Doing business in Greece and Kurdistan

Doing business in Greece and Kurdistan

Turkey’s Doğuş Holding, a conglomerate active in several businesses including media and banking, has moved into the Greek maritime business. Its “D-Marine” group acquired a 50 percent stake in Flisvos Marina, one of the largest in Athens. The Hürriyet Daily News carried the news just at the end of last year. Early 2013 brought more investments by D-Marine in Greece. After investments in Turkey’s Aegean coast and on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, D-Marine has also become active on the other side of Greece as well.

Having heard the good news, I decided to have a look at the figures. They appear rather good at first. The level of economic connectivity between Greece and Turkey is doubling. The trouble starts when you start making comparisons. Compare, for example, the rising connectivity between Greece and Turkey on the western coast to our eastern connection in Iraqi Kurdistan. We do much better in Kurdistan. Why? Are Greece and Turkey still twice a stranger? Is it just a general problem with doing business in Greece?

Crisis still looms in Europe. The recovery appears weak, despite recent positive expectations. One look at the figures coming out of Spain tells the whole story. Economies are still shrinking, unemployment remains persistent. The time for caution has not yet passed for Europe’s consumers and companies. Yet the volume of economic activity between Turkey and Greece has been doubling recently. Our trade figures are on an upswing, no matter the crisis. The number of tourists visiting from both sides is doubling. It seems that ordinary Greeks and Turks are rediscovering each other and starting to appreciate our various affinities. Turkish soap operas broadcasted on Greek channels and Greek artists’ exhibitions in artistically booming Istanbul surely help. Turkish investments in Greece are also rising. Not surprising, you might say. But you know what is surprising? The generally low level of Turkish investments in Greece. The number of Turkish companies with Greek investments have doubled, but there were only eight before, and there are 16 now! One of those might not even count, since it is a publicly owned bank opening a Greek subsidiary. I find the number surprisingly low. Now, let’s compare them with the numbers in northern Iraq.

There was an Iraq investment forum in Mersin last week. One of the participants was Sinan Abdulhaluk Ahmet Çelebi, minister of trade and industry of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). According to Mr. Çelebi, the number of Turkish companies operating in the KRG was around 485 in 2009. Today that number has tripled to around 1500. Our relations with Greece are nonexistent in comparison. You know why I find this disturbing? The Iraqi market is very dangerous when compared to the Greek market. It’s the difference between a highway and a treacherous mountain path. Yet the Turks penetrating the Iraqi market far outnumber those getting into Greece.

There are 5 million Kurds living in the KRG and 11 million Greeks living in Greece. Economic activity with the latter is low. What does that signify? Perhaps the Greeks have no profitable outlets for Turkish investments. Or, doing business in Greece is not that easy and that the business environment there is wanting. The latter scenario seems more accurate.