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G. Pyatt: Investors are interested in Greece - it is up to the government to deliver


"The single most significant way to convince people that this government is really committed to breaking through some of the bureaucratic obstacles would be to unblock Elliniko. If this government can break through that, it gives a lot of potentia", according to US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. In his final interview for 2017 with published on Monday, Pyatt highlights the sectors which are more attractive to the American investors and he talks about Erdogans visit to Athens.

Read a full transcript of the interview with Marisi Baliousi:

- Last week you attended the Capital Link Forum in New York. What is the feeling that you got?


It was a very successful event. Everybody who was there commented on the dramatically changed atmospherics, the positive narrative, the strength of the government’s messaging -Tsakalotos, Papadimitriou, Kountoura, the prime minister’s video message - but probably even more important was the receptivity of the audiences. You may remember I was in New York in June at another forum. It was very striking to me, that at another point I was pitching good opportunities in Greece. We’ve clearly moved to a whole new level.


-You see a difference between June and now?


Absolutely 100% and I think in part it is because Greece has passed a number of important benchmarks: completion of the staff level agreement, the return to the markets, the restructuring of the bond packages that happened a couple of weeks ago.


Also I think that the Prime Minister’s trip to Washington, the strong messages from President Trump which got a lot of echo at Capital Link, have helped significantly. So I think that the US government has made a contribution as well.


The investors are taking another look, they are definitely interested they see a value proposition. It is up to the government now to deliver. I don’t want to give the impression that this is easy sailing. There is still hard work that needs to be done and there is a particular interest, that I heard at Capital Link, in seeing rapid progress at some of the key benchmarks and the key opportunities that are out there. So, lots of people were asking about Elliniko, when this project is going to move. Also, since my remarks were focused on the energy sector, there were a lot of questions on the privatization of DESFA.


One of the front presenters made this point quite explicitly, stressing that now this is the government’s chance.


- In this context, what do you think that the government should do?


The most important task is to continue on the reform track. It is widely recognized that this government has achieved significant results, for instance, on fiscal adjustment - and is sticking to the messages on that. In privatizations it has to demonstrate that the system can move forward.


I was pleased to hear several of the investor presentations echoing a point that I have made occasionally, which is that they need taxes and tax rates, they can plan around. What they need is predictability. Just give us a predictable environment in which there are not going to be random administrative hurdles that are placed to doing business.


But there is clearly a sense that there is a Greek value proposition out there, a recognition that the economy has begun to come back, that it should come back very strongly, in part because it has hit with recession, so there is a lot of head room right now, within the context of the wider recovery in the Eurozone. 


- You mentioned reforms. Declan Costello at the Capital Link Forum stressed that reforms are not going to finish with the end of the program.


Absolutely. The transformation of the Greek economy is something that is necessitated by the changes in the global economy. I have talked a lot about the entrepreneurship sector, the untold success story of Greek start-ups. And one of the things that I find encouraging when I meet with start-ups -and I have done it a lot in different parts of the country- they all understand there is no going back to the 1990’s model of the Greek economy. That is big state expenditure, big state projects. The driver of the economy has to be knowledge based, based on creativity, based on geography, the strategic advantages that Greece’s geography provides. Part of the task and part of what markets will be watching is:  does the government, as it comes out of the program in 2018, stick to the message that Greece is reforming, not to satisfy Declan Costello, not to satisfy the troika, but to build the kind of competitive open economy that Greek entrepreneurs deserve.


- Tsipras on his message said that Greece is the “land of opportunity”. Do you believe so?


Absolutely. A big part and one of the things that I try to use the platform that my office provides is to help remind people in the US that there are opportunities here. It is part of what President Trump was doing in the Rose Garden.  New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston they are a long way from Athens. So, they don’t’ see what those of us who are living on the ground see.  And If you don’t live here you don’t have this sense that people are starting to feel like maybe they are getting on their feet. Not that this is easy. Because there is going to be a lot of work to be done still. But at least there is a way forward.


- So, we are not through yet


Reform modernization of economies is a constant requirement for everybody, including the United States, in this hyper connected competitive world that we all live in. You will always need to be looking at who is coming next.


- You are always optimistic and you look at things on the bright side...


If you are a diplomat you have to be. One of the diplomats that I admire greatly, Richard Armitage, used to say that positive attitude is a force multiplier. And I really believe it. But more than that, I don’t get paid to knock things down, I get paid to build up the US – Greece relationships.


