NEWS

66th Thessaloniki fair braces after attack in the United States

THESSALONIKI – Shockwaves from Tuesday’s unprecedented terrorist attack in the United States that saw three hijacked commercial airliners slam into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington jolted the 66th International Trade Fair at Thessaloniki. Security in and around the American Pavilion was heightened yesterday morning, with security personnel and police checking the bags of all visitors entering the pavilion with metal detectors, while American businessmen inside were still trying to digest the tragedy that had hit their homeland, sitting in their booths with a newspaper and a coffee in hand. What happened yesterday was a tragedy. There are no words to explain what some of the people are feeling, the immediate effects on friends and family, and the devastation on US soil. It is a very, very tragic thing, Sam Psaltakis, Internet design director at the Chicago-based Lake & Lake Solutions told Kathimerini’s English Edition. An American of Greek descent who had come to Thessaloniki to exhibit his company, a firm providing information technology products, services and consultancy services to small, medium-sized and large companies, at the TIF and to broker business deals with Greek businessmen, Psaltakis echoed the sentiments of most Americans when he noted that despite the heavy casualty toll and the direct strikes against America’s financial center and defense establishment, the country is already recovering and will not come to a standstill. It is 3.30 in the morning right now in the States and I know very well that these companies are already figuring out a game plan, he said, referring to the Morgan Stanley and Salomon Smith Barney financial institutions that were among those hardest hit by terrorist attack in New York. Their corporate offices are closed but they have satellite offices, and they will inject personnel into their staff offices. They will be up and running, as the government said. The country just doesn’t come to a complete standstill, and our commercial companies will not come to a standstill. They are at a rebuilding stage as we speak right now, 12 hours after this incident. By 10 a.m. yesterday the American Pavilion had been swamped with security personnel, limiting access to the building to one gate and one exit, while others were deployed on the perimeter of the building. TIF officials yesterday did not respond to repeated inquiries concerning the heightening of security measures, with some of them even stating ignorance of the issue. The jolt felt at the trade fair here yesterday represented only a fraction of mayhem that this lethal terrorist attack has caused in the world economy, which was already facing a slowdown. Stock markets across the globe, from Asia to Europe and elsewhere, plunged within minutes of the attack. Oil and gold, considered to be safe investments in times of turmoil, soared, the dollar fell by four cents against the euro, while insurance and airlines were the first sectors to feel the shock waves in markets. The European Central Bank was to hold an urgent cession at the European Parliament later yesterday to decide on a course of action, while Foreign Minister George Papandreou was to meet with EU counterparts to discuss security and other areas of concern. In Greece, officials of the Athens Stock Exchange, after an urgent meeting yesterday morning, announced that yesterday’s session was to start at noon, two hours later than normal, while setting a new floor and ceiling for the session at ± 6 percent, 10 percent lower than in previous days. Despite these measures, the stock market plunged, closing at 2,358.05 points, a drop of 7.74 percent Quick recovery? Already overshadowed by gloomy reports on the global economic outlook and the decline in consumer spending worldwide, the 66th TIF yesterday braced for the possible impact on trade, prices and consumer confidence of the terrorist attack in the United States. The trade fair has already seen the numbers of exhibitors at this year’s fair drop slightly. The businesses represented do not exceed 1,210 – about a hundred less than last year. Visitors, who TIF organizers hope will reach the 500,000 mark this year, are also expected to turn up in lower numbers than expected, following the exhibitors’ lead. But TIF organizers remain optimistic about the fair’s success, while exhibitors prefer to see beyond the present and are confident of an upswing in the economic cycle in the near future. Some of them are already pleased with the fair. We have been extremely well received with open arms and we really appreciate the opportunity that we were given, and we are hoping that great things will happen here, said Thomas Demakopoulos, senior accountant at Lake & Lake Solutions. The US-based firm, which is planning to bring its business to Greece, the Balkans and the European Union at a time when economists see a possible rise in unemployment in the USA, has already held meetings in Athens this month in order to explore the possibility of opening a satellite office. The ideal situation would be to start up in Greece, then in the Balkans and the EU, but we aware that we need to take baby steps right now, Demakopoulos said, also an American of Greek descent who came here to promote the firm. He says that he is encouraged by the numerous individual visits to the company’s booth by businessmen from Albania, Turkey, Cyprus and the Middle East, while several young people have approached them to hand them a copy of their resume. Having been here for five days, the number of resumes we have received is amazing. I am actually proud of that, Psaltakis said. In explaining the basis of his optimism about an economic recovery worldwide in the months to come, he said, In any type of business, everything goes in a cycle, whether its an economic cycle or an employment cycle, and everything ties in with the economy. Right now we have passed the highest point and we are on a downturn. I do believe that what happened yesterday may affect things worldwide, but if anything it has to go back up. Of course. It’s a very bad feeling.