By A. Tsimplakis
The Cosco-managed and owned Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) has emerged as a "must stop" for any Chinese delegation considering an investment or business move in the Greece. The Chinese multinational's assumption of OLP's management in August 2016 along with the purchase of a majority stake in the previously state-owned and managed port - Greece's largest and busiest - figures as one of the biggest foreign direct investments in the country.
Despite shying away from publicity and media scrutiny over the past year, the Cosco-appointed leadership of the port authority has nevertheless received dozens of business delegations from China.
One of the Chinese investors that passed through the port authority's doors for a face-to-face briefing subsequently purchased roughly 100 apartments in the central Athens district of Exarchia. The neighborhood is often billed as the self-styled "anarchist" or "anti-state" quarter in the Greek capital, but which is within walking distance to Athens' historic and commercial centers, and close to mass transit networks.
Other would-be Chinese investors considering a foray into the Greek market include a major construction company, Air China - which recently inaugurated a direct Athens-Beijing-Athens route - as well as China Development Bank. The latter is reportedly eyeing the opening of a branch in Athens. Delegations from China-based tour operators, energy corporations and even high-flying e-retailer Alibaba have also had meeting with the port authorities' executives.
Shanghai-based Cosco's subsidiaries are also considering possible investments affiliated with the shipping sector, with Cosco Shipyards closely following developments in Greece's troubled shipyards and repairs sector -- as the majority of units are located with a short sailing distance from the port of Piraeus.
As expected, questions begin with Cosco's overall experience in doing business in recession-battered Greece, and then extend into details, such as the tax regime, Greece's often slow-moving bureaucracy and labor issues.
The latter often dominate talks, according to sources that spoke to "N", given that organized labor movements and a relevant framework, for instance, are utterly feeble or non-existent in China.
Another concern, according to reports, is the still imposed regime of capital controls in the country - a left over from disastrous negotiations between the Tsipras government and institutional creditors in the first half of 2015. Chinese delegations often broach the risk of their capital being "trapped" in Greece.
Ahead of the submission and ratification of a master plan by OLP to the relevant shipping ministry, the latter is already pushing through with new or maturing investments worth 63 million euros. A floating dry dock able to service vessels of up to 80K tons has already been ordered from China.
The massive structure will be installed in the ship repair district of Perama, to the west of the port of Piraeus.