What will it take to revive the Greek economy? The government can cut spending and catch tax cheats, but it will also need to jump start the economy. The World's Gerry Hadden brings us the story.
MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. For years, Greece spent more than it had. This month the inevitable happened. Greece's bills were about to come due and the country didn't have enough money to pay them off. At the last minute the European Union and the International Monetary Fund came to the rescue with loans. The hope in the west is that the loans will prevent the debt crisis from spreading. The hope in Greece is that they'll buy time for the country to encourage entrepreneurship and boost growth. The World's Gerry Hadden examines some of the possibilities.
GERRY HADDEN: At the port of Athens, Vassilis Korkidis runs his small storefront business providing container and cruise ships with electrical supplies. He's one of about 150,000 people supplying the shipping industry. He says despite the crisis, activity at Greek ports went up by six percent last year. But he says it wasn't any European rescue package that boosted business, but the Chinese. A giant Chinese shipping company called Cosco recently made Greece into a shipping hub.
VASSILIS KORKIDIS: Cosco is a very big player in the handling of container boxes and they have made Greece a transaction point for Europe. So more vessels are coming in - - . More boxes they are handling here, so that means more jobs.
HADDEN: Greece's overall economy is in bad shape by comparison. The government would have defaulted in less than a week on billions of dollar in debt had the European Union and the International Monetary Fund not stepped in. Now that the Greek government has some breathing room, it wants to help grow some sectors like shipping even more. And it will need to, to pay back what it owes to foreign banks. One way to boost Greek shipping is to boost Greek exports, Korkidis says. And here, exports means agriculture. Conveyor belts whir at an olive oil packaging plant in Greece's mountainous Laconia region, three hours south of Athens. This extra virgin oil is called Dorian, and it's exported in extra fancy bottles to countries all over the world. But Dorian is an exception. Most Greek olive oil is exported in bulk to Italy where Italian companies mix it with their own oil, bottle it, and label it as Italian. Dorian plant chemist Melenaos Mihekalos, says it's time for the Greeks to establish their own brands.
MELENAOS MIHEKALOS: It's the only way we can get the benefits form the added value, packaged I mean, not in bulk. We need to find markets. We have the best product in the world. One of the best anyway.
HADDEN: Olive oil producers say they get little government support for their marketing efforts, so the going has been slow. They're hoping the crisis will get the state interested in promoting them. But despite heaps of promotion, Greece's biggest industry, tourism, is sluggish. Giorgio Tsakiris is President of Greece's largest hotel group, the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels. He says reservations are off by four percent. Room prices are down by ten percent.
GIORGIO TSAKIRIS: We can absorb as long as it doesn't last forever.
HADDEN: Greek tourism may be able to absorb a small downturn, but the Greek state needs it to flourish. And it's trying to help. The government is opening up Greek ports to non-Greek cruise ships for the first time in 30 years. Greek economist, Yannis Stournaras says the move will bring in more than a billion dollars in new revenue each year. Stournaras says Greece must open some 70 sectors of competition under the EU/IMF bailout agreement. Another sector is trucking. Stournaras says Greece hasn't increased the number of trucks allowed on its roads since 1990.
YANNIS STOURNARAS: But since then, the GDP has doubled. So imagine how much transport costs have increased. It is the most expensive country as far as logistics is concerned. Because we have the same number of lorries to transport twice as much the quantity of products.
HADDEN: But Greek unions, along with hundreds of thousands of Greek citizens are protesting against any liberalization plans, as well as the government's dramatic cuts in public sector wages and new tax hikes. Athens restaurant owner Constance Costinagos says the new austerity measures will put too much pressure on the people and backfire.
CONSTANCE COSTINAGOS: I think it's not very good idea because they try to collect money form me, but if I have no business, how they going to collect?
HADDEN: For The World, I'm Gerry Hadden in Athens.