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Greek government meets shipowners over cash cow concerns

Greek government meets shipowners over cash cow concerns
In a bid to defuse mounting concern within Greek shipping that the industry is being seen by the country’s creditors as a possible cash-cow, the government team responsible for shipping has met with the top executive members of the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS).

UGS president and vice president, Theodore Veniamis and Michael Chandris, met with Economy Minister George Stathakis and alternate Shipping minister Thodoris Dritsas, in the wake of new government promises to the country's creditors it will overhaul the shipping tax regime. The eurozone especially believes there are too many loop holes in tax legislation covering shipping.

The meeting took place 30 July and after it the Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping and Tourism ministry said in a statement: “In a cooperative spirit of dialogue, issues regarding European shipping policy and tax issues in the framework of the new agreement with the creditors were discussed.”

The statement added the priority is the preservation and reinforcement of the Greek-flagged fleet in order to maintain the Greek shipping among the top spots of the industry.

The shipowners had no immediate comment on the meeting, which took place as the lead negotiators from the EU and International Monetary Fund gathered in Athens to began an intensive round of talks with Greece, 31 July, to hammer out details of a third international bailout worth some EUR85bn ($93bn).

The envoys kicked-off with a meeting with Finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos, accompanied by Economy Minister Stathakis. This followed talks earlier in the week in Athens between lower-level officials on reforming the tax system and labour market regulations. The bailout talks must be concluded before August 20, when a debt repayment to the European Central Bank worth more than Euro 3bn is due.

The UGS leadership met with Stathakis and Dritsas, in the wake of a question in parliament by two opposition MPs directed to Dritsas, on whether the government is prepared to confront a possible exit of shipping companies to other countries if taxes imposed on Greek shipping make operating out of Greece uncompetitive.

The market has been rife with speculation about Greek owners setting their sights abroad. Indeed, there has been talk of a rush by shipowners to register companies in Cyprus particularly, but also in Singapore and London.

A rush is perhaps an exaggeration, but a number of shipowners, including leading names, have taken tentative steps towards shifting activities to Cyprus according the island republic’s authorities.

However, there is a general confidence among Greek shipping companies the country’s constitutionally protected shipping tax regime will not be significantly altered.