Greece, Israel: Small countries that can have a big impact

Commentary: The development of Greece-Israel relations is a cause for great satisfaction and offers the potential for wide-ranging synergies.

By ARISTOMENIS M. SYNGROS
September 12, 2012 22:39
4 minute read.
Peres with Greek President Papoulias in Athens

Peres with Greek President Papoulias in Athens 370. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)

 
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The development of Greece-Israel relations is a cause for great satisfaction and offers the potential for wide-ranging synergies, win-win partnerships and significant bilateral advantages. The two countries, though small in size, can have a big impact on regional development and enjoy multiple growth benefits.

The visit of President Simon Peres to Greece last month, at the invitation of his Greek counterpart, Karolos Papoulias, opens the path for a new era of strategic cooperation, collaboration and investment.

Agriculture: a strong focus area


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Peres was accompanied on his visit by Agriculture Minister Orit Noked. Some of the most promising areas for cooperation are related to water management, organic farming, applied farm research, land improvement and aquiculture.

Both Israel and Greece face challenges in water management. The arid topography of Israel has spurred Israeli scientists to develop innovative farming methods and desalination technologies. Efficient desalination would be a major boost to many of Greece’s islands that suffer inadequate freshwater reserves and must often rely on shipped water.

Food and beverage, another area under discussion, is the strongest sector in Greek manufacturing, accounting for 25 percent of turnover, 24% of employment, 25% of total invested capital and almost 25% of added value. Foreign companies have experienced high rates of success in this sector, and Greece serves as an ideal bridge to the emerging markets of Southeast Europe.

Abundant opportunities exist in creating added value in many product categories, especially as the global interest in healthy food, snacks and convenience foods continues to rise. Honey- and nut-based snacks, spaghetti products, jams, pickled goods and novel seafood and meat products demonstrate a significant potential in numerous markets. And as consumption of olive oil grows, Greece is ideally positioned to respond in this sector, being the third largest producer of olive oil in the world.

Intellectual capital: a common resource

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Like Israel, “Greece, both in the past and now, has exceptional scientists,” Peres said during his visit. “I believe that much can be done in cooperation between your and our researchers so that we will all benefit from it.”

In March, Greece and Israel signed an agreement to share know-how in a variety of areas, including waste management, biomass, sewerage treatment and energy solutions, in addition to the agricultural areas mentioned.

The knowledge-based economy is, without a doubt, one of the most promising areas in which the two countries may benefit from mutual collaboration. Israel has established one of the most successful entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world. In its effort to boost growth, development and employment, Greece views the Israeli model as highly attractive and is encouraging its young scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to embrace a start-up culture similar to the Israeli one.

The opportunities to establish new partnerships in those fields of common interest, as well in a host of other areas, are extraordinary.

The number of Greek technologists and scientists who have the ability to collaborate with their Israeli counterparts is growing by the day and should be a strong catalyst to develop new business partnerships.

Like Israelis, Greeks think highly of education and tend to focus on engineering, sciences and information technology. And like Israelis, young Greeks are fluent in languages, English being the predominant one.

The geographical proximity of the two countries, as well as cultural and historical similarities, is also a compelling advantage. Greece’s very attractive labor costs for high-level scientists and engineers are an added plus in the equation.

Close cooperation between the two countries undoubtedly benefits geopolitical strategies.

In addition, Greece, as a member of the European Union and the euro zone, offers wide-ranging opportunities for Israel to access European markets. One of the most important of these areas is energy, where Greece, Israel and Cyprus have the potential to closely cooperate in developing and transporting newly discovered underwater oil and gas fields of the Mediterranean. These important energy resources may serve as one of the most meaningful anchors of the Greece-Israel relationship.

Investment: a key factor

At Invest in Greece – the country’s official IPA (investment promotion agency) under the auspices of the Ministry of Development and Infrastructure – we are keenly aware that foreign direct investment (FDI) is one of the crucial components to help us emerge from the current crisis. Greece, despite its difficulties, remains a highly attractive destination for FDI, and opportunities in a number of areas should be of interest to the investor.

As one of the world’s most iconic tourism destinations, Greece continues to develop and enhance its tourism infrastructure, and investors will find outstanding opportunities in ports and marina upgrades, integrated resorts and residential communities.

Capitalizing on the knowledge economy and intellectual prowess, Greeks and Israelis can approach together marketable solutions in a wide variety of areas: security, e-commerce, biotechnology, Internet applications, health care, energy technologies, waste treatment, telecommunications, transport technologies and environmental management.

The research and development capabilities, public and private, in both countries are a strong advantage. Moreover, cultural and educational topics, from archaeology to multimedia, offer opportunities to reap new benefits and reach new markets.

During this time of local, regional and global challenges, new strategic partnerships that harness competitive advantages, enhance complementary advantages and provide opportunities for growth should remain key priorities. Greece and Israel now have the opportunity to co-leverage their small size into solutions with a big impact.

Invest is Greece is committed to providing Israeli investors and businesspeople with all the information, support and guidance necessary.

Our investment framework, including a fast-track law to facilitate large investment projects, is streamlined and customer-oriented and offers attractive incentives.

Aristomenis (Aris) M. Syngros is the executive chairman of Invest in Greece Agency.

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