July 03, 2016

Greek Parliament approves sale of Piraeus Port to China COSCO Shipping and may see new airports, logistics center and rail

Greek lawmakers on Thursday ratified the sale of a majority stake of Piraeus Port to China COSCO Shipping, a major privatization project of the bailed-out nation under a left wing government.

Under the 368.5 million euro deal signed in April between COSCO and Greece's privatization agency, COSCO is to buy 51 percent of Piraeus for 280.5 million, with a further 16 percent for 88 million after a five year period. It is also contingent on completing investments worth 350 million euros over the next decade.

The sale of Greece's biggest port had been halted by the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras when it won elections in January last year but it was resumed under Greece's 86 billion-euro bailout deal agreed with its euro zone partners in August.

Privatizations are a major element of Greece's bailouts since 2010, but political foot-dragging and a highly unionized workforce in the public sector have been hurdles.

Cosco representatives in Greece objected strongly to terms of a first draft submitted to parliament on Wednesday, saying it clearly violated terms of the accord signed last April.

Greek officials scrambled on Thursday to fill in the gaps, while downplaying the fracas.

Since the Chinese shipping behemoth agreed to take over container operations at two piers in Piraeus in 2008, traffic has surged at Greece's biggest harbor.

Piraeus, Xu says, will become the Mediterranean's largest container transit port, the international logistics distribution center of the eastern Mediterranean, and the southern gate of Central and Eastern Europe, and the Balkans.

Chinese money will be invested to restore ship repair facilities, boost jobs and provide key support to the booming cruise terminal business.

Greece has said the overall value of the agreement is about 1.5 billion euros ($1.71 billion), including investments, dividends and income from an existing concession agreement

Becoming a transit hub for EU-East Asia trade will help put the country back on the path to sustainable development and free it from public debt.

"Cosco, one of the largest container shippers and handlers in the world, will now be even more involved in the Greek transport networks," he says. "Piraeus Port will continue to play a major role as a transit hub between China and Europe - and Greece as a door to Europe."

Piraeus' relatively short distance from the main Mediterranean maritime route allows it to act as both a transshipment hub and gateway, according to a 2012 report by consultants McKinsey and Co, which said the country could transform itself into a regional cargo and logistics center as part of a 10-year plan.

There is serious Chinese interest in a plan to build a major freight and logistics center on the Thriasio plain, an expanse that's been described as the industrial backyard of Athens.

A major new airport planned for Crete would give the Chinese an additional foothold in the Mediterranean. Cosco is also thought to be among the suitors to purchase Greece's train operator, Trainose.

The Athens-based Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research estimated in March that the deal would add 0.8 percentage point to GDP growth by the end of 2025, create more than 31,000 jobs - in a nation with the EU's highest unemployment - and reduce public debt by 2.3 percentage points of GDP. It could draw 867 million euros in investments from other companies in the next 10 years.

SOURCES - Reuters, China Daily

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