Trade, Investment, Growth—Win-Win

MAY-JUNE 2017|BY RAYMOND MATERA
U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt discusses key points on Greece-U.S. trade and investment relations as the two countries work to capitalize on emerging opportunities in both Greece and the United States.

Clearly the United States has shown a strong interest in developments in Greece. As spring-summer 2017 may prove to be a turning point for the Greek economy, how do you assess the current state of Greece’s economic performance and potential?

With recent progress on the second review, I am hopeful this summer will mark a turning point for the Greek economy with tangible results in employment and investment, particularly U.S. investment. The United States wants to see Greece’s economy grow. It is important for the Greek government to send a strong signal to the broader foreign investment community that the time is again ripe to pursue business opportunities in Greece. In doing so, Greece would diversify its investors to include major and influential interested groups from the United States, while strengthening our bilateral trade and investment ties.

My number one priority is to sustain the U.S. effort to spur growth and support economic recovery in Greece. The U.S. Government will continue to work with our European allies to help Greece emerge from its long economic crisis as a strong and stable member of the European Union, a NATO ally, and a pillar of stability in this complicated region.

Growth, development and prosperity are generally driven by investment. American companies and brands are well represented in Greece yet more trade and investment partnerships are possible. In what areas do you see the most room for increased trade between Greece and the United States?

We are eager to see U.S. companies expand their existing investments here in Greece and to also invest in new ventures. There are some obvious industries with potential for additional investment, like tourism and energy, just to name two. But as I have said, many times, the most effective way of increasing U.S. investment here in Greece is to work with the U.S. companies that are already here—to create the necessary conditions so they can expand their existing investments. Keeping current investors happy is simpler and more cost-effective than courting new investors. At the same time current investors will spread the word that Greece is a great place to grow.

The government can improve conditions for American companies starting with listening to advice from companies here, from the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, from the PhRMA Investment Forum, and others on what works in attracting investment. Any improvements the Greek government makes to the business and investment environment here positively impacts all companies—Greek, U.S., and other foreign firms.

Americans are already major investors in Greek companies. For example, American investors are the largest nationality invested in companies listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. Americans are also significant stock holders in Greek Blue-Chip companies like OTE.

Maintaining and even increasing that equity investment is also a critical part of increasing business between our countries. American investors are fueling Greek companies in need of capital to grow and hire more Greek workers, and that role will certainly only increase. Likewise, Greek products are increasingly present in the American market. Do you believe more Greek firms could enter this market, with both products and services?

At the U.S. Embassy, we are working to help Greek companies expand across the Atlantic. In June, I look forward to travelling to Washington, D.C. and New York City to promote U.S.-Greek bilateral trade and investment with our partners at the Athens Stock Exchange and the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce. At the SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington and the Greek Investment Forum in New York, I will meet with business and government leaders to discuss the Greek market and our many common interests. A number of terrific Greek companies are joining us at the SelectUSA Investment Summit to expand their presence in the American market—including Creta Farms, Pyramis, Laconic Gardens, SibaSoft, Maris Polymers, Petsiavas, Coltech, and Danaos Management Consultants.

I am continually impressed by innovative Greek businesses that have persevered through the economic recession and remained strong exporters—with their eyes fixed on entering the U.S. market or expanding their existing sales. Companies like Titan Cement, Lavipharm, and Intralot are great examples of Greek businesses that have increased prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

In terms of which products and services Greek firms should consider bringing to the U.S. market, it’s no surprise that there is robust demand for Greek food and beverage companies. And Greek cuisine has only scratched the surface in developing the market for premium products in the U.S. But there are also Greek companies in information and communication technology (ICT), pharmaceuticals, metal products like aluminum, consumer products, and many others that have succeeded in the United States. I hope to learn more about how Greek businesses are successfully expanding to the U.S. during my trip in June.

Investment by U.S. firms has been modest yet we know there is always an interest by American businesspeople to learn of opportunities in Greece. What areas do you believe represent the greatest potential for U.S. investors to broaden their presence in the Greek market, offering opportunities in energy, technology, F&B, tourism, privatizations and niche markets?

In 2016, the bilateral trade between our two countries stood at just under $2 billion and, unfortunately, the U.S. investment position in Greece continues to decline because of challenges in the Greek business environment. So we are underweight relative to the opportunities I see here. I am hopeful that 2017 will be the year we start to change that, but much depends on whether Prime Minister Tsipras and his government can seize the opportunity to change the narrative around Greece from crisis to opportunity. I want to put U.S. investment in Greece back on track by showing American businesses that there are great opportunities here for successful investment.