- Are you more optimistic after the forum, as far as the American investments in Greece are concerned?

Yes, because of what I heard. Also, because of the very effective messaging of the government, the Prime Minister’s message was well received, Minister Papadimitriou’s message was well received, Minister Tsakalos’ message was well received. There was a consistency from the government in terms of welcoming investments. Now as I said, the challenge is to deliver. And that is what everybody is going to turn to, as we get into 2018.


- Do you have any feedback on the Calamos Investment as far as Ethniki Insurance is concerned?


I spoke with John Koudounis of Calamos in New York and his clear message was that they are moving full speed ahead. Also, if you listen to John Koudounis’ presentation not only was he saying that we are going to make this a success, but he was also saying that we are looking at other opportunities. We believe that the smart money right now should recognize the other sectors where there are opportunities in Greece.


- The agreement with Minister Papadimitriou in November to set up a Greek-American investment committee was your initiative. In the context of this committee Mr. Papadimitriou met with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington a couple of days ago. Do you know what they focused on? Where there any decisions taken?


There is an agreement between the Greek Minister and US Commerce Secretary to oversee this group that will work to clearway obstacles and to advance out trade investment relationship.  But most importantly my commercial team every two weeks is meeting with staff of the Ministry of the Economy and we are identifying specific bottlenecks, working to clear those away and identifying new opportunities. We are taking this very seriously.

As you saw from the comments to the press, there was a clear message from Secretary Ross that he is committed to our Greece agenda, very focused on Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) and the opportunity that TIF will provide to highlight both, the positive attributes of American investments, but also the opportunities that Greece offers right now.

So we’re taking this very seriously and I think the fact that Minister Papadimitriou returned to Washington so quickly (he was there just a few weeks ago) tells you how committed both sides are.

Also, Minister Pappas is going to be back in the United States early in 2018, again in connection with TIF, and with what his ministry works on in terms of digital and new economy. 

So, we’re working as hard as we can to sustain momentum from the Prime Minister’s trip in October. And of course we have got this big event in the 8th of  September with the TIF to keep us all focused between now and then.


- So, the TIF is going to tighten the bilateral relations?


The TIF is a very big deal and it is very much on secretary Ross’s radio scope.  It was part of the all my conversations in New York.  I met for instance with the CEO of Pfizer which is very active in the pharma sector in Greece and they focus on the opportunity that TIF provides. We are working with all of our partners all of our multipliers to attract a significant US presence at TIF.  We are working with partners from the American Hellenic chamber. The chamber hosted a conference last week, where both its president Simos Anastasopoulos  and I presented TIF and its opportunities. One of my principles, and it was governor Tzitzikostas who emphasized this to me initially, is not to let it be just one week. To make TIF the anchor for broader US engagement in Northern Greece. And that is exactly what we are trying to do.


- You have a broader interest in Northern Greece

We have a long standing interest.  We have got these fantastic platforms, the Anatolia College. We’ve been engaged and investing in northern Greece for many decades.


- You often stress the important role of Greece and especially of TAP, in diversifying the sources of energy supply in Europe. Could this new role of Greece bring more American investments in the energy sector?


It certainly could. In Alexandroupoli in particular we’ve got at least one American energy company which is looking at the FSRU and I know from talking to Mr. Kopelouzos that he is very eager to have an American partner for that project.


Secretary of State, Rex Tillersonin, in his remarks during a very important speech on Europe policy, he emphasized the energy security agenda and he specifically identified the IGB interconnector as one of our priorities.


Our new Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, A. Wess Mitchell, also put a particular spot light on energy security, Alexandroupoli, FSRU, diversity of supply.  Greece is the key partner in terms of building energy security and alternative supply across south Eastern Europe because of its geography and Alexandroupoli is the point of entry for that.


So, we have an American company which is interested in the FSRU,  we have an American company which is interested in the privatization of the Alexandroupoli port. The message that I get from TAIPED, from the finance ministry, from the economy ministry, is that the project is going to move ahead in early 2018 and from my own visit to Alexandroupoli earlier this autumn it was very clear to me that everybody is welcoming US engagement there.


So this is a very important and dynamic time in terms of the energy picture. Then there is Bulgaria with the EU Presidency and the EU-Western Balkans Summit in spring. This is a further opportunity tosubmit this vision of Greece as the key point of entry for these countries of the western Balkans to continue their move towards Trans Atlantic institutions. And  also to deepen their ties with Greece, with the EU and the NATO.


