The dismal record of Greece’s external trade balance in recent years has been reversed in 2005, particularly as regards exchanges with the United States, Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis said on Saturday. «Imports from the US have dropped 9.2 percent, while exports to that country have risen 19 percent, making it the fifth-largest destination for Greek exports. The US market will be one of our main targets in 2006,» he told an event at Thessaloniki’s Chamber of Small Manufacturers (VETH). In fact, targeting the US market is part of the government’s new strategy in economic diplomacy, which seeks to «unlock» the commercial and investment potential of large markets, including India and China, and bolster Greece’s exports to the rest of the Balkans and the Middle East, Stylianidis said. He claimed that the «systematic work» of recent months is already bearing fruit. «Our trade balance is in the black with nine of the 10 countries of Southeastern Europe. Turkey is the only exception. Exports to these 10 countries rose 10.16 percent in the 2004-2005 period, against an average of just 1.12 percent in the 2001-2003 period. Total Greek exports were up 9.9 percent in the first eight months of 2005, year-on-year, after years of continuous decline,» he said. Even trade with Turkey, which remains in the red, saw a 21 percent narrowing of the deficit in the first seven months of 2005, thanks to a 23 percent jump in Greek exports, Stylianidis added. He said the new strategy included a reorientation of the Greek diplomatic service. «Diplomats will know that the criteria of their evaluation for promotion will include their performance in economic diplomacy,» he said. Stylianidis said the results of the new economic diplomacy are evident in the Balkans, where the absorption of aid funds under the Greek reconstruction plan has risen to 10.4 percent from 2.5 percent in just a few months. In most of the recipient countries, most of the appropriated funds have been absorbed, but the rates are still disappointing as regards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), at 16.5 percent, and Serbia-Montenegro, which has been allocated about half of the entire aid package, at only 6.5 percent. Particular emphasis will also be placed on promoting the traditionally friendly relations with the Arab world through bilateral contacts and business missions, Stylianidis said.