By Sotiris Nikas
For the first time in at least 12 years, exports of Greek products and services exceeded imports in the third quarter of 2012, according to figures released on Friday by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), although the recession continued to deepen.
Since 2000, when comparable data became available, imports had always outnumbered exports, until the July-September 2012 period when exports exceeded imports by a considerable 2.2 billion euros.
This is mostly due to the major drop in imports that has resulted from the dramatic decline in consumption, but it is notably the first time that the external sector has had a positive impact on the country’s gross domestic product.
Nevertheless this did not ease the economic contraction as the government had wished. ELSTAT data pointed to a contraction of 6.9 percent in the third quarter of 2012, while a day earlier Eurostat had calculated that the figure had come to 7.2 percent in the third quarter.
What the switch from a current account deficit to a surplus is showing is that it signals a gradual change in this country’s economic growth model. Authorities have been repeating that such a change is essential for the Greek economy for years. It has also been one of the main objectives of the streamlining program of economic policy applied over the last two-and-a-half years.
In the year’s third quarter exports amounted to 13.6 billion euros (in 2005 prices), while imports added up to just 11.4 billion euros. ELSTAT records since 2000 show that the third quarter has traditionally been the best of each year for the Greek current account balance, though it had never shown a surplus, as it has done this year.
However, this positive development for the Greek economy, which bolsters its competitiveness, failed to reverse the strong downward course of economic activity in general: The third quarter of 2012 was the worst summer period of the last 11 years. GDP amounted to 44.7 billion euros – the worst performance since 2001, when economic output came to 43.3 billion euros.
This dramatic 6.9 percent contraction of GDP in the third compared with the same period last year is attributed to the decline in investment by 19.7 percent, the 10.7 percent slide in public consumption and the continuing shrinking of private consumption, by 8.4 percent.