Greece rolled out the red carpet for the 19 - 21 June visit of China’s Premier Li Keqiang in anticipation of him adding more substance to Greece's financial recovery.
Just over a year after Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visited China to seek investment, Li arrived, for the first visit to Greece by a senior Chinese official in four years and by the time Li and his party flew out, some 19 bilateral deals worth an estimated EUR6.5bn were in place, with the door open for more Chinese investment in the months to come, as the Greece’s troika of creditors push Athens to press the privatisation button.
Shipping and port projects were at the top of the beneficiaries. Chinese banks signed more than $2.6bn worth of fresh ship finance agreements with some of Greece’s leading shipping companies, of course involving ships built in China.
Container ship operator Costamare signed a $1.5bn strategic cooperation memorandum with the China Development Bank (CDB) opening a credit line for NYSE-listed Costamare to place an order at Chinese shipyards, while several other companies also sealed financing
Libra Group, is said to have secured a $460m agreement with ICBC Financial Leasing Co, which includes $160m for the sale-and-leaseback of two dry bulk carriers and four container ships as well as a $300m ‘friendship and cooperation agreement’. Nasdaq-listed Diana Shipping, signed an MoU with ICBC for $200m. Thenamaris Shipsmanagement put a $300m financing framework agreement in place with the Exim Bank, while Petros Pappas' Oceanbulk signed for just over $57m in export credit with the same bank for two capesize bulkers. A $215m agreement covering eight 64,000dwt bulk carriers was prepared between the China National Aero-Technology Corp and Veritas.
Premier Li had launched his visit by pledging to be “a long-term, responsible investor” in Greece. The country’s return to international bond markets in April showed “the Greek people have the wisdom and ability to emerge from the crisis,” Li told a joint press conference with PM Samaras. When the Greek government next issues bonds, he said, “China will continue to be a long-term, responsible investor.” Li said a continued cooperation between Greece and China was “mutually beneficial”, while Samaras described it as “strategic”.
In all, three agreements were co-signed by Shipping Minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis who met in separately with a delegation of the State Oceanic Administration of People's Republic of China and its chief, Governor Liu Cigui, and later with a delegation of the CDB and its president, Zheng Zhijie.
Focus of the discussions was the MoU on maritime cooperation with the State Oceanic Administration of China, and the strengthening of cooperation with the CDB.
Samaras and Li visited Piraeus port, 20 June, where Li said he sees the port becoming "China’s entry gate into Europe”. He added: “The port of Piraeus is like the pearl in the Mediterranean.”
China has already made a major investment in the port through Cosco Pacific's 35-year concession to operate two principal container terminals. The investment is one of the largest foreign investments in Greece and one which Athens hopes will transform the country into a regional transportation hub. Cosco is also the frontrunner in the privatisation of the Piraeus Port Authority, which is to sell its controlling 65% stake in the port.
Li and Samaras, were in Piraeus to inaugurated a rail link that will transport goods from the Cosco terminal to central Europe. Li said Piraeus is “one of the most competitive ports in the world.”
China is Europe's biggest trading partner and 80% of China’s import and export trade with Europe is done by sea, with Li saying the use of Piraeus has reduced the average trip via the Suez Canal by between seven and 11 days, adding the Cosco project has created thousands of jobs for Greeks.
Addressing a Maritime Cooperation summit, a feature of the Chinese premier's visit, Li said China would use Greek shiprepair facilities and related activities. "We are willing to develop Piraeus into the highlight of our co-operation," he said.