Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
May 9, 2019, 9:30 a.m.
Καλημέρα σας. I want to start by thanking Constantinos and our hosts at the Economic Chamber of Greece for having me here today and to note what a great honor it is to speak along with Deputy Prime Minister Dragasakis and New Democracy President Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
I think even amid the current political season, we probably all can all agree that while Greece has successfully exited its international bailout programs and is back on the road to economic health and renewed prosperity, there is still a lot of work to be done.
We in the U.S. want to see Greece implement reforms and improve its international competitiveness so as to leave the crisis era behind for good. This is a pivotal moment for the Greek economy, a moment of tremendous opportunity and necessary action.
I know that everybody in this room today will have a hand in these efforts. So if there’s one message that I can leave with you today, it’s that America remains invested in Greece’s full economic recovery. The U.S. strongly believes that as a NATO ally and a cornerstone of European security, Greece’s fate is linked to the fate of the wider region.
This remains just as true today as it was 70 years ago, when the Marshall Plan provided billions of dollars of aid to help war-torn Europe get back on its feet economically and to safeguard all that we fought for in the Second World War.
The United States will continue to stand by Greece’s side as a steadfast partner in its economic recovery. Building on several years of intensive engagement and the landmark success of last year’s Thessaloniki International Fair, our governments kicked off the U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue in Washington last December to lock in the important shared gains in our relationship and to lay the foundation for even closer ties for the future.
The Strategic Dialogue reflects a considered decision by the United States to expand our partnership with Greece and the Greek people. It highlighted the strengths in our bilateral relationship and called for closer cooperation to expand mutual gains across six key areas, including energy security and our trade and investment relationship.
And, as we work together to support our shared prosperity, I think it’s important to bear in mind that if Greece is to fulfill its great potential, the economy will look different in the future than it did before the crisis.
Innovation, for instance, is already creating new areas of opportunity to transform the Greek economic landscape and attract investment. To support this transformation, the United States Embassy has actively supported the vibrant entrepreneurship culture that took root in Greece during the crisis years as young people sought new outlets for their talents and creativity.
I’ve often said that this is Greece’s greatest untold success story, but we can now see that the word is getting out about Greece’s dynamic new generation of entrepreneurs and creators.
In just one example, I hosted a coffee on Tuesday at my residence with representatives from the Ministry of Digital Policy, several opposition parties, and the 13 Greek startups that made up your delegation to South by Southwest, the iconic technology, innovation, and digital economy festival in Austin, Texas.
With our partners at The Hellenic Initiative, this is the fifth year that we have sent Greek startups from diverse sectors to Austin. But this year the Greek Government joined our efforts, building on conversations that begin at the Thessaloniki International Fair, organizing the first official Greek Booth at the festival’s Trade Expo, a gathering of over 100,000 entrepreneurs, investors, and industry executives.
I was very encouraged to hear the startups’ positive experience at South by Southwest but also their appreciation of the branding power that came from having Greek government official support for the delegation.
We are also collaborating with our partners at the Dutch Embassy to host a number of pitching and networking events in Athens and Thessaloniki over the next few weeks in the lead up to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the Netherlands. This White House-supported Summit is being held in Europe for the first time in June, and it will attract some 2,000 entrepreneurs, investors, and policy leaders with a special focus this year on agro-tech and food startups. This event will give Greek companies an opportunity to shine in a sector where Greece has historically excelled.
And from June 10 to 12, I look forward to again leading a large group of Greek business leaders and startups to the SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington, DC. This event helps Greek businesses expand their presence in the U.S. market, and I hosted a group of representatives from these businesses at my residence in March. As I looked around my living room, I realized that there were about three times as many Greek companies in the audience this year as when I led my first Greek delegation to SelectUSA in 2017. I think this is a hopeful sign that the Greek economy really is coming back.
Following SelectUSA, I will join my colleagues from AmCham and the Athens Stock Exchange for a roadshow of Greek companies in New York. As the best performing stock exchange in the world so far this year, ATHEX and its listed companies have a very compelling story to tell about the changes taking place in Greece following Greece’s exit from the bailouts.
These back-to-back events—SelectUSA in Washington and the ATHEX Road Show in New York—demonstrate the breadth of opportunities for investment in both directions and more broadly opportunities for expanding U.S.-Greek trade and investment ties. In business terms, we have a lot of headroom
In addition to innovation, I’d like to highlight five other sectors that offer great promise and opportunities for U.S. investors in Greece.
Of course, the largest driver of the growth in Greece in recent years is the tourism sector. U.S. investors ranging from Marriott and Hyatt to Airbnb are benefitting from and helping to accelerate the rapid expansion of visitors to Greece. Continued growth will come from expanding the tourist season and diversifying tourist destinations. And American brands and American investors can play an important role in that effort.
Last Saturday, Minister Kountoura and I were at the Athens Airport to celebrate American Airlines’ first nonstop flight from Chicago to Athens. I want to applaud those in the Greek government and the powerful Chicago Greek-American diaspora who helped bring this route to the market, and I hope very much that the increase in direct flights between the U.S. and Greece will facilitate further exploration and collaboration in both directions. It will certainly help grow the tourism market.
