ATHENS – A little glimmer of economic hope during the brutal losses suffered because of COVID-19 lockdowns is the Chinese company COSCO picking up investments in the port of Piraeus it runs under privatization.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who had been accelerating a slow recovery from a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis before the pandemic hit, applauded COSCO’s takeover of container handling there.
Speaking by teleconference to the so-called “17+1 summit” organized by China and which included leaders from 17 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Mitsotakis said it was a “win-win” situation for Greece and the company.
“The port has become an important hub for the fast land and sea connection between China and Europe and for the connection between Asia and Europe,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping, adding that Beijing is “ready to work along with Greece and other parties to further cooperation” within the 17+1.
In November, 2020 – when a second COVID-19 lockdown was brought COSCO said it wanted to expand its abilities, seeking to boost its investment share from 51 to 67 percent, as allowed in a 2016 deal.
The company submitted a letter of intent to Greece's privatization agency (HRADF) and the finance and shipping ministries, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki of the move.
COSCO cited some delays in plans during the COVID-19 pandemic, included building a 104-million euro ($126.12 million) cruise ship hub, noting there were waits in European Union subsidies making up 95 percent of the cost.
COSCO also said the municipality of Piraeus, which surrounds much of the port authority, has improperly barred trucks carrying building materials to the port from passing through its road network.
The city responded that the company has not submitted an environmental impact study for its strategic master plan with local officials at odds with the port authority which has bettered the area.
In January, 2020, before the pandemic, COSCO said it would continue to invest in Greece, the head of the Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) Yu Zenggang said of expansion ideas.
"We have already approved a large COSCO investment plan of 610 million euros ($739.77 million) and we are working together to create the conditions for expanding this plan. We, as a government, also want to see the Piraeus port evolve into one of Europe's largest freight ports," also said Plakiotakis then.