Special feature: Greece

Interview with H.E. Mr. Evangelos Apostolou, Minister of Agricultural Development and Food, Greece

March, 2018

Last month in his welcoming message at the Thessaloniki International Fair, the Prime Minister mentioned that Greece has turned the page and the nation is “Leaving Grexit and heading to Grinvest”, quoting a French investor who had recently been in Greece with Mr Macron’s during his visit. Minister – How would you assess the current perception that foreign investors have today regarding Greece as in investment destination? Has the perception changed drastically from last year to this year?

H. E. Mr. Evangelos Apostolou: Firstly, I am glad but also I agree that Greece will exit the crisis little by little and this is the conviction within the European countries and the whole world (that Greece will exit the crisis) but we will leave this crisis having lost 25% of our income. The whole government believes that to exit definitively from the crisis we should compile our thoughts with development and this development is tied with the productive reconstruction and especially with the agricultural field. With agricultural development we mean with the ties with the production of quality products that, as you may know, more and more people in Europe and around the world recognize that we have the conditions in Greece to produce quality products. So, our project is first of all to cover the necessity for the Greek population and secondly the needs for the visitors such as tourists that come to Greece. We want to produce bio/organic products to get the adjusted value and be successful in the international markets. You also should know that we have progressed in this field and closed the commercial exchange with the commercial value and we have exported more and more products in these last years.

Greek food products carry the Greek flag far around the world today such as Greek yoghurt, Greek olive oil, Greek wine and feta cheese and these are all part of the brand of Greece. But what is being done internally in Greece to make the agricultural sector more competitive and perhaps to invest in larger scale projects?

H. E. Mr. Evangelos Apostolou: The first problem that we face here is the small land of the owners (the small farmers) – the small farms - which is not the same as in the United Kingdom, France or Germany where they have a lot of land – in Greece they have little land and so they cannot produce products on a mass scale. So, we have tried to exploit the advantage that we have with some products where we could have a larger production. I will give you the example of olive oil. The olive oil in Greece is 80% virgin olive oil and when other countries produce their olive oil, their virgin olive oil is at 40% so in Greece we focus on this as we have the possibility to produce more olive oil. Secondly, regarding the Greek wine – it is becoming more well known around the world and is being recognized to be a quality wine in the international markets. Some wine producers could enhance the attraction of Greece to tourists because somebody who visits the locality of the production could live there and taste the food and wine of the local region and it could be a richer living/lifestyle for the tourist.

The marriage of Tourism and Agriculture has great potential for having a positive impact on rural communities – if done sustainably… Sir – we are keen to understand what new initiatives are being spearheaded by your Ministry to promote and develop this kind of tourism?

H. E. Mr. Evangelos Apostolou: One product that exists now and that is in great demand is the feta but we cannot produce feta in the quantities that the market demands, we cannot make these quantities. Feta is not the only product (under the Greek flag) that is representing the Greek agricultural products in the European community. It is not merely the first material, the milk, that we use to produce it, but also the culture of the Greek presence in the production of the Greek feta (from the time of Odysseus). We insist that this product (the Greek feta) is produced only in Greece as in some European countries and other countries in the world such as China are trying to produce their own versions and calling it white cheese or Greek style cheese (claiming that it has nothing to do with the real Greek feta). We also have another problem of the same kind with the Greek yoghurt. So, the decision that a Tribunal decided on this matter was that the Greek side was in the right. We won this battle and we tried this (to get the same decision from the Tribunal) with the other products. So, from our Ministry it is important to have investors to come and invest in the agricultural field and to create unities in each one of these products that Greece has.

Which particular areas (opportunities), Your Excellency, do you think have the most potential and are the most attractive for UK investors?

H. E. Mr. Evangelos Apostolou: The first one is food processing. For example, the olive oil – the biggest part of Greek olive oil is exporting it. Investing in a processing factory to put the olive oil in an elegant bottle in small quantities and to export this is a very big opportunity. Another one is aquaculture. We have experience in this production which is very important and the demand is more than 95% and we cannot produce the quantities that the markets demand – it is more than double what the market demands – it is a very big opportunity. Feta is linked to the husbandry of goats and sheep and getting the milk to produce the feta, as well as other different cheeses, kefir etc. Fourthly, we have a project now which is concerning aromatic plants. We have more than 420 specialised botanicals that are unique to Greece and we try to push investors and young people to work in this field because everywhere in Greece you have aromatic plants and these could exploit several sectors, botanicals.

Is there an association that depends from the Ministry that is developing the botanicals sector in Greece?

H. E. Mr. Evangelos Apostolou: We have within this Ministry the services that help to promote Greek botanicals. Everywhere in Greece, they create elite associations in order to produce at a local level the aromatic plants. Especially the essential oils could give the possibility for investors to really invest in this field. In the common market, we have some regulations that we should respect and in some sectors we could do more but we have a limit to arrive at (regarding budget). So, with some products such as the milk/dairy products (feta etc) we have gotten the permission from the European Community of the Protection Of Origin (POP) – from where the first raw materials are coming from. Now we have faced some reactions, especially from the North European countries, with this right that we have obtained and our possibilities from this right. Once I was obliged to have a philosophical approach with the production of feta to convince them of why with some of the Greek products, that the other countries should respect the ‘exclusive’ regulations

Minister Apostolou, through this interview, you have the attention of the Britain’s business and investor elites: Perhaps to conclude, and on behalf of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, this is your opportunity to share a powerful message with the influential readers of The Times?

H. E. Mr. Evangelos Apostolou: First of all, in Greece we have agricultural products that are healthy and are of excellent quality and the climate of each region is in relation to the local agriculture production to give the aroma, the quality and the healthy consistency of each one. Also, the human capital in the Greek country has the experience over a long time in producing these products, so it is an excellent advantage to produce these products. This field for investors to come and invest in the agricultural field and especially in aquaculture. Secondly, the industrial and very soon pharmaceutical cannabis – in the medicinal form will be available as in 1-2 months we will have a new law passed regarding cannabis. Regarding the processing of olive oil, yoghurt, milk etc. there are endless possibilities. Also, the botanicals should be focused on as well.