Transport and logistics is another area where U.S. investment is already making a difference. The Neorion shipyards in Syros just passed the 70-ship “milestone” set by the Greek-American company Onex since reviving this important economic asset that was, literally, rusting away when I first visited Syros, a little more than three years ago. The shipyard is now preparing to expand and is on track to work on over 100 ships and create 500 new jobs by the end of the year.
Using the Neorion model, Onex is well placed similarly to revive the Elefsina shipyard and to continue the rejuvenation of this traditional Greek industrial sector. I’m very glad to see those negotiations on Elefsina moving rapidly ahead.
As the TIF experience demonstrated, Greece — and northern Greece in particular — has enormous potential, not simply as a single market of 11 million people, but as a gateway to the wider Balkans region.
In this regard I applaud Greece for stepping up to guide the future of this region, for its admirable foresight in reaching the Prespes Agreement, and for helping to move all of Greece’s neighbors towards European institutions and our shared Euro-Atlantic community. I assert that this development will be good for Greece and the wider region.
And in this regard we hope to see more progress in this area in the months ahead, including a delegation of American companies that would travel to Skopje from Greece to highlight and unlock new opportunities.
In the energy sector, Greece has become a leader in efforts to drive the diversification of energy routes and supplies in the Balkan region. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, a key project for European energy diversification, is the largest direct foreign investment in Greece over the last decade. Its completion will serve as an important milestone for efforts that have spanned multiple Greek governments.
The Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector, is also set to break ground in a few weeks, and will be an important further step to unlocking markets along Europe’s expanding vertical gas corridor. The energy security of our European partners and allies has been a longstanding strategic priority for the United States, so I commend Greece on its growing role as a regional energy hub.
Also in northern Greece is one of my favorite agro-tech initiatives, the Rutgers University-led program “New Agriculture for a New Generation.” This partnership with the American Farm School and the Agricultural University of Athens is a 27.5 million dollar investment by our host today, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, in Greece’s agro-food industry. The program trains young people in cutting-edge farming techniques and technologies and encourages cooperation and innovation. It will be a partner for us on the Road to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit event at the American Farm School next week.
This project with Rutgers is a prime example of how a public-private sector partnership supported by civil society organizations can do transformative work to lift up entrepreneurship and revitalize the Greek economy.
I was also very pleased recently to see that the American film production company Millennium Films is coming to Thessaloniki with the construction of an international film studio in Thermi. This is a big win for the Greek filmmaking sector, and builds off bonds of cooperation between Millennium and EKOME that were cemented in the Thessaloniki fair, as well as sustained efforts by regional governor Tzizikostas and the Ministry of Digital Policy to help realize the vision of Greece as a hub for media development.
There is so much more to be done in this area, as highlighted by successful productions like The Little Drummer Girl that ran on AMC in the U.S. and gave millions of Americans their first glimpse of the wondrous beauties of Greek sites like the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion.
I am confident that the momentum from TIF will be continually sustained across all of these sectors. And while I will do as much as I can to advocate for strong bilateral trade and investment relationship, I want to stress that success in attracting American investors to Greece ultimately depends on the policies and decisions that the government makes in the weeks and months ahead.
There’s no doubt that returning to positive growth rates and reducing unemployment are significant achievements, but much more can be done for Greece to realize its potential and grow back from a challenging economic period.
American investors tell me that they will be watching to see whether Greece’s political leadership stays the course on long-term structural and administrative reforms.
I hear some people saying that it would be better to wait until after elections to push ahead on business environment issues, but I disagree. I believe that waiting would be a huge mistake, and could stall the positive momentum from the end of the bailout, the Thessaloniki Fair, and all of the efforts by the Greek people, government, and private sector in recent years.
Again, investors will be watching for key signals like the resolution of issues that have held up the Hellenikon project—moving forward with the casino license and further development of the project—which could unlock hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. investment.
We also hope for transparent and competitive processes on key infrastructure projects like the Alexandroupoli port and the Elefsina shipyard, and completing the privatization of key energy assets like ELPE.
Policies to promote innovation, including the protection of intellectual property rights, will always be important if Greece is going to compete in the knowledge-based and creative industries. Government’s audio-visual incentive program and the new copyright committee aimed at reducing internet piracy are positive first steps, but more can be done, and we have to keep getting the word out that the business climate is changing.
The U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue has helped to formalize our bilateral relationship and will aid us in this push for reforms and continued commercial progress. We look forward to continued close cooperation with all of you from the Economic Chamber of Greece, along with our prime partners at the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce to ensure that policymakers in both Greece and the United States remain connected to the on-the-ground realities of the business world in order to drive economic growth, advance American interest in Greece’s return to prosperity and help to ensure that difficulties of the past are well and thoroughly behind. Ευχαριστώ πολύ.