PIRAEUS, GREECE (Reuters):
China’s premier said on Friday (20 June) Greece’s main port can become the gateway for China to Europe during the second of a three day visit to the Mediterranean country.
As China’s Cosco Group have expressed interest in a majority stake in Piraeus port (OLP), the country’s largest commercial port, Li Keqiang and Greece Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visited the port and together pushed buttons to set off a cargo train carrying goods in Cosco containers to central and eastern Europe from the Cosco terminal.
“We must explore the best ways for strong cooperation in the future between our two countries. The port of Piraeus can become China’s gateway to Europe. It is the pearl of the Mediterranean. China and Europe are large trading partners. Now 80% of Chinese imports and exports to and from Europe are transported through sea lanes. And now this route through Piraeus via the Suez canal has reduced this journey between seven and 11 days, and it will significantly reduce the cost of transport for businesses,” Li said after the visit.
Cosco’s subsidiary, COSCO Pacific, the world’s fifth largest container terminal operator, sealed a deal with Greece five years ago to run and upgrade two of Piraeus port’s piers for 35 years, aiming to turn OLP into a regional hub. Last year it agreed to invest an extra 230 million euros to boost the port’s handling capacity over seven years and in return, it would stop paying fees to OLP. Piraeus is one of the busiest passenger ports in Europe, according to OLP data, and one of the top cargo ports in the Mediterranean.
“The possibilities for more development are huge. The increase in investment will bring an increase in production, an increase in income, and the most important of all, an increase in employment. It will also strengthen Greece’s role in the region and in Europe,” said Samaras of the port.
Li is on a three day visit to Greece and the two leaders agreed on Thursday to trade and investment deals of more than four billion US dollars, in sectors including construction, energy, shipping, and Greek products.
China has expressed strong support for Greece in the wake of its financial crisis and Athens is looking for more investment from the Asian country. China, in turn, sees Greece’s strategic location as a portal into both Europe and Africa for Chinese products.
Earlier in the day, Li and Samaras visited the Parthenon and the ancient Herod Atticus theatre on the Acropolis, where local Chinese residents greeted them with cheers. Li has expressed his enthusiasm for ancient Greek history.