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Monday, May 18, 2015

Troika-Inspired Reforms Did Not Help Greek Exports?

Below is my response (via Twitter) to FinMin Varoufakis' argument that dismal Greek exports are evidence that Troika-inspired reforms didn't work. 

"Somewhere I read today that you were arguing against Troika-inspired reforms because despite huge drops in wages and costs, export growth has been flat, allegedly proving that reforms don't work. FactCheckEU has confirmed the accuracy of your statements. Regrettably, your conclusion - if it is as inferred above - is wrong!

If price were the primary determinant of exports, then Switzerland - with one of the most overvalued currencies - would have to cease exporting. Instead, Switzerland's exports, on a relative basis, are higher than Germany's. Exports may indeed be a function of price when an economy has an export capacity and an export culture/administration. If France or Italy could devalue against the Euro by, say, 20%, they would become formidable competitors of Germany in no time.

The first thing you would have to do is to dismantle the entire public export promotion agency and replace it with something new. Argument: total failure! When I see Austrian supermarket shelves full of produce from EU countries and from other countries very far away, I know it is not a function of the quality or availability or price of Greek produce because I know that Greek produce is better and very competitively priced. It is exclusively a failure of bringing this produce to foreign markets. The way a private Greek export consulter has explained this to me is: the public export promotion agency, apparently quite large, is primarily interested in itself; in its political influence and in its relations with the public sector. Whether or not Greek exports are increased as a result of their activities is of secondary importance to them. 

Gobal Greece - An Effort To Promote Exports 

Austria, a smaller country than Greece but a larger economy, has over 100 trade representative offices throughout the world (typically housed in foreign embassies/consulates) supporting about 6.000 exporters. These rep's are managed just like a corporation would manage its sales force: there are literally monthly activity/results reports which are controlled/supervised centrally. These people get paid to promote Austrian exports! Also, it seems that there isn't a month where an Austrian trade delegation doesn't visit a foreign country (or foreign countries).

The next thing you would have to do is to clip the wings of the apparently very important import lobby and strengthen the export lobby, instead.

But more important than anything else: you have to analyze where the Greek economy has competitive advantages for exports and work out development plans so that investments are made in these industries. If you have not much to export, no price will solve that problem. To build up a significant export sector, particularly when one starts from little and from no particular export culture, takes huge effort and a long time. While Greece has no choice, in my opinion, but to embark on that journey, there is also a parallel strategy which can work very quickly: substitute imports with domestic production wherever possible.

The Euro has devalued phenomenally against third currencies in recent years and Greece has devalued within the Eurozone. Relative to that, Greece's export performance since 2008 has been absolutely dismal. As I said, this is not proof that reforms are not working but, on the contrary, it is proof that something is very rotten in Greece's export efforts and needs to be reformed urgently!"


  1. Hi Mr. Kastner,

    We must have read his article at the same time. It isn't a bad plan, but as you can read on the comments, again it is as if he is presenting this in a manner like he is lecturing his counter partners. Doubt they will even want to listen. He comes off as a smart ass. Nobody likes a smart ass even if they are smart.

    I like you critism, but as i have stated time and time again, without formal concurrent data of what is being exported and imported then we are making bad assumptions based on a single digit number which does not get into detail. For example, where i am from 2008 to 2014. Start and finish had equivelent turnover over 250 million (with a slump in turnover during the crisis, we have recovered). in 08 sales where 60% domestic and 40% exports. in 14 we are 70% exports and 30% domestic. Units produced are double digit increase value in single digit. What this means is explained below.

    Furthermore, i have stated many times that the details of the exports/imports data needs even deeper analysis. Because a tomatoe exported in 08 costing 1 euro a kilo may be now sold in 14 at 0,50 per kilo. Meaning even if the same exporter double the quantity of export doesn't mean the quantity of export has not increased but the sales value has significantly dropped. Both factors need to analyzed as to make a proper judgement on what is the current situation of exports. Usually, economist look only at the value because it is about the money numbers only.

    Finally, i have stated once again, what we import and at what quantities and at what value needs to be also analyzed. As if the cost of imports in a certain raw material has increased, plus manipulation costs while selling at a very low price is a equation that proves just how low salaries have been dropped.

    As for the comment of replacing greek products on super market shelves for foreign products. well we live in a free market. You can not tell the retailer what to sell and what not to sell. the market tells you what to buy. Even Lydyl in greece has recognized the need to meet market needs of mainly greek products being sold and they have met this need. In the case as living here, i have seen a significant replacement of goods on the shelves produced in Greece. Unfortunately a number can not be accurately made but it is significant. (One example is the cold cuts or Alntika. pre 08 you can find fensh german and northern european meats. now all greek and maybe a french ham or an Italia Proscuto. Just looking at the specific refrigerator at markets you see 90% greek products) Greeks are significantly buying more greek products. Personally i do not purchase anything other than greek products and at worst multi national products but manufactured in Greece. Maybe an italian pasta once in a while as it is a truely added value as I like to splurge on occasions.

    I liked this post and your critism on this one. Thanks for blogging this.


  2. Sie schreiben von Importsubstitution, nehmen aber nicht darauf Bezug, daß damit auch eine teilweise Suspendierung der Importliberalisierung einhergehen würde. Es läuft im Grunde auf die List´sche Erziehungszollstrategie hinaus, die ganz nebenbei auch und gerade für Deutschland ein wesentlicher Grund für den wirtschaftlichen Wiederaufstieg gewesen ist. Das merkantilistische Erbe wirkt bis heute nach.

