My big fat Greek export

I’ve seen plenty of evidence of Hellenic goodwill lately, and for good reason – for future export trade, it’s all Greek to me.

Towards the end of the Sydney Olympics, a rumour went around town. And this rumour had real legs. You heard it in milk bars, on the train, at the ferry and in the pubs.


The rumour was that Sydney was again going to host the games in 2004, because Athens wasn’t going to be ready on time.


Winston Churchill used to say that a rumour could get half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on, and this one certainly flew quickly. However, a rumour it was and when the pants were finally found, we heard it that the flame was indeed going to Athens and that the Sydney stories were merely stories.


However, even if they are not true, rumours do have consequences. Naturally, the Athens organisers were very offended by the rumours that they were not going to get the Games because of tardiness and incompetence and that the Australians would have to save the day.


These stories caused problems for Austrade offices in Europe – particularly in Athens – because it implied that only the Aussies could get the job done. Many Australian businesses were threatened with retaliation and expected not to win contracts in the lead-up to the Athens games and in Greece and Southern Europe more generally.


The rumours were particularly offensive to the state of Greece. After all, the Greeks invented the Olympic Games, along with democracy and many other institutions of modern civilisation. Even good old economics comes from the Greek word oikonomiki.


But all’s well that ends well. In the end the Athens Olympics in 2004 were magnificent just like Sydney in 2000, and many Australian companies that won contracts in Sydney also did well in Athens and are playing a big role when China has its turn in Beijing in 2008.


According to Ioanna Gouvatsu of Austrade Athens, Australian exporters indeed did well at Athens in 2004 just as our athletes did in the pool and on the track. “Around 35 Australian companies have won Athens 2004 contracts worth up to $200 million. The majority of Olympic contracts have been in specialist or niche services, training, waste management, merchandising and design,” she explained.


In manufacturing, Steriline Racing supplied and installed the starting gates for the racecourse at Markopoulos, the Athens equestrian venue. In engineering services, Sinclair Knight Merz, a big winner from Sydney 2000, were involved in the design and engineering of the roofs for the main Athens Olympic stadium and velodrome, plus the pedestrian and transport interchange in the OAKA precinct.


And the Sydney-based TAFE GLOBAL secured a multi-million dollar contract to help train around 80,000 Olympic staff and volunteers to perform nearly 1000 different jobs ranging from ticket-selling to venue management.

After the success of Sydney 2000 and the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, Australia again ran business networking events at the Games under the Business Club Australia (BCA) program and is doing the same thing at the Rugby World Cup in France this year, the Spring Racing Carnival and the Beijing Olympics in 2008.


Of course, the importance of Australian-Greek ties was on display last week with the visit of Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis to Australia. Of course, a highlight is the visit to the world’s “other” Greek city Melbourne and numerous Greek community functions around the country.


Are there trade spin offs from all this good Hellenic will? We know how important the Greek community has been to Australia’s development and in particular the Greek contribution to our social development, but there are commercial benefits too.


Many of our small businesses and entrepreneurs are of Greek origin and descent and with 50% of all Australian small and medium sized exporting businesses having an overseas-born owner (according to the latest Austrade research), the Greeks have done a fair bit for export development as well.


However, at the macro level, Greece remains a minor trade partner for Australia. Greece’s entry into the European Union and the adoption of the Euro has really helped the Greek economy along with growth rates of between 3% and 5% over the past five years.


Therefore Greece’s main trading partners are close to home in Germany, Italy, Britain and Russia. For our part, Australia exports around $81 million of good and services – mainly seafood, steel, wheat and medical goods and services.


The trade numbers can receive a boost when we sell a fast ferry or two – to the land of Onassis! – and when there’s a special event like the Athens Olympics. According to Austrade Athens, many of our key exporters to Greece are of Greek origin or Greek descent.

But they are pretty diverse, with everything from shipping with Austal Ships and Liferaft Systems (life saving systems for ships), to life style consumer products such as Gloria Jean’s Coffees, Chocolate Graphics, Intraceuticals (cosmetics) and cinema giant Village Roadshow. In total, there are just over 300 Australian exporters selling in Greece – compared with over almost 5500 to Britain, so there’s plenty of room for expansion.


So in conclusion, welcome to Australia Prime Minister Karamanlis, apologies for those Sydney 2004 rumours, and remember when it comes to future Australian trade, it’s all Greek to me!


*Tim Harcourt is the Chief Economist of the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and the author of Beyond Our Shores:

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