US officials remarked yesterday that trade between the US and Greece has been increasing, but complained that excessive bureaucracy discouraged foreign investment in Greece. Speaking at a press conference in Thessaloniki yesterday, ahead of the opening of the 66th Thessaloniki International Fair, Walter Hage, Senior Commercial Officer at the US Embassy in Athens, remarked that trade between the two countries exceeds $2 billion and can be expanded further if the Greek government were to simplify certain bureaucratic procedures and makes the business environment more attractive. However, in general, we are very satisfied with our cooperation, Hage said. This year, the US pavilion will continue to be the largest among the official country pavilions in the TIF. It will showcase more than 20 US companies. Hage said that many US companies are looking for Greek partners that would help them market their products, or produce new ones through joint ventures. Referring to the dozens of new partnerships, Hage made special mention of Heliodomi, a joint venture located at Kilkis, north of Thessaloniki. It involves a $17 million investment for the production, for the first time in Greece, of photovoltaic panels. This will create 150 new jobs. Hage added that three US business delegations will visit Greece in the first half of 2002. The first, in February, will focus on food and restaurant franchises; the second, also in February, will concern medical equipment and health services technology; and the third, in June, will concentrate on marine investments. John Koenig, the US consul-general in Thessaloniki, remarked that the lack of political stability in the Balkans was also hurting Greece, which thus had a further incentive to engage actively in the area. The airlines accused the government of focusing on plans for a new international airport at Larnaca.