based Applied Materials.

The technology sector is not the only beneficiary of US investment. US companies are also helping to reinvigorate one of the Greek economy’s traditionally strong sectors – the maritime industry. Last December, Onex, an American company, invested over $18 million to reopen the Neorion shipyards on Syros. This investment enabled the Neorion shipyards to create close to 600 jobs, a tripling of the jobs from when the shipyard was last active five years ago.

Each of these deals is a testament to the foundation of trust on which the US-Greek partnership is built, and they will help to support economic security for the Greek people.

These trends will continue despite the challenges to the Greek economy resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The United States continues to see Greece as a vibrant partner and a key location for American investment in sectors like energy and infrastructure, including the Alexandroupoli port. I would also like to applaud the Mitsotakis government in pushing forward on lucrative long-term prospects in the tourism sector, headlined by the Elliniko redevelopment project. We have every reason to remain optimistic that the upward trend we experienced in 2019 will resume given Greece’s quick and effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic. You can rest assured that America remains committed to standing firmly alongside Greece as we work through the aftermath of the global economic shock together.