- When do you believe the american gas will come to the Greek market?


Well, I think you have to ask DEPA. But what I can tell you is that Prime Minister specifically announced that Greece intended to become the third EU country importing US  LNG.  I was with Minister Stathakis recently and he made very clear that their instructions are that we are going to move ahead with the US gas. There are at least three US energy companies that I have been approached by and that are interested in working out this opportunity. I’m confident it will happen.


- Besides the energy sector, which other sectors do you believe would be more attractive to the American investors?


A huge one of course is tourism. There are a lot of opportunities given all the growth, as well as the tourism related services. For instance, we anticipated a significant new investment in Greece from AVIS.


Obviously things are happening in the hotel sector.  I had a good conversation with Marriot when I was in New York, which is expanding its footprint here. Wyndham hotels also are expanding their presence in Greece. So the tourism sector has great potential.


And then everything attached to the privatizations. For instance, the property sector. As I said everybody is watching the Elliniko project.


You asked me what the government can do. The single most significant way to convince people that this government is really committed to breaking through some of the bureaucratic obstacles would be to unblock Elliniko because it has been stuck there almost 2 decades.  So if this government can break through that, it gives a lot of potential.


- You give a lot of emphasis on transparency. I have heard you saying that American companies bring transparency and anticorruption. Whilst recently you suggested a possible lack of transparency in choosing the consortium that won the tender for the Thessaloniki port. What did you mean by that?


Let me say this, I said what I wanted to say on the Thessaloniki transaction in my remarks at the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce.  And Im going to leave it there.


What American companies bring is a very high level of regulatory transparency, the requirements that apply with US laws and regulatory institutions. What you see is what you get. When youre dealing with an American company, you know where their capital comes from, you know who their partners are.

 - Apart from the economic issues, what would you consider to be the biggest challenge that Greece is facing in the context of the present geopolitical fluidity?


The number one priority is always going to be the economy and helping Greece to get out of the crisis in a sustainable way. 2018 its obviously is a bellwether year in that regard, because of the end of the program.


But we also recognize, in terms of the strategic environment, all of the challenges that Greece confronts. So we are working on the challenges that Greece faces in this region whether its the refugee crisis, transnational terrorism, the threat of ISIS, the threat that ISIS represents to Europe, European values, the challenge of Russian revisionism in the Black Sea region. But the good news is they are all issues where American and Greek perspectives converge.  None of those challenges are going to go away  as we head into 2018. So we are going to continue to need to maintain the intense of cooperation.


- From a law and order/anti-terrorism perspective, how would you evaluate the state of US-Greek cooperation?


I am not going to talk about the details of it but I will say that our count terrorism law enforcement Homeland Security Corporation is as intense as it has ever been. We have got a very close corporation both at a senior political level but also on the daily cooperation between the FBI, the Hellenic police, Homeland Security. And all of that because we recognize that Greece lives in a very complicated and challenging neighborhood.


- Does the “revisionist” view adapted by both the government and the opposition of Turkey for the Treaty of Lausanne, the delimitation of borders, the scope of national jurisdictions in the Aegean etc. cause concern to you?


The state department spokesperson was very clear, very quick to  reiterate our view on the sovereignty of Greece. What was important, during the visit of the Turkish president, was the clear signal from Prime Minister Tsipras in terms of Greece’s intent to continue working very hard on the relationship with Turkey. This is another issue where Washington and Athens have a very similar perspective. We both have been very clear that we need to continue to engage with Turkey, that we need to keep Turkey anchored in the Euro-Atlantic and European institutions. I think that there are obvious issues that have to be worked through between the two governments, but the United States was encouraged by the spirit in which Prime Minister Tsipras and his government approached the issues during Erdogan’s visit.


- There has been a lot of criticism on Erdogan’s recent visit in Greece. Some claim that the timing was completely wrong.


The nature of diplomacy is you dont get to choose; it is very hard to say this is exactly the right moment to work on this issue. You have to, as we would say in American English, to play the cards that you are dealt and certainly the United States supports the efforts that the Greek government has made to engage both the people of Turkey but also president Erdogan and to try to work through the issues and we strongly support the idea that these two NATO allies should have the strongest and the most open and honest direct channels of communication possible.

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