The world’s two most ancient cultures — China and Greece — have grown closer, after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Athens and Crete in June and President Xi Jinping’s trip to Rhodes in July. As Greece recovers from the most severe economic crisis in decades, its businesses are exploring opportunities to become valuable partners in China’s booming market.
Greece — a dream destination for many Chinese — yet less than 30,000 people visited last year versus the million-plus tourists who went to France. Six years of recession has been a wake up call for Greek businesses. Now they’re looking overseas, especially to China, sending big delegations to Beijing and welcoming major Chinese investments. Take Semiramis Paliou, whose family has a tourism and shipping business. Last year she launched luxury tourism agency My Odyssey to lure China’s richest with key promotions including sponsoring the film ’Beijing Love Story’.
“I think if the crisis hadn’t arrived we would still be in our old set ways of mass tourism, of we’re happy as we are, we don’t need to change anything, and we would have stagnated,” Semiramis Paliou, co-founder of My Odyssey, said.
Pavlos Kontomichalos has been working in China for two decades, but with the crisis Greek companies are finally reaching out to him for help. Among them, olive oil makers. While Greece has some of the best quality olive oil in the world, it’s long been sold in bulk to producers in Spain and Italy.
“It gets people more thinking of, we need to produce our own end product that is at par if not better than the ones that other countries produce so the value added is captured by the Greek companies and the Greek products,” Pavlos said.
Greek exports to China have more than doubled in the past five years but are still dwarfed by Chinese imports. But Greece is determined to boost exports including tourism to make up half of its GDP from about 30 percent today, says Notis Mitarachi, vice minister of the development ministry.
“As the domestic market was reducing in size, Greek companies started to travel more, started to explore more of the international markets. Participate in more fairs, try to create more links and because of the quality of the Greek products, they have been successful in growing their market share in key markets like China,” Notis said.
Michalis Boutaris, whose family trades in premium Greek wines recently inked a deal during Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Greece to sell $50 million worth to China through state-owned firm COFCO over the next five years.
“Being complacent in our own paradise, not sharing the goods we have with the rest of the world, as a German friend had said. Now we’re obliged to do it, and that’s why exports I think in the last few years have really, really sky rocketed compared to the past,” Michalis said.
So as Greece looks to China to claw its way out of an economic malaise, expect relations between the two ancient civilizations to grow.