Conference on the Greek Economy, December 1, 2014

Ambassador Pearce delivers remarks at the American Chamber of Commerce (State Department Photo)
Ambassador Pearce delivers remarks at the American Chamber of Commerce (State Department Photo)

Remarks  by United States Ambassador David D. Pearce

American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce

Intercontinental Hotel

(As prepared)

Αξιότιμε κύριε πρωθυπουργέ, κύριοι υπουργοί, αξιότιμα μέλη της Βουλής, αξιότιμες κυρίες και κύριοι, καλησπέρα σας.  I’m delighted to be back with you this year for the 25thannual conference on the Greek economy.

After several years in crisis, the Greek economy is beginning to turn around.  As the Prime Minister recently said, “Greece is back.” The economy has returned to growth after five years of contraction.  The government has cut the deficit from 15% to less than 3% of GDP in just a few years, which is an extraordinary achievement.  In 2015 it looks like the government budget will be nearly balanced.

Equally important are the reforms which have reduced red tape, opened formerly closed professions, and overhauled the pension system.  These were painful changes to make, and the United States recognizes how hard – and how necessary – they have been.

Those reforms are starting to yield results.  In the past year it’s become a lot easier for Greeks to launch new companies: the country rose 12 places in the 2014 survey conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Development Institute.  The changes the government has made help established companies too, both Greek and multinational.  The World Bank, in its annual “Doing Business” report, raised Greece’s rank to 61st place out of 189 countries surveyed.

Tourism has become a highly dynamic sector in Greece, and has  boomed since we all last met.  Over 20 million tourists came to Greece this year, or roughly two tourists for every Greek.  We are seeing many more American tourists than we have in recent years.  There were 467,000 U.S. visitors to Greece in 2013 and so far in 2014 we’re seeing growth on the order of 30% in the number of arrivals with initial projections forecasting as many as 600,000 by the end of the year.  Tourists from the United States not only spend the most of any visitors to Greece but also, due to the distance involved, often stay longer.  Tourism is expected to continue expanding next year, and U.S. and other international firms are increasingly looking at investment in this sector.

A word here on what we see with regard to investment from U.S. firms.  Since Commerce Secretary Pritzker visited last November, we’ve seen new sales, resolution of longstanding disputes, and the removal of impediments to foreign investment.  The gain for U.S. companies, when you combine all of these achievements, is around 1.7 billion euros.  The Greek government has also used EU structural funding to create 1.7 billion euros in Information and Communication Technology market opportunities that should benefit both Greek and foreign companies.  We see American businesses taking note of the reforms, the improved business climate, and increased market opportunities.

For example, in the past year alone, Microsoft, IBM, Dow Chemical, and Coca Cola have all announced millions of euros in investments in Greece.  These investments are already creating hundreds of new well-paid jobs.

Another firm, New York-based Onex Technologies, is investing over 42 million euros and has partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop some of the world’s most advanced open-water fish farms in Crete, initially creating 100 skilled jobs in Greece.

Finally, in response to the improving economic situation and business climate, U.S. firms seeking to open up or expand their operations in Greece will join an AmCham-organized and Department of Commerce certified trade mission to Greece in June 2015.  We hope that will encourage even more activity.

On energy issues, the government is taking commendable steps to strengthen domestic energy security.  This includes promotion of domestic energy exploration, with the recent launch of major hydrocarbon concession processes for 20 offshore and three onshore blocks.  These processes, along with the government’s active support of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline to bring Caspian gas across Greece, and of projects to expand Greece’s LNG import terminal and build additional international gas interconnectors, promise to improve national and broader EU energy security, and eventually make Greece an important regional energy hub.  A thriving energy sector will provide badly-needed jobs and diversify the economy.

While this progress is welcome and important, economic improvement and recovery do not happen overnight.  Unemployment remains extremely high, many families continue to struggle, and many people do not yet see much improvement in their daily lives.

Much work remains to strengthen the economic recovery just beginning in Greece, not only in continuing reform efforts, but also in adopting policies to promote growth and generate jobs.  As President Obama and Treasury Secretary Lew have said, Greece “cannot simply look to austerity as a strategy.”  Secretary Lew said very clearly at the recent G20 Summit in Australia that Europe needs to take strong measures to promote growth, which is certainly true for Greece.

We hope the Greek government will persevere with efforts to improve the business and investment climate, increase liquidity, especially for small and medium enterprises, open markets further to competition, improve the functioning of the judicial system, and take other vital steps that will lead to prosperity.

It will be a challenge, of course, to consolidate the progress that has been made, strengthen the recovery, and achieve long-lasting prosperity.  The Greek people need to see that their sacrifices have been worthwhile, and be able to believe in a better future.

But it is worth noting that the country has come far in its recovery.  We are optimistic that the transformative steps taken during the past few years are paying off and will result in an open, competitive, prosperous 21st-century economy.

It can be done, and we believe it will be done. The United States has an interest in Greece emerging from its extended economic crisis stronger, stable, and playing a stabilizing role this region.  Our two nations have stood side by side at many critical points in history, and that is a partnership that I am confident will continue, not only today, and well into the future.

Σας ευχαριστούμε θερμά για την παρουσία σας εδώ σήμερα.