Attention shifts to Arab states’ markets

Greek businesses, for years focused on securing a foothold in neighboring Balkan countries, are starting to shift their interest towards Arab markets, a trend officials say trade figures confirm. «Greek trade with Arab countries has been growing at rates close to 50 percent in the last years, and we expect the uptrend to continue,» Anastasios Antonopoulos, president of the Arab-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, told Reuters in an interview. «The honeymoon in the Balkans is over as the boom begins to taper off. We are now seeing trade relations with Arab countries entering a growth phase,» he said. A look at Greek-Arab trade figures by Greece’s statistics service show imports are up 51 percent year-on-year in the first half, reaching $2.28 billion (1.8 billion euros). Likewise, Greek exports to the region including Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Tunisia are up 63 percent to $847 million. Oil still makes up the biggest chunk of Greek imports, while Greek exports to the region include apparel, footwear, irrigation, piping, electronic equipment and building materials. «The Balkans are no longer an untreaded market, neither is Turkey,» Antonopoulos said. «Greek firms are increasingly looking outside their home turf. Beyond the Balkans, it’s only natural that the Arab world, our 300 million neighbors, is attracting interest.» Banks are leading the way. Last year Piraeus Bank, Greece’s fourth-largest lender, ventured into Egypt by acquiring control of the small Egyptian Commercial Bank (ECB) for about $30 million, now called Piraeus Bank Egypt. Another Greek group, EFG Eurobank, is going after the Bank of Alexandria, Egypt’s biggest privatization this year. Both Greek banks are already present in the Balkans. A reciprocal move unfolded earlier this year when Dubai Investment Group bought a 31.5 percent stake in Greek financial services group Marfin, a move Antonopoulos expects will set the stage for more deals. «When we talk of increased Greek-Arab trade, we mean apart from oil. A rising market is Libya, also Egypt and Syria. We see less activity in francophone countries like Morocco, where France’s penetration is stronger,» Antonopoulos said. Other Greek firms with investments in Egypt include cement maker Titan, aluminium processor Alumil and the Zeritis Group with its Pyramids Paper Mills operation.