While there is no doubt new ship orders make Greeks the Asian giant’s largest foreign customer, this remark reportedly made in Beijing had home-based commentators scratching their heads. In fact it seems the minister said that “at” April Greeks had 142 ships on order in China.
He was probably correctly quoted when he said “the contracts accounted for more than 60% of recent orders by Greek shipowners and highlighted the close bond Greece and China share in shipping”. He also described the ordering “as an investment by Greek ship owners in the future”.
Another Greek who spent part of the time with the party, John Platsidakis, pointed out to this writer, “since 2000 Greek owners have spent just on $28bn building ships in China”. Platsidakis, chairman of Intercargo, and md of the dry bulk arm of the Angelicoussis group, was among those to put pen to paper during the trip, securing a $146.4m term loan facility from China’s Cexim for three 319,000dwt VLCCs for the group at Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding (SWS), with deliveries set for this year and next. Angelicoussis, Greece’s largest ship owner, has spent $1.6bn in Chinese yards on 27 ships, 20 of them already in the water.
Besides Mousouroulis and Platsidakis, shipping people to meet Chinese government and banking officials, were Diana Shipping's ceo Simeon Palios, Dynagas' George Procopiou, Golden Union's Theodore Veniamis (also Union of Greek Shipowners president) and Paragon Shipping's Michael Bodourouglou. George Xiradakis, China Development Bank (CDB) financial advisor was also on the fringes.
Agreements were signed with CDB and Cexim involving the funding of orders, worth $245.4m. Bodourouglou signed with CBC for a loan of $69m as well as a cooperation agreement with China Classification Society. Palios signed for $30m with Cexim, and Veniamis penned a three ship panamax deal. Cexim and Prokopiou signed a strategic co-operation agreement for the owner's LNG carrier division, Dynagas.
China's vice-minister of Commerce, Jiang Yaoping, said his country is to increase its investment in Greece's port industry, and deepen its economic ties. Jiang told the China-Greece business forum China will expand its investment in the port of Piraeus. After operating container terminal II and III in Piraeus for the first three years of a 35-year concession, Chinese shipping giant Cosco is believed to be ready to invest Euro1bn ($1.29bn) for a 60% stake in Piraeus. Fu Chengqiu, managing director of Piraeus Container Terminal SACOSCO Group, said on 17 May he considers Piraeus a vital gateway for shipping heading to Europe.
Samaras said: "Greek infrastructure is open to investment and we welcome Chinese enterprises to take part in the operation of some projects." Greece plans to privatise a variety of government-owned assets, including airports, government buildings, petroleum companies, natural gas fields, and several mining, postal and real estate projects, to raise some Euro50bn.
Samaras told the forum, Greece is “steadily developing into a success story,” saying the country can easily become “a major gateway of China to the European hinterland.”
Hours after returning from China, the PM told some 1,000 shipping people, attending the joint celebration of the Hellenic Merchant Maritime Day and the European Day of Sea: "We must place Greece in the global map using shipping and tourism as our guides, but there must be foreign investment interest for other parts of the economy as well."
It’s hoped this gateway is in place more quickly than the last time such a promise was made. On 19 January 2006, then Greek Prime minister Costas Karamanlis in Beijing signed a strategic agreement with then Chinese PM, Wen Jiabao, as the latter looked to strengthen ties with a EU member and Greece eyed one of the world's biggest economies, with shipping and related activities among the businesses thought most likely to benefit. But it took until March 2010 for the lucrative and successful Cosco $5bn Piraeus port concession to be fully implemented.