Industries that already show robust U.S. investment here in Greece include ICT, consumer goods, medical devices, chemicals, agricultural equipment, defense, security, energy, pharmaceuticals, travel and tourism, food and restaurants, financial and professional services. In terms of new U.S. investment or business prospects, I think hotels, franchising, insurance, renewable energy, and IT are a few encouraging areas to watch with great room for growth. But, ultimately, it is markets that sort out and identify the best opportunities, not governments.

I am confident investment will increase as the Greek government demonstrates its commitment to supporting private-sector-led growth. Progress the Greek government has made with various privatizations is a positive sign to investors and there are big opportunities coming up in that area. Moving quickly on other high-profile privatizations will encourage additional energy and infrastructure investment and we look forward to seeing progress on those issues in the future. Of course, privatizations are also foreign investment opportunities. A U.S. company winning a bid for a Greek privatization project could send strong market signals and attract greater American investment.

In recent years the entrepreneurial spirit among young people and start-ups has changed the economic landscape of the global economy. Has your experience with the start up ecosystems in Greece and the United States indicated that the two may find mutual advantage by exploring ventures together?

I am impressed by the talented entrepreneurs and business people I have met all over Greece—especially by young startups. There is tremendous human capital and entrepreneurial spirit in this country. At the U.S. Embassy, we are committed to supporting this startup ecosystem, to connecting young Greek entrepreneurs with their U.S. counterparts, and to sharing lessons from the small and medium enterprises that are the backbone of the American economy.

We have spearheaded a number of programs to assist Greek small business owners, startups, and entrepreneurs—like co-sponsoring the Greek delegation to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas with The Hellenic Initiative for the third consecutive year. These delegations have always had great success at the festival—networking with their American colleagues, winning competitions and, often, securing investment. I am committed to supporting these kinds of programs to stimulate entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs and startups can really take off when they have public and private support at the local and national levels.

I recently had meetings with the startup community in Thessaloniki and with the scientific pioneers at the Foundation for Research and Technology in Heraklion. I was reminded that there is much more happening in Greece’s knowledge-based economy than most people are aware of. I also had the opportunity to visit Trikala and was so impressed by the entrepreneurs and young leaders in this “smart city” who are putting technology to use to strengthen democratic governance. These trips reinforced my optimism about Greece’s future. I am certainly enthusiastic about Greece’s potential for growth in the coming months and years.

Events such as the Greek Investment Forum organized by the Chamber and Athex in June, in the United States, and the U.S. Commercial Service Certified Trade Winds Delegation to the Balkans, including Greece, in October, provide business with a direct opportunity to explore new partnerships and markets. Even in this day of the Internet, how important are one-on-one meetings that these events allow for?

Face-to-face meetings are critical. It is very difficult to gauge the credibility or interest level of a potential business partner or investor through e-mail. Greek companies that succeed in the U.S. visit regularly, get to know their customers, and have in-person conversations with investors and partners. Of course, the same is true of U.S. companies interested in doing business abroad, particularly in a country like Greece where interpersonal, face-to-face relationships are highly valued.

The SelectUSA Summit, the Greek Investment Forum, and the Southeast Europe Trade Winds Trade Mission coming up this October will facilitate these face-to-face meetings between businesses and investors. The Embassy will collaborate with the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce on the USA Pavilion at Posidonia and the Chamber will be our partner in developing a USA Pavilion at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) in 2018, for the first time in several years. The United States will be the honored country at TIF in 2018 and we look forward to showcasing American technology, products, innovation, and vision across many industry sectors. We are also planning a year of special events across Northern Greece to highlight U.S. interest in and commitment to this country.

If you’re a Greek company ready for the U.S. market, I invite you to participate in our SelectUSA program and join us for the next SelectUSA Summit in Washington, D.C. To U.S. companies, we welcome you to Greece and to participate in the Southeast Europe Trade Winds trade mission in October, the USA Pavilion at Posidonia, and TIF in 2018.

The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce is celebrating 85 years this year. How do you view the efforts of the Chamber, and especially its cooperation with the Embassy, in promoting United States-Greece trade and investment opportunities?

I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the Chamber on its 85th anniversary. The Chamber is so well established because of the value it imparts to its members—American, Greek, and other foreign companies. I have been so impressed by the professionalism of the Chamber’s staff and their many successful events in Greece and the United States.

The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce is the U.S. Embassy’s most important partner in increasing bilateral trade and investment between our two countries. We frequently work with the Chamber on trade events and policy discussions, to encourage necessary reforms and improve the business climate in Greece for all companies. We are proud of our cooperation with the Chamber and I expect that partnership will grow even stronger during my tenure in Greece.

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