Open for business

Businesspeople from Greece and the Arab world agreed yesterday on the need for more trade and business ventures. Speaking on the opening day of the 16th annual conference of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce on the Greek economy, Shafik Gabr, Chairman and CEO of ARTOC Investment and Chairman of Egypt’s Arab Business Council said there were plenty of opportunities for partnerships between Greek and Arab businesspeople, adding that Arab countries had made important changes in their laws and tax codes in order to attract foreign investment. Gabr said that there were opportunities for Greek investors in several sectors, including trade, information technology, telecommunications and banks. He added that the tourism sector could serve as a means to further strengthen Greek-Arab ties. Socrates Kokkalis, chairman of the Intracom technology group, said that, especially at this time, Arab countries are awash in capital which must be invested. He pointed out that, beyond business-friendly legislation and tax regimes, these countries must also demonstrate their political stability and security in order to get more foreign investment. Kokkalis said that his group, Intracom, has been active in Arab countries over the past 15 years and that it had excellent relations with its local partners. Intracom is still looking for more business in the Arab world, he added. As for Arab investments in Greece, their possibility has long been touted by successive Greek governments boasting of the country’s close ties with the Arab world, but the actual results are meager. Prospects, however, may be brightening, said Khalid Abdulla-Janahi, chairman of Bahrain’s Shamil Bank. Abdulla-Janahi said that, especially after the terrorist attacks against the US and Britain, Arab countries are looking for alternative destinations to invest in. Greece can be a pole attracting such investments, Abdulla-Janahi said but warned that competition is stiff, especially from giant markets with a lot of potential, such as China and India. With Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas proclaiming that Greece had done marvels to attract investment, especially in the 20 months since his party came to power, it was left to US Ambassador Charles Ries to point out what still needs to be done. Greece, he said, must accelerate tax reform, energy market deregulation and public-private partnerships in order to take full advantage of the political and economic changes in its own neighborhood. It must also seek to attract more foreign investment by making a greater effort to improve transparency, crack down on corruption, cut red tape and provide a stable legal framework that will reassure investors. Ries praised Greece’s support for Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union, which has helped economic reforms there. He implied, however, that Turkey is making bolder moves on the economic reform path by referring to the fact that Turkey’s privatization program this year was worth $14 billion and that it had enhanced Turkey’s competitiveness relative to Greece’s. Similar moves are made by other Balkan neighbors. Romania, for example, cut its corporate tax from 25 to 16 percent in 2004, while, in the same year it decided to cut its own corporate tax from 35 to 25 percent in annual increments of 2.5 percent.

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