ECONOMY

Economy minister calls on businesses to boost exports

Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis yesterday called on businesspeople to undertake initiatives to boost the country’s meager exports and promised better coordination with state agencies. Alogoskoufis was speaking at the seventh meeting of the National Exports Council, a body of businesspeople and top civil servants. The minister outlined several measures initiated by the government, such as legislation on tax reform, investment incentives and the draft law on public-private partnerships and said these, along with efforts to cut through red tape and other counterincentives, provided a solid basis for a gradual rise in exports. Despite a slight improvement since 2003, Greece lags far behind other European Union countries in exports. The news that its exports, in absolute value terms, were less than Luxembourg’s had made the headlines three years ago. The recent sharp decline of the euro has made it easier for Greece to export to non-EU countries, but marketing and product quality must also improve significantly, experts agree. Alogoskoufis said Greece could no longer count on its traditional export products, such as farm produce and textiles, but must diversify its exports. He singled out oil products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and software as dynamic sectors that could play a more significant role. He said that the government is aware of the problems that are curbing Greek exports and added that this year will be marked by structural changes to boost their competitiveness. «We must confront the mistakes and weaknesses of the past that hurt export efforts… We are creating a better overall framework, based on fiscal discipline, a (favorable) tax regime, incentives for research and development and public-private partnerships,» he said. As part of its drive to strengthen the economy overall, the government will engage in a far-reaching dialogue with employers and employees on a range of issues, Alogoskoufis said. These include a more flexible labor market, ways for more effective absorption of EU funds through the upcoming Fourth Community Support Framework program and extending the use of information technology. Alogoskoufis promised state support for small and medium-sized enterprises, which often lack adequate means to market their products abroad. Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis assured businesspeople that the traditionally conservative diplomatic corps has accepted the need for an active promotion of Greek products abroad and that embassies were ready to provide advice and local contacts. Foreign economic relations, Stylianidis’s brief, passed from the Economy Ministry to the Foreign Ministry in 2001. Stylianidis said the ministry had made special efforts to open up markets in Turkey, other Black Sea countries and the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean.