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Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-01-31
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Greece, Italy sign protocol for natgas pipeline, construction to begin in June '08Construction of a natural gas pipeline - officially known as the "Interconnector Greece-Italy (IGI)" -- linking Greece with Italy is due begin in June 2008, with completion slated for 2011, Greek Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas announced on Wednesday, speaking at the ceremony during which he and Italian Minister of Productive activities Pierluigi Bersani signed the pipeline's support protocol.
Bersani was also received by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at the latter's Maximos Mansion office on Wednesday, a meeting also attended by Sioufas and Italian ambassador to Greece Gianpaolo Scarante.
The agreement also provides for exclusion of the underwater section of the pipeline from access to third parties in order, according to Sioufas, to ensure the viability of the investment, pending approval of the European Commission, which is expected in April, and will be in effect for 25 years.
The Greek-Italian pipeline comprises a supplement to the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline, and aims at the transport of natural gas from the Caspian region and possibly the Middle East to the west via Turkey and Greece. The Greek-Turkish pipeline, currently under construction, is expected to start operating this summer, and will have a transport capacity of 11.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually. The Greek-Italian pipeline, in turn, will be able to transport 8-8.8 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year.
The difference between the two quantities will be funnelled to the Greek market, as well as Albania and FYROM, according to Sioufas, while Bulgaria has also recently expressed interest in natural gas supply via Greece.
The land-based section of the Greek-Italian pipeline (Komotini-Thesprotia) will have a length of 590 kilometres, and the completion cost is estimated at more than 600 million euros, while the underwater section (Thesprotia-Otranto) will stretch over 217 kilometres under water in length and the cost is estimated at 300 million euros. In other words, the total investment will exceed one billion euros, part of which will be funded under the EU's 4th Community Support Framework (CSF).
According to the agreement, 80 percent of the pipeline's capacity will belong to Edison, with the remaining 20 percent to DE.PA.
Sioufas said the pipeline will strengthen the position of Greece's DE.PA (Public Natural Gas Corporation) and the Italian Edison's on the market of the wider region, creating the conditions for supplying Central and western Macedonia and Epirus with natural gas. It will also boost energy security and render Greece a natural gas transit hub.
For Greece, he added, the Greek-Turkish pipeline will comprise the third source of natural gas supply, after the central pipeline from Bulgaria which transports Russian natural gas, and the installations at Revythoussa, where liquefied natural gas is imported from Algeria.
Bersani stressed that the accord was "good news" for the general framework of economic relations between Greece and Italy, and he invited Sioufas to visit Rome for talks on matters concerning SMEs, in addition to energy issues.
Asked where the natural gas to be carried along the pipeline would originate from, Sioufas said the two companies (DEPA and Edison) would cooperate on this matter and make every effort to ensure the pipeline's supply, while Bersani said the pipeline "could also mark a diversification of supply sources."
The two ministers agreed that relevant studies on doubling the transport capacity of the underwater power grid connection between the two countries would begin immediately.
DE.PA managing director Asimakis Papageorgiou referred to the Turkey-Greece-Italy line as a "vital energy corridor" bringing natural gas from east to west, a project that will elevate Greece into a strategic energy hub in SE Europe.
On his part, Edison vice-president Roberto Poti noted that "in order to increase Europe's supply security it is necessary to differentiate supply sources and to open new channels for natgas with countries and regions that do not export to Europe today. Edison is the only Italian energy company that promotes the development of Pan-European infrastructure, such as the Greece-Italy connection and the liquefied gas station of Rovigo, which will facilitate the import of natural gas from Qatar," he added.
In a related development, 38 main opposition PASOK deputies on Wednesday tabled a question in Parliament over what they called delays in expanding the natural gas supply network around Greece.
Caption: Prime Minister Pierluigi Bersani, left, meets with Italian Minister Pierluigi Bersani at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on Wednesday, 31 January 2007. ANA-MPA photo / G. Antoniou.
 Rise in Greek exports anticipatedThe value of Greek exports is expected to reach 9.8 percentage points of GDP this year, national economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis said Wednesday, opening the 10th conference of the National Exports Council.
Alogoskoufis said that despite the increase, "we must not be complacent", explaining that the increase in exports' contribution to GDP anticipated in 2007 to 9.8 percentage points against 8.8 percentage points in 2006 was nevertheless smaller than the proportion recorded in 2000.
According to figures released during the conference, covering the 10-month period January-October 2006, Greek exports to Russia rose by 20.6 percent, to Turkey by 24.7 percent, to Bulgaria by 31.6 percent, and to Romania by 46.8 percent, while they jumped by 60.8 percent to Japan and 65.0 percent to China.
Alogoskoufis further said that an increase in exports to the US, Australia and India would also be sought.
The minister explained that consumers, at an international level, demanded diverse and quality products, adding that more efforts needed to be made in that direction "because we have a relative lack of Greek brandname products".
Speaking more generally, Alogoskoufis said that, in addition to exports, tourism was also going well and foreign investors were returning to Greece, while the public finances were also improving continuously.
Addressing the same conference, deputy foreign minister Evrypides Stylianidis said that a total of 20 business missions abroad took place in 2006, as well as visits to 48 countries, while 15 mixed inter-ministerial committees also met.
He also said that three major overtures were made to the regions of SE Europe, the Black Sea, and the Arab world.
Regarding the Hellenic Exports Promotions Organisation (HEPO), he said that the Action Plan for 2007 included participation in 99 international trade fairs as well as 45 business missions.
Further, Stylianidis continued, there were integrated programmes for exports promotion to target-markets, such as the programme for combined promotion of the construction materials and construction branches, and the programme for combined promotion of the fashion products branches (clothing, fur, footwear, jewelry, cosmetics, accessories, natural cosmetics, etc.).
 Chinese State Councillor visits RhodesVisiting Chinese State Councillor and the Secretary-General of China's State Council Hua Jianmin continued his official visit to Greece on Wednesday by travelling to the Dodecanese island of Rhodes, the largest isle in the group and one of the best known holiday destinations in the eastern Mediterranean.
The high-ranking People's Republic of China dignitary was accompanied by Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis on a tour of the island -- including archaeological and medieval sites -- as well as in meetings with local officials.
Both men also walked through the city of Rhodes' medieval quarter and the fortress of the Knights of St. John, where a reception will be held in Hua Jianmin's honor in the evening. The Chinese State Councillor will visit the Lindos archaeological site on Thursday.
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