Premier Antonis Samaras says Greece can be China's gateway to Europe
Antonis Samaras says its battered but rising economy would welcome mainland investment
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras yesterday touted his troubled but improving economy as an attractive entry point for Chinese investment into the European Union.
"Greece can become a real gateway for investment and trade flows between China and Europe," Samaras told a Greek-Chinese business forum, according to a copy of his speech text.
Samaras is visiting China in a bid to strengthen economic ties. He met President Xi Jinping yesterday after holding talks with Premier Li Keqiang a day earlier.
Samaras acknowledged that Greece was in recession but said the country had overcome excessive debt and low competitiveness. "We achieved fiscal consolidation and we have moved forward with structural reforms that are changing, totally changing our economy," he said.
Samaras added that a full recapitalisation of the country's banking system was on the verge of completion.
He said "currency risk scenarios" - an apparent reference to the possibility of giving up the euro - "are now dead" and that investors can rest assured.
"Greece is anchored in the euro zone," he said. "This is now unquestionable."
He welcomed the signing of business agreements on Thursday, including one by the China Development Bank with its privatisation agency and the "Invest in Greece" agency.
Greece's economy shrank 6.4 per cent in 2012 and has contracted by more than a fifth since 2008 amid the country's debt crisis.
The government, however, is forecasting a smaller contraction of 4.3 per cent this year before the economy returns to growth in 2014.
Xi told Samaras that China supported European integration and was prepared to work with Greece - which will hold the rotating EU presidency in 2014 - to push China-Europe relations, Xinhua reported.
"[We] look forward to closer co-operation between the two sides on trade, shipping, culture and tourism," Xi said, according to Xinhua. He also said his government encouraged investment in Greece by Chinese enterprises.
China was interested in Greece's privatisation programme and deals between businesses, Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said.
"After completing our fiscal adjustment programme and having five years of recession, I think it's time now to start a new era, recovery first, growth after," Hatzidakis said.
Greek news agency ANA reported yesterday that Athens welcomed Chinese participation in privatisation efforts.
"Greece welcomes and salutes the participation of Chinese enterprises in the Greek government's privatisation programme and declares its intention to offer the necessary facilitations and its support," the statement said.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg