US praise for economy’s progress

Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis’s recent trip to Washington had three strategic objectives. The first was to highlight the considerable progress made by the Greek economy over the last few years. The second was to make it clear that this country can now effectively receive foreign investments or provide a base for any foreign investors who wish to expand into the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean. Finally, the third was to illustrate that Greece is an international economic partner with flexibility, good will and realist policies. In this perspective, the comments by the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Rodrigo de Rato, about the Greek economy after his meeting with Alogoskoufis are significant: He acknowledged the spectacular improvement of Greek finances, but stressed that Greece needs the following: intervention in the social security system (as the demographic problem aggravates the problem in Greece), measures to enhance the competitiveness of the Greek economy and caution about inflation, which remains above the European average. Under Secretary of State and former ambassador in Athens Nicholas Burns was much more positive: «I admire Mr Alogoskoufis for the changes and the reforms he has achieved in the Greek economy,» he said, adding that «this government is trusted internationally» and praised Alogoskoufis’s credibility. The US official also said that cooperation with Greece continues in order for US investments to expand in this country, and that he sees Greece as a key factor for stability and development in the Balkans: «Greece is the best place for enterprises that want to become active in the Balkans,» said Burns. Alogoskoufis participated in the sixth annual business conference held by the Hellenic American Heritage Council. Attendants included Paul Dyck, the deputy assistant secretary for European affairs at the Department of Commerce, as well as representatives from Raytheon, the Coca-Cola Co, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, General Electric and Fairchild Industries. Alogoskoufis underscored that Greece does not want to depend either on just one fuel supplier or on one type of fuel. «We are aware that there are some worries,» he said, referring to the Russian natural gas supplied to Greece and the ambitions of other suppliers (that is, Azeri natural gas managed by US companies) as regards the planned pipeline coming from Turkey, passing through Greece and ending up in Italy. He also touched upon the royalties issue, promising that Greece will improve relevant legislation further: «I am interested in the issue as a finance minister, too, as piracy of software and art cost tax revenues to the state,» he told his audience of senators, congressmen and other US state and company officials. The minister had meetings with the chairman of the Federal Reserve (Fed), Ben Bernanke, and the head of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, with whom he discussed Greece’s increase in contributions to the development aid funds handled by the World Bank, which was an obligation that had not been fulfilled for many years. Perhaps more significant was the meeting Alogoskoufis had with Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt on the role of Greece in the economic development of Southeastern Europe. Alogoskoufis agreed with Kimmitt and Burns that a broad meeting must be held in the next few months, addressed to US companies with the participation of officials from other Balkan states so as to provide more complete information about investment opportunities in the region. Investment interest has focused on five main domains: energy, where Greece can play the role of a link in the chain but not be a market player; transport, as the country can become a transit center for its region and Asia (having already upgraded its credit sector); tourism; properties; and telecommunications. Finally, Alogoskoufis reiterated that despite the very positive messages, «we still have a long way to go» for Greece to become investment-friendly. For instance, he noted, certain zoning problems must first be resolved, along with improvement in the operation of some public services and enterprises.

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