    Und für die weggefallene Möglichkeit die Währung abzuwerten muß man sich ein alternatives Mittel einfallen lassen, um der Kapitalflucht zu begegnen:

    1. Ja, ich behaupte schon seit ewig, dass zumindest 2 der 4 EU Freiheiten (Produkte, Kapital) für die griechische Wirtschaft (noch) nicht verkraftbar sind. Und ja, eine gewisse 'Adaption' dieser Freiheiten wird wohl nicht vermeidbar sein, was natürlich gegen bestehende Verträge wäre. Dann muss man halt Verträge vorübergehend 'flexibilisieren'. Ich bin ein Verfechter von Privatwirtschaft und Markt, aber man sollte eine Volkswirtschaft nicht dem offenen Markt überlassen, wenn sie dafür (noch) nicht überlebensfährig ist. Ja, List wäre eine theoretische Grundlage.

  3. Once more your analysis is fully correct and your effort will have no real influence because those who should act accordingly follow a different agenda and are fully decided never to follow the very best advice...


  4. Comparing simply numbers in absolute values from 2008 and 2014 is misleading. Due to the crisis a big number of greek businesses went bankrupt. To cite a quick example. A very well known greek construction company with exports in all the world, was Petzetakis. It was known to every greek due to the fact that for a period it was playing its commercial on tv. Petzetakis went belly up. So in 2008 Petzetakis was exportin its nice pipelines for X amount and in 2012 for 0 amount. Multiply this by the number of enterprises that met the same fate as Petzetakis.

  5. I hope prof. Varoufakis is paying attention to what you send him, because he is the only hope inside SYRIZA's cabinet (together with his vice minister Mardas, who was pro-memorandum actually and God knows how he ended up in SYRIZA) to do something for the economy that isn't dangerous. Prof. Varoufakis after all, isn't officially a SYRIZA member (he is minister, but was never party member) and he was advisor to George Papandreou. So he is the least fanatical in there. If it was up to Lafazanis for example, Greece would now be like North Korea.

  6. Greece has not devalued in the eurozone -- quite simply because that is not possible. If you are referring to the incompetent and amateurish idea of "internal devaluation" then there are several reasons why this should not be considered to be equivalent to devaluation.

    The first is quite simply that the Troika policies resulted in a reduction of wages alongside a collapse of domestic demand (depression). When did an exchange rate devaluation result in immediate depression? Never. Reduced wages is not the same as a devaluation, anyway.

    Second, the dire situation of the country has meant for several years that businesses could not import goods without paying in advance -- as opposed to the normal practice of importing on credit. That can be seen as equivalent to an upward revaluation -- the opposite of a devaluation!

    Thirdly, in order to take advantage of lower costs or reduced exchange rates for exports, companies have to be ready to produce as well as developing those markets. Most Greek companies have been driven into the ground by lack of liquidity: how are they going to suddenly increase production? As far as I know, there is no spare capacity that can be utilised without additional costs. And I do not even mention the problem of locating export markets and using them.

    Greece needs to export, of course. But it cannot do so simply by repeating incorrect mantras. Companies need real support of all sorts, in order to produce and export in a competitive manner. Labour costs, for almost all sectors, have never been the restricting issue -- regardless of the right wing propaganda from the Troika.

    1. I just realised that I didn't explain point (2) well. Most exporters also need to import some goods for the production process - be it fuel, semi-processed goods, raw materials or machinery. If the imports have to be paid in advance, that is not a competitive advantage analogous to a devaluation.

    2. Well Put Xenos,

      Your analysis is quite realistic. believe or not aside from my comments and your comments which work against Greek companies, we still surivive/profit and are quite competitive. Specific markets which i have mentioned though. As such you can realize if the noose is released slightly on the private sector how easy these industries which are surviving in this environement will flourish.

      Varoufakis was on Enikos last night and he had some really interesting things to say. He even mentioned some many points which are most probably discussed between Mr. Kastner and Varouf.

      One nice point he made was the value added industries or business sectors that need to flourish. It is along the lines of what i have said is the knowledge behind specific sectors as to promote a industrial market which Greece can provide. Daily i seek to find solutions of efficiency in my sector and to spread as much knoweldge found, as to implement within my market and our suppliers which is proving fruitful knowledge.

      If the industiral SEV companies, survive this crisis, the core of healthy companies of raw material manufacturers and manipulator manufacturers will flourish and will draw investment to Greece.


    3. At Guest (Xenos)

      All correct. Plus, one should see how much the cost of fuel has increased due to additional taxation and same for electricity cost. But you are wasting your time. You can repeat these things 100 times here, nothing will change.

    4. @V; @Anon: Thank you for your comments. I realise that the intellectual underpinnings of the Troika management are roughly zero, and it makes no difference what the facts are, or indeed the economic policies that could realistically work. Nevertheless, I think it important for the propaganda to be refuted, and for Greek people to know that they have supporters across the world. There is some hope for the economic future of Greece, but that hope is not being aided by the nonsense that is coming out of northern Europe (and one country in particular).

  7. Quite accurate perspective. Greek exports need definitely to be reformed, at many levels. Very briefly:
    Starting from the production (agricultural) there is a need to focus on quality and indigenous products.
    Develop a professional, consumer oriented attitude
    Reengineer our export structure in terms of export practices, managers background, and stakeholders involvement.
    Change the strategy, or more accurately define a clear, realistic strategy on exports.
    Definitely change the export culture
    Get organized in groups and develop synergies.

  8. i think that Greece's exports are not really boosted from all this. instead greek exporters and importers are struggling. i think troika creates a snowball effect and its taking everything with it.