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Greek logistics companies are pointing to an upturn in the economy to explain renewed hopes for the country that became the scourge of Europe in 2011.

“In the context of the restart and growth of the Greek economy, we have already experienced considerable business increase on Greek exports in general, but in particular markets such as North America, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia,” said Athanassios Carayannis, CEO of forwarder Phoenix.

“Commodities exported from Greece come mainly from the extractive and agricultural sector: marble, stones, agricultural products, canned goods, olive oil, olives, dry figs, honey, cheese  – on reefer transportation – and wine. Pharmaceutical exports are also increasing,” he added.

The figures are certainly encouraging. In the first quarter of 2014, revenues from shipping rose 5.6%, year-on-year, and from tourism were up 14%. While exports fell slightly by 1.3%, manufacturing output rose by 1.2%, and public investment saw a 91% jump.

Meanwhile, some €7bn is set to be invested into the construction of electricity supply networks and gas pipelines as Greece looks to produce and export its own energy. The logistics industry contributes between 10% and 12% to GDP.

And the multinationals are moving in. In the past two years, Henkel, Boehringer Ingelheim, Linde, Nestlé, GSK, Dufry, Qatar Petroleum and Grimaldi are among those that have invested in Greek companies or in their own factories in Greece. And the logistics industry has seen further investment, following the government’s decision to prioritise its aim of making Greece an international European gateway.

This plan has the lofty ambition of making Piraeus one of Europe’s top five container shipping hubs (its current position is 11th).

It is already the world’s fastest-growing container port (98% growth in 2011), primarily because of the involvement of Chinese terminal operator Cosco.

Cosco’s plan is to turn Piraeus into a Mediterranean transhipment hub and distribution centre for central, eastern and south-eastern Europe, including the Black Sea. It has already attracted some major manufacturers to site distribution centres there, including Hewlett-Packard, Huawei, ZTE and Samsung, with rail expected to handle a significant proportion of traffic. The first freight train to leave the port for Prague did so at the start of last month, a service expected to become daily, carrying some 700,000 tonnes annually.

It is expected that China will continue to invest in Greece ≠ 67% of Piraeus is in the first stages of privatisation, with Cosco in the frame. Chinese president Li Keqiang will visit Athens later this month to discuss exports to China and investment opportunities.

Greece is set to privatise 12 ports and sell a 40% stake in Athens International Airport – with a consortium comprising Friedmann Pacific Asset Management and Shenzhen Airport showing interest.

Meanwhile, the airport reported a rise in cargo volumes of 0.7% in 2013. Athens has long been calling for freighter services to support its exports and help it build volumes as a transhipment hub. Alongisde the four integrators, Royal Jordanian Cargo is the only airline to offer a freighter service there, alongside some ad hoc charter operations.

The airport has also set up the Airport Export Initiative to help promote exports by air.

“We are trying to further educate Greek exporters, especially new start-ups using internet services and sellers of traditional products, about the advantages of air transport for specific type of shipments,” Lina Palli, cargo development supervisor for Athens airport, told The Loadstar.

“We cannot quantify results, but we do receive inquiries about exports more than in the past.”

She added that sea-air links, which have long been an ambition for the airport, have yet to take off.

“The MoUs with both port operators and the associated flow concept are always valid and in place, but due to market conditions, such shipments are currently not preferred. It always depends on the outbound capacity from the Eastern Mediterranean countries (origin) and the exchange rate between the US dollar and euro.”

The European Commission forecasts that Greece will see 0.6% growth in 2014, 2.9% in 2015 and 3.7% in 2016 – with the logistics industry set to be a mojor part of that growth.

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