The key role of land proximity and the vastly positive image of Greece and Greek products and consumer goods, despite challenges, such as the naming issue, the heavy customs duties on certain categories, but also, the need for interpersonal approach as a plus when doing business with people from a neighboring Balkan country. These are only some of the very interesting key points in our talk with Ms Anastasia Zografou, First Counsellor for Economic & Commercial Affairs, Head of Economic & Commercial Affairs Office at the Greek Embassy in Skopje, along with the conclusion that there is a truly great exporting potential for Greek companies in the growing economy of our neighbor country, especially in the current momentum of its European accession process.
Interview: Charitomeni Vonta
What would you say is the greatest asset of Greek F&B products in your market?
Our country has a significant comparative advantage in terms of its geographical proximity, combined with the high quality of Greek products: Within the mind of the consumer of North Macedonia, Greek products and services are identified and recognized as synonyms of higher quality. Therefore, this highly competitive aspect is the hallmark of their reputation in this market.
Besides, it is a well-known fact that citizens from North Macedonia choose Greek destinations, especially Northern Greece for their summer, and even year-round vacations. In the last few years, the trend is, upon return from their holidays, to seek these products creating and even increasing the demand.
So, the proximity of the two countries allows our exporters to ship their products with relatively low transport costs, rendering them highly competitive compared to other countries.
At this point, we should stress however, that not all Greek products are so easily exportable in this country, due to existing protective quotas and duties, which are quite high, especially for certain categories.
What is the Office’s role regarding the connection between Greek exporters and the local market?
Our Office on a regular basis, posts and prepares updated surveys or reports on the growing opportunities for Greek products in this country. At the same time, we also compile and put together a monthly comprehensive newsletter information containing useful information on latest developments, which we send to our registered interested companies.
We should keep in mind that besides the products of the food and beverage sector, we have been experiencing an increased demand for pharmaceuticals and para-pharmaceutical products in the cosmetics department in which our country could play a significant role in filling this need in domestic demand.
Of course, we should not miss out our traditional petroleum products and derivative products of this category, which are prevailing in terms of bilateral trade.
We should cite as an example, that according to the official data from the State Statistical Service of North Macedonia, in the first half of 2022, the value of Greek exports to North Macedonia amounted to 650.4 million euros with an impressive 116% increase compared to the first half of the previous year, (2021, with 301.6 million euro).
The total value in the category “mineral fuels, mineral oils and distilled products”, amounts to 503.7 million euros, representing as high as 77.4% of the total value of Greek exports to North Macedonia.
What is the biggest challenge for companies or brands who want to do business in your country?
The challenges are mainly twofold: First, North Macedonia, not yet being a member of the EU, poses several export barriers, including customs procedures and duties, which are relatively high, especially for products that interfere with protected sectors of domestic production: Let’s take for example imported honey, which is subject to customs duties as high as 40%, including quotas. Similar charges apply to several other product categories such as certain vegetables, wine, etc. In any case, it is a good idea for Greek businessmen seeking opportunities in the North Macedonian market to contact our Office, to provide them with the first necessary information that will enable them to better access the market.
The second challenge has a lot to do with the main bilateral “thorn”, the naming issue. Certainly, the Prespa Agreement has eased the procedure, but is has not yet entirely cleared remaining issues.
Please tell us a few things about the targeted actions of the Greek ECA Office.
Our Office organizes on an annual basis, a series of targeted actions and initiatives aiming at promoting, encouraging and strengthening the position of Greek products in the market of North Macedonia. Business missions are a particularly effective tool because we should keep in mind that in countries like the Balkans, the business mentality is affected by the uncontestable power of interpersonal relationships.
Second, Greek food promotion events, such as the one we held last July in the central park of Skopje, which was admittedly marked by great success, are an integral part of our awareness campaign, here in North Macedonia. Useful tools that provide reliable and timely knowledge in a wide range of sectors are our market reports, as the one recently posted, regarding milk and dairy products.
For more information, you should note that our conducted market surveys are published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and specifically at the link: https://agora.mfa.gr/ta-grafeia-oikonomikon-emporikon-upotheseon/grafeia-ana-xora/office/859, as they may provide valuable information about related matters. Also, considering that this information is provided free of charge, one may realize the extra high added value, especially for a small and medium enterprise.
On a daily basis we receive questions, requests for information, to which we respond by trying to be as precise as possible, handing out reliable and useful information, whether it is related to a needed mediation to settle outstanding issues, or provide a more efficient way to resolve issues, to our best possible way. We do all this, within the spectrum of trying to be of help and contribute to strengthening the position of Greek products in this market.
What are the best-selling Greek F&B products in your market?
Products of the agri-food sector are undeniably the core of the Greek export presence here: According to our available 2022 data, meat products (fresh, chilled or frozen), namely citrus fruits (lemons) or vegetables (cucumbers) and canned goods present a strong demand. We should also not forget to mention opportunities in the beverage and soft drinks industry, including bottled water, while this is also true for beer.
Two Key Notes on the Commercial and Economic Relations between the Two Countries
- The Mutual Bilateral Agreement for Avoidance of Double Taxation, which is currently negotiated between the two parts, will certainly benefit and further facilitate bilateral trade between both countries.
- On a larger scale, opportunities include the option of participating in the pool of funds provided by a number of international players for projects in the following sectors, where our country has advantage due to expertise, knowledge and skills:
- Roads and railways
- Energy, especially in Renewables, wind and photovoltaic projects funded by EBRD, EIB and other major international institutions
- Waste and water management
North Macedonia is seriously involved in the European accession process, which makes it a perfect candidate for business opportunities in various sectors of big interest for our country. With the right approach, we believe that it is conceivable to surpass the existing obstacles, towards a prosperous, and at the same time, feasible and realistic business future for both countries.
Office E.C.A. Skopje
Borka Taleski 6, 1000 Skopje, North Macedonia
Telephone:(003892) 3129456, 3129458