Greek companies have a meagre presence in North Africa and the Middle East and for a variety of reasons, but Greece is determined to promote greater involvement, said Development Deputy Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou at the Regular General Meeting of the European-Mediterranean Trade Distribution and Services Initiative (Euro-Med TDS), organized in Athens by the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, one of the body’s founding members. «Greek business presence in the southern countries of the Mediterranean is not the one we would prefer; it still remains limited,» Papathanassiou said, citing lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy, the unclear legal framework, state monopolies, poor information and protectionism as the main reasons. He said that Greece, which has a special interest in the development of the EU’s Mediterranean policy, seeks and promotes bolstered growth prospects from European and Mediterranean cooperation through the mechanisms of its economic diplomacy. The main pillars of this policy are a strengthening of the institutional framework of this cooperation and of the political and security dialogue, and completion of the association agreements of Mediterranean partners with the EU, with emphasis on forging ahead with structural changes and enhancing competitiveness of the Mediterranean partners’ economies, aimed at boosting jobs and raising living standards. Other objectives include strengthening infrastructure, with priority in the transport, telecommunications and energy sectors, as well as the interconnection of Mediterranean partners’ infrastructure with the Trans-European Networks, and promotion of investments and funding cooperation. Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Yiannis Valinakis reiterated that the EU is cooperating with 10 Mediterranean countries on the creation of a free-trade zone, a lesser sort of customs union, by 2010. To this end, and to help these states to face new external trade challenges, the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) has been set up. This is a fund within the European Investment Bank, which last year granted loans of 2.2 billion euros, while its total portfolio exceeds 12 billion euros, representing two-thirds of EU financial aid to that region. Business representatives noted there is a possibility for Greek enterprises to claim Community funds for investments in Mediterranean countries. Participating in the general meeting are the heads of confederations, chambers and employer organizations from 35 countries in the Mediterranean. Euro-Med TDS is an important body for the cooperation of all Mediterranean states in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Its basic goal is to facilitate commercial transactions and lift barriers in interstate trade of these countries with the EU and among its members. Euro-Med TDS proposes measures to the European Commission and particularly to its members outside the EU, for the introduction of good practices leading to greater liberalization of trade, the incorporation of common social and environmental criteria in the production process, and the removal of inequalities.