ATHENS – Leading entrepreneurs and financial analysts listened carefully to the panel discussions and keynote speeches at The Greek Economy Conference of the American Hellenic Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) December 3 and 4. Also present at the Athenaeum InterContinental were officials from the U.S. Embassy led by Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt.
At the first day’sformal dinner Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the main opposition New Democracy Party, demonstrated his grasp of the issues discussed earlier in the day, with guests wondering what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would say to them the following day amid fears of backtracking on reforms prior to next year’s elections.
During the unique and highly informative discussion with Amcham President Simos Anastasopoulos on the stage of the Grand Ballroom, Mitsotakis began by stating that the current coalition squandered its nearly four years in office by not implementing more of the promised modernizing reforms that stimulate the economic activity and attract investment, missing growth opportunities that the rest of the EU and the world had seized. He said that means “the danger for Greece has not passed,” since financial markets still don’t have faith in the country, which he said requires credible reforms and serious changes in public sector functioning.
Mitsotakis concluded his comments by stating what his top fourpriorities would be when elected: 1) Tax reform and reduction; 2) simplification of bureaucratic processes, and government intervention to overcome direct obstacles to attracting and developing investments; 3) Government initiatives to overcome indirect obstacles to economic development, such as changing university asylum laws to help unlock the potential of those institutionsto contribute to growth; 4) Additional changes in higher education that will stimulate cooperation with top universities outside Greece such as joint degree programs – he had earlier mentioned increasing government support of research and development.
Prime Minister Tsipras responded on Tuesday night by reciting a litany of achievements, including the implementation of many reforms he said prior governments procrastinated about for decades, but he emphasized that his government’s greatest achievement was implementing reforms while also protecting the society’s neediest and most vulnerable.
At opening session of the 29th annual conference Amcham President Spiros Anastasopoulos and its Executive Director Elias Spirtounias, after welcoming the participants and thanking the numerous corporate and institutional sponsors, set the tone for what followed by describing the economic context as both challenging and promising, noting the conference propitiously follows what Ambassador Pyatt called “the great landmark success” of the American pavilion at the Thessaloniki International Fair which featured Honored Nation status for the United States - and which Amcham helped organize.
Ambassador Pyatt offered the United States’ perspective in the context both of Athens’ recent exiting of the third memorandum as the Greek government “carries forward the ongoing and important work of implementing reforms and improving international competiveness,” and its preparations for the following week’s Strategic Dialogue between the two countries in Washington, which he said “goes back to the U.S. decision to make a significant investment in our relationship with Greece, which rests on a view of Greece as a pillar of regional stability.”
The very high level meetingsin Washington willgatherGreek and American officials across a number of government departments and Pyatt said, “I am greatly impressed by the seriousness the Greek government is bringing to preparations,” for the talks that will span six areas, “including, significantly, our bilateral energy collaboration and our trade and investment relationships.”
The dominant message of the conference, whose theme was Greece Facing the Future – The new growth Model and Global Challenges, is that the country – government officials, business persons, academic and individual citizens – must work harder to make itself more attractive to foreign investors. Several speakers notedboth public and private sector mindsets still need to change.
Director General of the Greek Competitiveness Council Dr. Venetia Koussia added the need for continuous education and training in all sectors as important institutional andpersonal investments in Greece’s human resources – words resonating with guests from America, the land of self-improvement books.
The conference began with a fascinating presentation led by Founder and CEO of Japonia Partners Paul Kazarian, the first of dozens of incisive, insightful and articulate presenters at the well-organized conference.
Kazarian and the members of the first panel emphasized that analysts are still not grasping the dangers posed by the debt crisis, and urged adoption of a “balance sheet” approach for nations, groups of countries like the EU, and the world economy as a whole.
The spotlight then turned to Greece beginning with the panel, Exploring the Appropriate Growth Plan for Greece – Presentation on the Competitive Status of Greece.
Later Ambassador Pyatt engaged in a conversationonstage with Anastasopoulos and Ioannis Brachos, Greece’s Secretary General for International Economic Relations.
Alec Mally, past U.S. Consul General in Thessaloniki, praised the Chamber, saying “After all the energy they expended this spring and summer organizing the American Pavilion at TIF, to be able to present this conference as well is a testament”to the excellent work they do.