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Greek shipowners warn government not to change treatment of shipping

Greek shipowners warn government not to change treatment of shipping
In its clearest warning yet to the newly elected radical coalition government, the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) has revealed the temptations being put to Greek shipowners to re-locate from the Greek cluster.

“It’s no coincidence that, especially in recent years, we have become a daily target for tempting proposals from third countries, both in the European Union and outside, to relocate there so that their economies could benefit from a strong maritime community,” UGS president Theodore Veniamis said at the annual UGS assembly last week.

The country’s newly elected Syriza-led government was warned to refrain from altering the constitutionally guaranteed institutional framework for the operation of Greek shipping, so it can remain competitive in the face of international competition.

Greek owners want to stay in their homeland but will only do so if existing laws governing them are respected, said Veniamis, reiterating shipping "must be outside political controversy with its institutional framework fully respected, if it is to maintain the same admirable performance, which has given Greece the utmost privilege of occupying the top position in international shipping".

Veniamis, who was subsequently elected to an unprecedented third three-year term as UGS president, said, "the enduring economic contribution of our sector to the Greek economy is historically proven. The benefits to our country from shipping are described in three words: inflow of foreign exchange, jobs and prestige in the international political and economic arena".

Though the leftwing government is yet to really show its hand regarding its treatment of shipping, Veniamis was speaking as the country’s debt drama remains under a global microscope and new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsiporas, and Finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, were engaged in a series of whistle-stop visits of key European capitals seeking a new debt deal for the country.

Veniamis noted "the new year finds Greek shipping holding a steady lead in the international ranking, representing 16% of world capacity and a high share in important categories of ships like tankers, with 23%, and bulkers, with 18.5%, of world capacity".

Syriza has said it might seek to revise the current tax regime under which ship management firms are taxed on vessel tonnage rather than their profits. Shipping firms agreed with the previous government last year to double that tax for a limited period until 2016, providing a total Euro 420m ($480m) in revenues to assist the cash-strapped government.

Veniamis said Greek-owned shipping was always ready to help the government, though it was “never part of the problem”. “Our initiative to propose to the then Prime Minister to sign a memorandum of voluntary contribution stems from our wish to contribute to state revenues – but in full respect of the constitution and our institutional framework.”

All major shipping nations enjoy similar tax regimes helping them cope with “tough international competition,” said Veniamis, noting Greek-owned shipping provides directly and indirectly a total 190,000 jobs.

He said: "Shipping is an international activity subject to fierce competition. Prerequisite for creating new jobs in the Greek-owned ships is the prevalence of wage conditions in accordance with international standards and the provisions. Shipping can give vent to thousands of young people to work with a positive outlook. I hope soon there will be necessary regulations to ensure the conditions for the employment of Greek seafarers on Greek-owned ships."

Despite the absorption of the shipping ministry into a ‘mega-ministry’ of the economy, remarks made by the Finance and by the Shipping ministers point to each recognising the importance of the industry as a pillar of the economy, with Veniamis saying assurances by the government that the day-to-day autonomy of the shipping ministry would be preserved showed the government had “a genuine interest” in the industry.