GIG: The coronavirus pandemic has forced companies around the globe to drastically transform the way they operate. What are the main hurdles that Greek exporters are currently facing, and in what way is Enterprise Greece supporting companies to overcome these challenges?
Filiopoulos: The world economy has suffered an extraordinary shock as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts a 3.0% contraction in global output this year, marking the steepest decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As a result, exporters, like other businesses, are facing an extraordinary downturn in demand.
To help Greek businesses and exporters, Enterprise Greece has launched a digital information campaign to inform them of the available economic support measures the government has undertaken to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.
Enterprise Greece has also launched a ‘Support Greek Exports’ information campaign to support the sectors, products, and services most affected. We are also working in close collaboration with our international partners – such as other European trade promotion agencies and the ANIMA Investment Network for the Mediterranean – to mitigate the impact on Greek SMEs.
In addition to the global economic downturn, exporters worldwide are also facing some unique conditions. These include constraints on foreign travel and, in some product categories – like medical equipment or certain commodity agricultural products – government export restrictions. To keep Greek exporters up-to-date on these developments, Enterprise Greece has launched a special newsfeed and an interactive map to disseminate information regarding any restrictions imposed in countries of interest.
GIG: The Greek government has adopted a slew of measures to abate the economic impact of the lockdown on companies and the national economy. Bearing in mind the effect of global restrictions on international trade, what specific actions are being taken to support Greek exporters and SMEs?
Filiopoulos: The Greek government has announced more than €10 billion worth of economic support measures to alleviate the economic impact of the pandemic on the national economy and is considering further steps to support particularly vulnerable sectors. Most of that support is specifically aimed at SMEs and includes Greek exporters.
The measures that have already been announced include a four-month suspension, until July 31, of all tax payments for businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis, and €1 billion worth of emergency financing for businesses by reverting prepayments of estimated taxes.
The government is speeding up the repayment of tax refunds to individuals and businesses, and has adopted several initiatives – such as a one-off €800 payment for affected workers and the self-employed, or mandatory rent reduction – to ease the impact of the crisis.
We are also working closely with local banks to support SMEs and exporters by reducing or furloughing loan payments. And following a decision by the European Central Bank, the amount that banks can distribute to SMEs via working capital loans is being doubled, making as much as €6 billion available.
In addition, Greece – as a member of the European Union and the eurozone – is participating in a number of Europe-wide initiatives to support the business community. Namely:
- The European Commission is setting up a special investment fund, with resources to be channelled into health care, SMEs, the labour market, and other vulnerable sectors of the economy.
- The European Commission is also speeding up the approval process for state and EU-financed projects.
- The ECB is mobilising financial resources to provide working capital and promote additional investment, with the aim of strengthening businesses, especially SMEs.
The economic impact – worldwide – of this pandemic is unavoidable, but given the pro-active and appropriate response of the Greek government, I feel confident that the Greek economy will be able to bounce back fairly quickly.
GIG: A key aspect of Enterprise Greece’s export and investment promotion strategy involves international trade missions and events, which have traditionally entailed a physical presence for companies. How do you foresee these activities unfolding in the near future?
Filiopoulos: International exhibitions and trade shows are important venues for exporters to showcase their products and many of the business events that were scheduled for this spring have been rescheduled for later this year, or early next year.
The situation is still evolving, but in the course of time we may see a return to normality. Meanwhile, we are focused on maintaining good communication with our stakeholders, both Greek exporters and our international networks.
At the same time, we are designing a set of new services in order to support Greece’s exports, such as:
- Digital directory of exporters;
- Digital B2Bs for Greek exporters;
- Digital investment promotion presentations;
- Digital Promotional Campaign with Testimonials for investments and exports;
- Digital promotional events.
GIG: Bearing in mind initial government targets to attract €100 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) over the next eight years, what steps are being taken by Enterprise Greece to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the attraction of investments? What effect has the pandemic had on investment projects that were already in the pipeline or underway?
Filiopoulos: Greece’s underlying investment story remains intact, in spite of the coronavirus crisis. Market sources suggest that there is still strong international investor interest in privatisations and many of the infrastructure projects Greece has planned for the months ahead.
Sectors ranging from exports, property, energy, tourism, logistics, remain attractive to international investors. And following ten years of crisis, asset prices in Greece remain undervalued and the country is still building its new economy.
Furthermore, the fact that the Greek government acted quickly and decisively in containing the coronavirus outbreak and enjoys overwhelming public support, sends a strong message that the country is committed to effective and transparent governance. This is bound to be an asset, going forward, for the country in attracting FDI.
GIG: There’s a lot of talk about what the future is going to look like once the pandemic subsides, the role of innovation and digitisation, and the bolstering a of a knowledge-based economy in Greece. What lessons do you believe can be learnt from this predicament, and how can these lessons be translated into a better promotion of Greek exports, increased competitiveness, and a stronger Greek brand?
Filiopoulos: Around the world, the coronavirus crisis has opened a new chapter in the global tech economy. And in Greece, the crisis has helped the country adopt new tech services and skills, something that will help boost our competitiveness and productivity.
For example, the Greek government was planning to launch a new, e-government platform before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis as part of its commitment to streamline public services. The crisis became a catalyst for more rapid implementation of those plans.
Greece launched the new platform – gov.gr – two months ahead of schedule in response to the pandemic, offering more than 500 services online with new ones being added constantly. The services span a range of areas: agriculture, justice, education, business, labour and social security, family affairs, taxes, culture and tourism, military service and health, as well as a category for other miscellaneous interactions with the public sector.
It has made a significant contribution to successfully managing the outbreak, and has been well-received by the public. For example, the new platform made it possible for 250,000 prescriptions to be provided via SMS during the first month of the crisis, saving people with pre-existing conditions from having to visit a doctor to obtain their prescriptions.
This digital leap will greatly contribute to improved productivity and competitiveness for Greek businesses, and the Greek government has been trying to encourage this through special programmes to upgrade IT skills in the private sector. At the same time, the quarantine measures have given a boost to e-commerce, and going forward, I believe we will see a strengthening of online commerce and marketing by Greek businesses, including exporters.
Greece also has a strong health and life sciences sector, as well as a growing start-up sector.
A significant segment of Greek start-ups is involved in applications in the health sector. The coronavirus will continue to be an issue internationally for the foreseeable future, which provides an opening for Greek expertise to come to the forefront.
In short, Greece is fully prepared to move into this new era, and the pro-active and efficient management of the coronavirus outbreak in Greece is bound to contribute to a positive image of the country.