Chretien in Athens for summit with EU and bilateral talks

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien is in Athens today and tomorrow for the semiannual Canada-EU summit, combined with a working visit during which he will meet with Greek officials and businessmen. Greece is the current holder of the EU presidency and such summits are held near the end of each rotating presidential leadership. Chretien will meet with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and European Commission President Romano Prodi for talks on a broad range of topics, including trade and investment relations, Iraq, the Middle East and the war against international terrorism. On the bilateral leg of his visit, Chretien will meet with President Costis Stephanopoulos and Simitis and will deliver a keynote address at a luncheon he will host for 250-300 Greek businessmen tomorrow. Among the international issues to be discussed are the Balkans, Cyprus and Turkey. «These are issues that are obviously very important to Greece. We have an interest in the region and want to hear the views of Greece,» Canadian Ambassador Philip Somerville said. Tomorrow Chretien will meet with New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis and will visit City Hall where Mayor Dora Bakoyianni will award him the medal of the City of Athens. Chretien is being accompanied by Foreign Minister William Graham, International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew as well as Greek-Canadian MP and Deputy Speaker Eleni Bakopanou. «We share excellent, problem-free bilateral relations,» Somerville said, stressing the «shared belief in international institutions for approaching international issues.» The lunch for Greek businessmen is an indication of how seriously Canada takes the issue of trade with Greece. In 2002, Canadian merchandise exports to Greece were valued at $142.7 million. This was a drop from $ 256.2 million in 2001 because in that year Greece bought $116.5 million worth of firefighting «waterbombers» from the Bombardier company. In 2002, Canadian foreign direct investment in Greece stood at $157 million. Aside from the issues mentioned above, Chretien will likely brief EU and Greek officials on the situation in his country regarding severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the case of mad cow disease discovered recently in Canada. «All countries are confronting this type of experience,» Somerville said of SARS. «We have all learned some lessons from this experience.»

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