MELBOURNE – Greece is the center of Southeastern Europe – a market of 140 million people – and offers financial security and political stability, said Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis here yesterday, inviting Australian companies to invest in Greece. Addressing a forum of Greek and Australian entrepreneurs, organized by the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (OPE), Alogoskoufis explained the investment advantages Greece offers compared with the region around it, such as higher living standards, rapid economic growth and the most effective market in Southeastern Europe. When a company invests in Greece, he added, it gets to use a major transit center and automatically gains links with the up to 3,600 companies that are active in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, with investments that top $15 billion in total. Furthermore, with the progress of the Greek economy to date, he said, there is constantly increasing interest from many international enterprises for investment in a broad specter of activities, ranging from mining and energy to services and the use of property. Thirty-four Greek entrepreneurs are accompanying the finance minister on his trip to Australia and, with the help of OPE, they have already been engaged in contacts with Australian businesspeople. OPE officials said yesterday that some 300 business appointments would be held in a climate that was described as more than just encouraging. Panayiotis Drosos, the CEO of OPE, stated that a major Greek cuisine festival has started in Melbourne and will continue on to Sydney, aimed at promoting Greek food and drink. Australians show even greater interest in the energy sector, following the signing of the agreement for the construction of the oil pipeline to link the Bulgarian port of Burgas with the Greek city of Alexandroupolis. Interest has also focused on sectors untouched until recently by Greek-Australian business relations, such as the furniture and design sector and those of construction materials and new technologies. Contacts on trade may have only started yesterday, but cooperation between the two countries is far from negligible, as 30 percent of Australian exports are transported on Greek ships. Alogoskoufis praised the role of the Greek community in Australia in furthering economic relations between the two countries since in just 110 years the Greek community in Australia has increased from 200 people to 300,000 people. In 2004 there were about 10,000 Greek-Australian enterprises of all sizes across the country, while many Greek-Australian firms have in recent years turned to Greece and Southeastern Europe. Alogoskoufis met yesterday with the treasurer of the state of Victoria, John Brumby, and today will meet Victoria’s Minister for Industry and State Development, Major Projects and Small Business Theo Theophanous and Tourism Minister Tim Holding. Even more important will be tomorrow’s meeting with Australia’s Treasurer Peter Costello.