Greece, China turn new page in cooperation

Greece and China were looking forward to flourishing trade links yesterday after President Hu Jintao finalized a major deal for the management of two container terminals at Piraeus, which prompted protests in central Athens by dockworkers. The Chinese president and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis oversaw the signing of an agreement that grants China’s Cosco Pacific Ltd a concession to run the container terminals for 35 years. The deal, first brokered two years ago, is expected to earn Greece – via the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) – 4.3 billion euros over the 35-year period. Cosco has guaranteed 3.4 billion euros of this money. The agreement also envisages an increase in cargo handling capacity at Piraeus and the creation of more jobs. «The concession deal between the port of Piraeus and Cosco marks a new and significant chapter in our cooperation,» said Karamanlis. «Greece attaches particular importance to its partnership with China and is determined to deepen this relationship,» the premier added, suggesting that Greece could act as a hub for Chinese goods sold on to the European market. «Greek ports can operate as transit centers for Chinese products to EU states but also the broader region of Southeastern European and the Eastern Mediterranean,» he said. President Hu also saw the potential for further trade links. «We intend to expand our shipping cooperation and examine the creation of a system to do this… using Greek ports and the Piraeus transit center … to open up third-party markets for common gain,» he said. Apart from serving as a hub for Chinese goods on their way to European markets, the government believes Piraeus will also be the place where products are tested and processed before they move on. The two countries have agreed to harmonize each other’s testing procedures. Cosco has suggested that it will bring in only two or three management personnel from China while it will create some 1,000 new jobs for locals. These pledges have failed to win over dockworkers’ unions and several hundred people protested in Syntagma Square yesterday, unfurling a huge banner that read «Cosco go home.» The unionists argue that the container port is already a profitable business and that the deal with Cosco will lead to cheap Chinese goods flooding the Greek market.

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