Greece and China working on trade ties amid crisis

Greece and China need to build further on improved bilateral trade ties as closer international cooperation can help countries get through the global crisis, Chinese President Hu Jintao said yesterday. Hu’s three-day visit to Athens, which began yesterday, is timed to coincide with the signing of a 4.35-billion-euro deal by China’s Cosco for a 35-year concession of the main container terminal at Piraeus, Greece’s busiest port. «Our two countries must boost cooperation in all areas,» said Hu, «to improve the quality and standard of cooperation in shipping and promote bilateral cooperation in developing fields such as energy, environmental protection and tourism.» Ties between Athens and Beijing have warmed since Greece, which hosted the Olympics in 2004, advised China on the organization of the 2008 Beijing Games. The port agreement is due to be signed today amid the global financial crisis that has hit the shipping industry and commodity shipments in particular. Greek companies control nearly 20 percent of the world’s merchant fleet. The Greek government says it is imperative to increase the competitiveness of its harbors at a time when Mediterranean neighbors Egypt, Syria and Turkey have already taken similar steps to attract operators. Under the terms of the concession, Cosco is expected to modernize the Piraeus container terminal and boost its annual capacity from 1.6 to 3.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). Dockworkers’ unions oppose the privatization plan. The Federation of Greek Port Employees announced a 24-hour strike for today as well as a protest rally in central Athens. Trade between the two countries topped $3 billion in 2007, overwhelmingly in China’s favor. «China is willing to take measures to reduce this trade gap, to balance trade between our countries,» Hu said. Last year, the volume of trade between the two countries was 2.9 billion euros with Chinese exports accounting for more than 95 percent of that figure.