Concerned traders say ‘no more excuses’ for inertia

The government-proposed candidacy of former foreign minister Karolos Papoulias for president of the republic, which is expected to muster the required parliamentary majority in March, has removed a major element of political uncertainty and is the most optimistic message to the market for 2005; it is now time for serious application toward tackling the problems affecting the economy and its competitiveness, a senior traders’ representative said yesterday. «There are no more excuses. The time has come for both the government and main opposition to face the great structural problems that undermine the country’s competitive position,» said Drakoulis Fountoukakos, chairman of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He said Greek business wants to see bold moves to take the country forward and deal with key issues such as education, health, social insurance, labor market inflexibilities, red tape and corruption, waste and inefficiency in the public sector and the closed markets. Fountoukakos stressed that it must be understood that the fight against rising prices can only be won in competitive markets and with enterprises that have low operating costs, rather than by policing measures. Chinese imports He said further fast market liberalization and incentives for the production of innovative and technologically advanced products are imperative, as Greek producers cannot survive the flood of cheap Chinese products under present conditions. Fountoukakos said the impending abolition of EU quotas on Chinese imports will only make the situation worse. He observed that the 212 enterprises operating legally with Chinese capital in Greece have brought in foreign investment but pose the danger of driving Greek-owned shops out of business, leading in turn to shutdowns of manufacturers, unemployment and public revenue shortfalls. Other traders’ and manufacturers’ associations have said that Chinese traders have such a competitive advantage that they are willing to pay much higher rent for commercial properties. In an urgent circular on Tuesday, head of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) Ilias Argyros stated that mixed teams of officials from SDOE, the Development Ministry and the police will conduct sweeping controls with a view to limiting illicit street trading of imported cheap products until January 31, 2005. Separately, the Supermarket Owners’ Association (SESME) rejected recent blame for rising prices, made by the Federation of Hellenic Food Industries (SEVT), by publishing a list of 38 standardized food products produced by SEVT members that showed price rises of between 3 percent and 12.1 percent in the last three months.