Greek products rank third in the preferences of American consumers, after French and Italian products, according to a recent study cited by US Ambassador Charles Ries yesterday. Speaking at a Panhellenic Exporters’ Association (PSE) conference marking its 60th anniversary, Ries said this fact indicated potential for a faster penetration of Greek exports in the USA. Regarding the investment climate in Greece, Ries said progress has been made but more effort is needed in areas such as taxation, bureaucracy and deregulation of the energy market. He also noted that a serious adversity was the country’s poor reputation in terms of transparency. «Corruption must be fought because investing firms want to have a stable and transparent environment,» he said. Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said the government’s efforts to improve the international competitiveness of Greek exports is bearing fruit, attested by their upward trend this year and a slower growth in imports. He also noted that Greek capital invested abroad, particularly in the neighboring Balkan countries, amounts to about 8 billion euros, with 3,500 Greek firms and 800 branches of Greek banks operating abroad. Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis said Greece has launched an economic diplomacy drive aimed at boosting exports, attracting investment and supporting Greek business abroad, especially in the Balkans and Turkey as well as the Middle East and the Black Sea regions. He said the effort will be helped by a plan for three new highway links with Bulgaria and making Greece an attractive base for the head offices and research centers of big foreign companies that wish to establish subsidiaries in neighboring countries. Anna Diamantopoulou, head of development and competitiveness issues for the main opposition PASOK party, noted the importance of creating joint ventures and distribution networks with a view to penetrating foreign markets. She also said setting up a unit to study consumer models and behavior abroad will help Greek exporting firms. She stressed the importance of leading firms opening the way for smaller ones to have permanent presence in foreign markets. PSE President Christina Sakellaridi said firms, organizations and countries should quickly adapt their activities to the new international realities, which include the emergence of India and China as new economic powers and the geographical realignment not only of production but also of research and technology. The Hellenic External Trade Board’s (HEPO) Managing Director Panayiotis Drossos said his organization expects to complete in February a series of market research studies in countries projected to absorb Greek products, while further studies are being prepared about the prospects of traditional Greek products. Thrace Paper Mill’s President Panos Zeritis said an organization was needed to target a reduction in imports, adding he was in favor of the devaluation of the euro.