Turkey becoming Greece’s No 2 trading partner: Official

Turkey becoming Greece’s No 2 trading partner: Official

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey becoming Greece’s No 2 trading partner: Official

A protester holds a Greek flag in front of the Greek Parliament during an anti-austerity demonstration in Athens on Oct. 8. Turkey and Greece posted $4.1 billion in bilateral trade in 2011. AFP photo

Former regional adversary Turkey has become Greece’s second-biggest trading partner, having posted $4.1 billion in bilateral commerce in 2011, according to Greece’s new counselor for economic and commercial affairs.

“This figure has surpassed Germany and comes after Italy. Turkey is now Greece’s number-two trading partner,” Lambis Kounalakis told the Hürriyet Daily News over the weekend.

Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras sent Kounalakis to Ankara last month in a deal to boost bilateral trade and mutual foreign investments in a move to bolster ties with the neighboring country.

“This is my second posting in Turkey. In 2000, when relations began to improve, I was sent to Istanbul to head the trade office there when we saw a thaw in ties after the two earthquakes in the two countries. Trade was only $970 million then. When I left Turkey in 2004, the bilateral trade was $2 billion,” Kounalakis said.

“In the $4.1 billion dollars last year, $2.5 billion were exports by Greek companies, and $1.6 billion were exports by Turkish firms,” Kounalakis said. “In the first eight months of this year, our trade was $2.3 billion, and we are to surpass last year’s trade figures.”

Greek companies mainly sell petroleum, plastic, cotton and other raw materials, food and banking services to Turkey while Turkish firms mainly export metals, spare parts, textiles, fishing products and food the other way, according to Kounalakis.

Supports Turkey in EU

“In the EU, we are the strongest supporters of Turkey’s EU membership. Our prime minister and foreign minister very strongly support this position because our neighborhood needs to be stronger,” he said.
Greece is experiencing its worst financial crisis in history; EU officials have asked Athens to accelerate the pace of economic reform in exchange for further financing from a stalling bailout package.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, has said that a number of prior actions like overhauling labor and pension laws that were agreed to with Greece in March needed to be implemented.

Kounalakis said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu remarked in Greece a few days ago that bilateral trade should be raised to $10 billion and that he and the Greek side would do their best to reach that figure. “We are trying to do that by bridging differences, by creating a mind set of cooperation,” he said. “There’s strong cooperation potential especially on tourism.”

Kounalakis said his country was now seeking joint ventures with Turkish counterparts, adding that he would work closely with chambers of commerce outside of Istanbul to bolster trade.

“I am trying to create a home for Turkish businessman in my office. I will do whatever is needed to bring them together with their Greek counterparts,” he said.

After weeks of wrangling, Greece’s coalition government said it had reached a basic agreement on Sept. 26 over unpopular new austerity measures. The Samaras government must now present the proposed actions – $15 billion in cuts to pensions, salaries and state spending, and at least $2.6 billion in new taxes – for further discussion with the foreign lenders to release the next portion of aid.