With Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras assuring the public that his government will exit the European bailout mechanism in August, hopes are high among observers that Greece has made it through the thick of the financial straitjacket it was forced to wear for much of the past decade.
“The real bet for the country and the economy is what we are going to do in 2018,” says Simos Anastasopoulos, President of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce (AHCC). While the bulk of Greece’s fiscal consolidation was achieved through high taxation and reduction of governmental expenses, Anastasopoulos predicts that the next phase of Greece’s economic growth is going to come from good old-fashioned business investments. “We do believe that we are in a position today for taking some further measures in order for our real economy to grow and that, in turn, will be a solution for getting out of/exiting the crisis.”
As the head of a group whose mission is to direct US investment toward Greece, Anastasopoulos has been active in attracting American companies into the country, especially while the market is primed for investment. “Clever investors are coming to the country now,” he noted. “There are several examples from several multinational American companies that are present in the country today which have announced new investment plans in the country and are really investing— not only in energy and tourism but also in logistics and in other sectors of the economy.” However, the AHCC’s work is not unilateral. While they focus on bringing American investments in to Greece’s borders, they are also tasked with helping Greek companies sell their products in the US. The company organises delegations for business within the food and beverage industry as well as the construction sector, which are major markets for Greek exporters into America.
In its 85 years of operation, the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce has become one of the most active and dynamic chambers in Europe, promoting business opportunities amongst its 1,000 members and ranking 3rd largest in Europe for membership. The setup of the AHCC is somewhat unusual in that it also has a major lobbying arm. “It is a unique case among the bilateral chambers in Greece and abroad in the sense that we not only spend our efforts and our activities in bilateral trade, but we have also formed committees through the work of which we tried to change the business and entrepreneurial environment in the country” he said. The AHCC has more than two dozen committees relating to various industries including taxation, tourism, energy, women in business, leadership, education, startups, and more. “Through the work of these committees, our policy recommendations have allowed us to be in close contact with the governments and be in a position to shape the environment.” Anastasopoulos maintains.
Following on the heels of an investment forum in New York and an energy conference in Alexandroupoli, Anastasopoulos is gearing up for one of the biggest events of the year, the 2018 Thessaloniki International Fair, which he maintains has been “the major event in the area of South Eastern Europe for several years.” The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce will play a big role in organising the American Pavilion, given that the USA has been chosen as this year’s distinguished country at the region’s largest fair. This decision comes off the back of a successful visit to the United States by Prime Minister Tsipras in October 2017, at a point when trade relations between the two countries is at an all time high.
Anastasopoulos expects many US information technology companies to be in attendance for what will be a focus on business-to-business networking. “[The event] attracts more than 300,000 people which is extremely important at the time and it has an appeal, not only to the Greek audience, but also to an international audience.” This year the AHCC is aiming to concentrate on increasing its collaboration with other regional American Chambers in neighbouring countries, specifically in the Balkan area. He hopes this focus “will also present an increased audience that will attract more presence from American interests.”
Anastasopoulos says the smartest businesses are already plunging into the Greek market, before a new round of impending reforms is implemented. “I do believe that the reforms will go through,” he said. “Everybody who positions himself in the country today will find himself with a huge advantage to his benefit.” He warns that future reforms in Greece will bring less attractive prices for investors a few years down the road. Thus, the time to act is now. “The message is very clear, I think, and comes from every side— ‘Invest in Greece Today’.”