ECONOMY

Economic diplomacy

Regardless of what the Greek participation in the very expensive 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan, will bring, I think it is appropriate and vital that the group of ministers currently visiting are escorted by a group of entrepreneurs and business leaders. Only with such aggressive moves can the declining trend of our exports be reversed and foreign investments get a boost. After 50 years of peace, foreign policy in most countries is nowadays no more than economic diplomacy. When, for instance, the US, French or German ambassador in Greece visits the prime minister or the foreign minister they usually try to promote the interests and plans of their countries’ companies. When leaders such as President Bush or Chancellor Schroeder recently traveled to big Far Eastern markets, they went escorted by a large delegation of entrepreneurs who developed and cultivated relations with colleagues in the countries they visited. Unfortunately, Greece still maintains a strictly traditional diplomacy when politicking internationally. Greek entrepreneurs working abroad have never felt that their homeland’s diplomatic representation offers them political coverage and assistance. For example, the prime minister took no entrepreneurs with him during his visits to Moscow and Bucharest. The business world complained, and with good reason. In Romania nearly all Greek banks, public corporations such as OTE and dozens of private companies are active and successful, with total investments of 2 billion euros. Shouldn’t a political message have been given to the Romanian authorities that the Greek state supports these companies? Let us hope the trip to Japan will mark a swing toward exercising an active and aggressive economic diplomacy. Japan is the world’s second-largest economy and China – which Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis is visiting in the coming months – is now the fourth one. In these massive markets we must systematically and cleverly sell Greece, its products, and its suitability for foreign investment. I understand that Alogoskoufis and his deputy, Petros Doukas, will present aspects of the Greek economy at an event organized by big institutional investors of Japan, while Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Basiakos will make contacts to promote Greek agricultural exports. Business meetings between Greek and Japanese entrepreneurs are also planned. Greek-Japanese trade is tragic for Greece, since imports from Japan are 30 times more than exports. Worse still, Greece’s exports to Japan today are half of those made 20 years ago. Therefore the scope for improvement is great. And the Japanese are interested – if Greece gets rid of the excessive red tape. For example, one of the big foreign investments blocked for years is a Japanese proposal about wind power energy. It has not materialized because the Public Works Ministry has yet to approve the environmental studies. The Japanese are also very interested in tourism. Deputy Tourism Minister Anastassios Liaskos will show them opportunities in domestic tourism and the Olympic installations.