A business delegation has come to Ethiopia from Greece. The country, which is on a comeback from rough times in the early part of the decade is opening up its Golden Visa program to Ethiopians, trying to make a more attractive environment for investors and to promote trade of its agricultural products like olives. Capital’s Haimanot Ashenafi talked to George Zissimatos Chairman of Enterprise Greece.
Capital: What should we expect from this visit?
George Zissimatos: We are here as part of an official visit to Ethiopia and we are holding Business to Business (B2B) meetings in our embassy. A team of investors also came to be part of the delegation. We want the best output from this meeting as these are the opportunities for a healthy business. This is the beginning and we want to create follow-ups so that people will come and feel that Ethiopia is a friendly place and we want the same to be true so that Ethiopians will come to Greece.
Capital: Tell us the annual trade balance between the two countries?
Zissimatos: I don’t have the documents but I think it’s around USD 4 million annually. This is not a lot. We can do better. It’s the main reason we are here. The food industry accounts for the majority of the products and we import agricultural inputs from Ethiopia.
Capital: Which business and investment areas are you potentially considering?
Zissimatos: We want to invest in the energy sector in Ethiopia. Construction projects are our specialties and well known. We have extremely high standards with competitive prices. We use European standards for our construction work including our aluminum profiles which are environmentally friendly and cutting edge. Our aluminum technology, known to protect from outside environmental factors including mosquitoes is our offer to this market as it is compatible with Ethiopian weather. The Greek environment is similar to Ethiopia. With all this expertise we hope we can engage with Ethiopia. But our leading industry is food. Investors for baby food, diabetic food manufacturers, instant baking for sweets and many other industries are here. Also one of our olive oil manufactures is here with us. I have been traveling to Africa for a long time and I can see that olives are a good investment. In Africa, the growing of olives is increasing but the people still buy low quality olives at a high price.
Capital: Tell us about the diplomatic relationship between these two countries?
Zissimatos: It’s an ancient relationship as we are a religiously connected people. Our country is the birth of democracy and civilization. The two countries have a large number of Orthodox Christians. Our country is one of the places people think of when they think of ancient times, including Egypt, the Middle East and Ethiopia. Our people are friendly and so are Ethiopians. Our diplomatic relationship is among the longest and the fact that Ethiopia was not colonized is unique. This makes you think clearly and free people can go further more quickly, so Ethiopia can do that.
We offer for the world a golden visa which we launched in 2013 and improved 2015. The visa is provided for Ethiopians to live, and study in Greece and in Europe. The visa package allows siblings to come and stay. The visa program has attracted about 8,000 people from all around the world. The visa is the cheapest and has now been introduced for Ethiopia. This also gives people the opportunity to visit Europe.
Capital: How about tourism and the cultural relationships between the two countries?
Zissimatos: Our country received 33 million tourists last year which is a nation of 10 million, and we are working to grow that. From Africa, we don’t have a lot of tourists because we have very limited flights here. I hope in the future we will have flights to Athens. I know Ethiopian Airlines is a good airline and I hope they will consider Athens among their frequent destinations. I think this will help both ways. Ethiopia is rich in its potential and Greeks should come. We have a very friendly community who loves good hospitality and who will provide that. We have religious visitors coming to Ethiopia to see the historical churches like Lalibela. Christianity has left us with many monasteries to visit. But Ethiopia has so many things to show and by working together we can promote your attractions. Although, I have no time to visit the attractions I am hoping to visit them in the near future.
Capital: Your country was in a major economic crisis, how is it healing now?
Zissimatos: The crisis taught us a good lesson, not only for us but for any country that wants to grow. Having a government that makes good financial policies, fights corruption, fights bad financial management is important because the opposite produced extremely bad circumstances for our people. Poverty came back to a European Union country that uses the Euro. It took 30 percent of our GDP and unemployment rose from 13 percent to 27 percent. More than 500,000 SME’s went bankrupt. You can imagine what happened. This was from 2010 to 2013, but now things are changing, unemployment went to 21 percent and we are expecting it to go down to 19 percent. This government has achieved a lot in the recovery. Of course, we have to thank European Union countries which helped and supported us through the recovery. It was actually a catastrophe. Now our economy is growing and that has pushed an export boom. The crisis pushed our investors to look at markets outside the counties, which created an extended the global market, after the recovery.