Greece’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister: We want to strengthen economic relations with Australia

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By Ilias Karagiannis.

Greece’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the portfolio of Economic Diplomacy and Openness, Kostas Fragkogiannis, has sent a message of optimism to the Greek community in Australia in an interview with The Greek Herald.

Before rising to the position of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fragkogiannis served as a high-ranking executive in companies and successfully managed development projects of hundreds of millions of euros around the world.

His preparation, patience and perseverance have played an instrumental role in attracting foreign investment to Greece. As Fragkogiannis told TGH, investments of more than 8.5 billion euros have been approved. He also referred to investments by Australian companies in Greece.

Recently, Fragkogiannis met with Alison Burrows, Australia’s Chief Negotiator for free trade agreements in the European Union, as well as Australia’s Ambassador to Greece, Arthur Spyrou. Issues including protecting emblematic Greek products such as feta, were raised during the meeting.

This meeting led to The Greek Herald‘s interview with Mr Fragkogiannis and this is what he had to say.

1. What is your evaluation of the bilateral relations between Greece and Australia?

The level of our bilateral relations with Australia is excellent and despite the geographical distance of the two countries, the feelings of friendship and mental closeness of the two peoples and their political leadership, is a given. As far as economic relations are concerned, there is a great deal of room for strengthening cooperation. I do not hide from you that it is something which interests us especially. Strengthening and diversifying our trade is high on the agenda. In this direction, the bilateral agreement on the avoidance of double taxation is under negotiation and its happy conclusion will certainly give a new impetus to our bilateral economic relations.

The messages are already encouraging. As a result of the actions of economic diplomacy, as recorded in the National Strategic Plan we launched in 2021, Greek exports to Australia in the first half of 2022 increased by 9.5 percent compared to the corresponding period of 2021 and amounted to 118.4 million euros (ELSTAT data). The efforts continue.

2. Meeting Ms Burrows and Australian companies investing in Greece:

The negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Australia are very important and aim to upgrade the partnership between the two parties, particularly in the areas of trade, services and investment. The achievement of a mutually beneficial agreement, always within the framework of the common values and principles that govern both parties, is expected to give further impetus to EU-Australia trade and investment relations.

For the record, these negotiations began in July 2018, while to date twelve rounds of talks have taken place, with the most recent negotiating round in February 2022. The progress achieved so far is satisfactory.

My meeting with Australian Ambassador Spyrou and Ms Burrows was held in a very positive and constructive atmosphere, given the excellent and very special relationship of Greece with Australia due to the diaspora.

Ms Burrows briefed us on negotiation developments in view of preparing for the next round. For my part, I raised a sensitive issue of protecting emblematic Greek products (mainly feta), to which the Greek side attaches great importance, a fact that should be reflected in the future agreement. The Australian side primarily raised an issue of limited access to the European market.

3. Increased foreign investment in Greece:

As you say, attracting investment has been and continues to be a priority of the Greek government, directly intertwined with the modernisation of the Greek economy and the change of its production model. At the same time, it is also a key objective of economic diplomacy. I am therefore particularly pleased that our policy in attracting investment is paying off.

In the strategic investment segment alone, we have approved business plans of more than 8.5 billion euros and there are another 6 billion in the pipeline to be approved. These investments translate into about 4,500 jobs for Greece.

The value of gross Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for the first half of 2022 is 4.3 billion euros, an amount corresponding to 86 percent of foreign investment in 2021, and the prospects are auspicious for next year as well.

These include significant investments from Australia. In addition to the tourist investment of the luxury hotel complex Gundari in Folegandros, the value of which is estimated at 20 million euros, there is also interest in developing a tourist unit in Ithaca.

Intense activity but also interest is also recorded in other sectors, such as renewable energy sources. Let me remind you that in September 2021, there was a huge investment of the Australian company, Macquarie, winning a minority stake in Greece’s national grid operator.

4. Tensions between Greece and Turkey:

Undoubtedly, we are going through a tense period in our relations with Turkey. In fact, in view of an election year – 2023 – for both countries, things are quite fluid. In any case, Greece is facing the situation calmly. We do not want an escalation of tension and on the contrary, we consistently and actively support good neighbourly relations.

Our goal is security and stability in the region and all our actions are moving in this direction. At the same time, of course, we do not make the slightest discount in terms of our sovereign rights and our national sovereignty.

Regarding our economic relations with Turkey, I myself lead, from the Greek side, the initiative of the so-called ‘Positive Agenda’ dialogue. This is a joint project of the Greek-Turkish Foreign Ministries to institutionalise systematic and orderly cooperation on a number of economic issues (trade, transport, energy, education, tourism, but also the critical issues of climate change and Environmental Protection). This can only bring benefits to both sides. I therefore maintain my faith and optimism that the positive agenda will be reactivated soon, for the benefit of our bilateral relations with Turkey as a whole.

5. Greece’s election and its impact on foreign investments:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make a very important point regarding the origin of investments. Because the secret to the success of the current government in bringing all these global giants to Greece is precisely that we created the right conditions.

It is the triptych: political stability, social cohesion, economic growth. This triptych made the country a reliable interlocutor and an attractive investment destination. And obviously this was done with hard work, with constant and consistent effort, with a plan and with a vision.

I hope that this collective effort of the government, the results of which are evident both in the sizes of the economy and in the strong presence and voice of Greece today on the international stage, are recognised by the Greek people. And this will be seen in the polls, which will be set up for the first time at the scheduled end of the government term. This is another sign of political stability, which confirms the modern image of Greece.

6. Message to the Greek community of Australia:

In these difficult times that we are going through, where our modern world is being tested multiple times, I would like to send, from Greece, a message of optimism to the people of Australia as a whole and the Greeks of Australia in particular. The success story of Greece, the transformation of the country during the last three and a half years, in the midst of successive global crises, clearly proves that in every crisis there is at least one opportunity.

I am pleased and proud that we were able, as a government, to identify and use this opportunity for the benefit of our country, the Greeks living in Greece and the Greeks abroad, who are valuable ambassadors of the country. You can now be and feel proud of modern Greece and know that the Greek state wants and seeks every possible strengthening of our ties.

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