Agricultural Bank of Greece (ATE) and 24 leading food producers have teamed up to form a company which aims to develop effective brand names for local food products in foreign markets. Speaking at the launch of Greek Agri-exports yesterday, Agriculture Minister Giorgos Anomeritis said the joint venture is expected to be one of the principal pivots of agricultural development and rural regeneration. The company will have a share capital of 2 billion drachmas. ATE has already put down 100 million drachmas while the other shareholders have come up with 250 million drachmas. Greek Agri-exports Chief Executive Giorgos Apostolidis told Kathimerini English Edition that the venture should be able to reach its 2-billion-drachma target in six months’ time. He said that while the company plans to enlist more participants, shareholders will be limited to a maximum 5-percent equity stake. Greek Agri-exports is expected to play a critical role in rejuvenating local food products in the domestic and foreign markets and hopefully reverse the sector’s negative contribution to the country’s trade balance. Pointing to the sector’s declining importance in export markets, Apostolidis said that food and beverage products constituted just 22 percent of total exports last year, down from 28 percent in 1999. Greek Agri-exports will help farmers, food producers, companies and traders hone their marketing skills, the chief executive stressed. The company will confine its organizational, technical and financial expertise to five sectors – olive oil, wine, fish, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products – in the initial stage but plans to cover other areas in the future. It will also seek to introduce modern technology to local food producers, such as getting companies to adopt contemporary administrative methods and developing e-commerce which will allow domestic producers to access foreign markets rapidly. In addition, Greek Agri-exports will offer its support to venture capital vehicles focusing on the primary sector and food processing activities. Among the 24 shareholders are dairy product manufacturers Mevgal, Eurofarma and Dodoni, pisciculture companies Selonta Fish Farm, Seafarm Ionian, Nirefs, Neptunas, Dias and restaurant chain Kastellorizo.