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Athens and Beijing see eye-to-eye on making Piraeus the biggest port in Europe. This became clear after meetings between Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first in Shanghai November 4 and then in Athens November 11.

Already the largest container port in the Mediterranean, Piraeus has received a boosts with the Greek government agreeing to open dialogue with Chinese shipping giant Cosco on the terms and conditions that will allow for its investment master plan for Piraeus port to expand to Euro 900m ($1bn) from the currently approved Euro 600m with the construction of a new, fourth container terminal. The talks between president and PM Xi Mistotakis also showed all licensed projects in the Cosco master plan for the port will get under way immediately, starting with the extension of the cruise terminal and the construction of the new passenger terminal whose concession process and funding scheme have already been completed.

Shortly after Xi wrote in an article for Kathimerini that the port of Piraeus is the “head of the dragon,” he and Mitsotakis visited Cosco’s installations together in Piraeus November 11. The visit came in the wake of Shipping and Island Policy minister Yiannis Plakiotakis and Cosco chairman Xu Lirong signed an agreement further highlighting the will of the two sides to overcome any obstacles so that the Cosco master plan in Piraeus is implemented.

At the same time the vice chairman of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Andrew McDowell, the director of Cosco subsidiary Piraeus Port Authority, Thanassis Liagos, and the chairman of the Export-Import Bank of China, Xu Xiaolian, signed another agreement, regarding the financing of Cosco’s investment plan, amounting at first to Euro 100m plus another Euro 40m at a later stage. Cosco has now secured 40% of the funds it needs for its master plan, and Chinese lenders such as Bank of China and the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) which recently established a presence in Athens are expected to contribute to. While in Shanghai, Mitsotakis had started the discussion about the offsetting measures by Cosco for the local population in Piraeus and the other municipalities next to the port in order to eliminate any reservations and objections and ensure the Euro 300m fourth container terminal enjoys wide approval. The fourth terminal is set to raise the capacity of Piraeus port from 7m teu handled per annum, projected for 2021, to 10m.

In recent years, China has become one of the biggest investors in Greece. Further, according to data from China’s Commerce ministry, total bilateral trade between China and Greece reached $7.06bn in 2018. In the first nine months of this year, the two-way trade topped $6.35bn, up 21.4% y-o-y. So far, Chinese investments in Greece have exceeded $2bn, providing over 3,000 direct jobs in Greece.

– Filed: 2019-11-11