A Golden Relationship
Greece, a comprehensive strategic partner of China, has been participating in the China International Import Expo (CIIE) since the fair’s inception in 2018. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited China during the second CIIE in 2019, soon after assuming office, showing the importance Greece places on the Chinese market and the CIIE as a showcase for Greek products. China-Greece trade registered robust growth during the pandemic, bucking the trend of global economic decline, rising to US $12.15 billion in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 55.6 percent. The first eight months of 2022 also witnessed a steady increase in bilateral trade, reaching US $9.54 billion.
Marinos Giannopoulos, CEO of Enterprise Greece, the official trade and investment promotion agency of Greece, speaks to China Today on trade and cooperation as the two countries celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-Greece diplomatic relations. It’s a momentum quickened by “Greek gold,” the “pearl in the Mediterranean” and Europe’s largest urban redevelopment project.
China Today: How is the CIIE helping Greek companies strengthen their presence in China and promote their products and services to Chinese customers?
Marinos Giannopoulos: The CIIE is a flagship event for international trade. For Greek exporters, China’s fast-evolving economy remains a priority market, and our growing bilateral trade underpins the longstanding commercial relationship between our two countries.
Greek companies have been present at CIIE since its inception, and year by year, their presence in the Chinese market is growing. Chinese consumers are particularly interested in Greek food and also wine, a sector where Greek exporters are well established worldwide.
But Greece also produces high-quality maritime equipment and many other industrial and consumer products that are finding a market in China. For example, a leading Greek lift manufacturer, Kleemann, has expanded its footprint in China during the last few years, building a manufacturing, testing and logistics facility in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province in east China.
For Greek exporters, CIIE is an important showcase for their products and services, which has helped boost the bilateral trade to US $12.15 billion in 2021, making China Greece’s third largest trading partner in the world. This is phenomenal growth in our bilateral trade relations, when you consider that back in the 1990s, that volume was less than US $100 million.
China Today: This is Greece’s fifth consecutive year at the CIIE. What’s the reason for attributing so much importance to the expo? What do you think of the current momentum of bilateral economic relations and the bilateral ties on the whole?
Marinos Giannopoulos: Both Greece and China are committed to a free and open global trading system and share a vision of sustainable prosperity for our peoples and for the world. China was the guest of honor at the largest Greek trade fair, the Thessaloniki International Fair, in 2017, and the two countries have also had extensive cultural exchanges over the years.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis visited China during the second CIIE, when Greece had the distinction of being the guest of honor. He brought a large trade delegation and engaged in high-level talks. It was an important step in the growth of our trade cooperation with China.
We value important trade events like the CIIE to promote Greek exports to the global market. It gives our exporters an opportunity to expand their market reach, not only in China itself, but to Asia as a whole.
Our mutual interests span everything from shipping to supply chains and green energy, and we believe that the strong commercial relationship with our Chinese friends will grow further in the future.
China Today: What are the key fields of bilateral economic exchanges? And what about the latest projects in the cooperation?
Marinos Giannopoulos: Greece and China already enjoy bilateral economic cooperation in a wide range of sectors, from energy to infrastructure, and from property to shipping. But let me highlight a few areas and projects.
Over the last few years, we have witnessed Chinese real estate investors’ strong interest in the Greek market. The steadily increasing flow of Chinese tourists to Greece is also opening opportunities for Chinese firms to invest in the hospitality sector. Greek tourism made a remarkable post-COVID comeback this year, and it is possible that 2022 may even exceed the record of 2019, both in terms of receipts and visitor numbers. And we expect tourism to be a growing field of cooperation in the years to come.
The State Grid Corporation of China is a strategic investor in ADMIE, the Greek grid operator, as well as in the Ariadne Interconnection that connects the electrical grid of the island of Crete with the Greek mainland. The growth in economic ties can also be seen in that the Bank of China recently established a branch office in Athens, and many ships in the Greek shipping fleets are built in China.
The Port of Piraeus, Greece’s largest port and China’s pearl in the Mediterranean, remains a shining example of Chinese-Greek cooperation. Since China’s COSCO took control of the container operations of the port more than a decade ago, Piraeus has become the largest container port in the Mediterranean and one of the five largest in Europe. This success has surpassed all expectations. And since then, COSCO has acquired a majority concession in the rest of the port and is planning further investments. They include developing a new cruise ship terminal, hotels, retail and leisure facilities, as well as other services, all of which will play an important role in the overall revitalization of the city of Piraeus and the greater Athens area.
Athens is rapidly gaining ground as a destination for tourists, business travelers, retirees, digital nomads, and high net worth individuals, as well as a hub for international business operations. The planned port development by COSCO is not only important for international trade, but also for the future growth of the entire urban area. New infrastructure projects including urban rail and road networks, new logistics facilities, the development of the Athens Riviera (the coastal area in the southern suburbs of Athens), and the Ellinikon Project, Europe’s largest urban rehabilitation project, are all part of that. COSCO’s development of the Port of Piraeus will play a central role in the development of the greater metropolitan area for decades to come.
China Today: What are the highlights of the Greek Pavilion at the fifth CIIE?
Marinos Giannopoulos: The Greek Pavilion is focused on food and beverages, so visitors have the opportunity to sample the wholesome and tasty foods of Greece and have new food experiences.
To expand our reach to visitors in other fields of business, the specially designed pavilion also has a digital booth and printed information in Chinese on the current business opportunities in Greece. Our uninterrupted presence at the CIIE since its inception continues to build our experience in the Chinese market, which is very valuable in helping us provide information and investment opportunities that fit the priorities of Chinese businesses.
China Today: How about the Greek companies attending the CIIE?
Marinos Giannopoulos: Twelve Greek companies are participating in the CIIE, and they represent the food & beverage industry, one of the strongest export sectors in Greece. Greek food exports have set successive records for the past 10 years, and managed to gain market share even in 2020, the most difficult year of the pandemic.
Increasingly sophisticated consumers, both worldwide and in China, are shifting to healthier diets and seeking out quality products from trusted producers. Greece is home to the famously healthful Mediterranean diet, and the natural and wholesome food products of the country play an important role in the daily lives and longevity of Greeks. And now these unique products are much sought after globally.
Greek olive oil – Greek gold, as we call it – has a prominent place in the Greek kitchen and in Greek food exports, and is greatly appreciated by Chinese food connoisseurs as well. Chinese consumers are also developing a love for Greek wines, which are unique in that many of the Greek grape varieties have been in cultivation since antiquity and are indigenous to Greece. This lends aromas and accents to Greek wines that you will find nowhere else.
The Chinese and the Greeks share a veneration for tradition and history, and this extends to food culture as well. The interest of the Chinese market in Greek olive oil and wine attests to this. Chinese consumers truly appreciate the long tradition behind these time-honored and outstanding products.
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