Christos Anastasiades, Director of LCCI: 'Development generates more development'

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Christos Anastasiades has been the Director of the Limassol Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) since the year 2000. During this time he saw the local economy go into recession, leading all the way to the shock of 2013.

The turmoil notwithstanding, the vision of the LCCI remained unchanged throughout the years since the Chamber came into being in 1962: to see Limassol develop into a modern city, one that can offer a constantly improving quality of life to all its residents.

Where does the course of the LCCI actually begin?
I think it can be traced back to the early 1950s. The year 1952 marked the beginning of the Commercial & Industrial Federation of Limassol, a body aiming to assist the business entities of that time, which were for the most part active in the fields of trade and industry. The Federation co-existed for a number of years with the Limassol Development Association, a separate organization, which aimed to promote the developmental needs of Limassol. These two bodies merged in 1962, giving birth to the Limassol Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Did the independence of Cyprus had a role in this?
Probably not. British colonial rule had no reason to prevent the establishment of a local chamber. After all, the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce of Industry was established more than three decades prior to the establishment of the Cyprus Republic, in the year 1927; and indeed its first senior officers were British.

Unlike in other sectors, such as education or culture, did the British rule give a boost to the city’s economy?
The legacy of British rule is of course too broad a subject to address in a short interview. But definitely one could say that British rule coincided with, and even brought about the utilization of Limassol as a port of entry, giving a boost to trading activity. Indeed there are historical references suggesting that the British viewed Limassol as special, with some describing it as the economic capital of Cyprus!

The Chamber is not exactly an employers’ organization. We are here to support entrepreneurship and enterprises consist of employers and employees. 

So, in 1962 there is a new organization.
Yes, an Organization that is more structured, with a clear status as part of the federation known as the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce & Industry and with clear, tangible objectives. The character of the Chamber was essentially determined by the character of the 2 organizations that preceded it. To this day, the Chamber has a dual role: to assist entrepreneurship and promote the economic objectives and interests of the entire Limassol district.

But, entrepreneurship is not confined to commerce and industry.
Precisely, it is a much broader concept, covering all business activity. To this extent, our formal name (Chamber of Commerce & Industry) can be somewhat misleading and indeed we have often heard people wondering how they would fit as members since they are neither merchants nor industrialists! So let me state emphatically that nowadays the majority of our members are from the services sector. We are, effectively, the Business Chamber of Limassol, so to speak, and any enterprise, regardless of its line of business, is welcome to become a member.

There are things that might sound like pipedreams at the moment, or other that might be even inconceivable, but the potential is always there… Limassol surely has what it takes to be a highly attractive investment destination.

Is there ever any friction between Chamber members? What is you role in such cases?
It is understandable that there could be, from time, differences and, why not, friction, between different companies who could, after all, be competitors. This is perfectly normal, as each company is of course pursuing its own interests. The Chamber does not get involved in such and does not, of course, take sides. We always see the bigger picture and we remain steadfast in our support for entrepreneurship. Competition is a healthy aspect of entrepreneurship.

Is the Limassol Chamber ever called upon to intervene in cases of differences between its members?
Our neutrality vis-a-vis all our members is well respected by all and at least in my years with the Chamber I do not recall any such incident. Mind you, at times we could be approached by foreign companies who may have issues with local companies, both members and non-members of ours. In cases like these our role is to relate the issue at stake to the local company concerned. Needless to say, this is just a friendly representation. We are neither judges nor police officers and if it turns out that the two sides see no room for reconciliation, we have no further role to play and the parties involved can do as they see fit. In similar fashion when members of ours have issues with companies abroad, we always try to help, employing our connections with foreign embassies, trade centers and the Chambers of other countries, with which we more often than not have excellent cooperation.

Turning back to the Cyprus economy, you witnessed firsthand the financial meltdown of 2013.
Yes, the 2013 experience was unprecedented. Certainly, periodic shortages of liquidity and several other business-related problems were not new. But the haircut, banks closing down for 2 weeks, drastic capital controls, massive rise in unemployment, these were developments we could not have predicted, certainly not to the extent that they actually happened.

So it was a particularly difficult situation.
Absolutely. Not that things happened overnight. There sure was a build-up. Public sector deficits were on a rising trend, companies and households were building up debts, and banks were overexpanding. At a certain point we were cut off from the international capital markets. And then the 2011 Mari incident marked the beginning of the countdown to the 2013 economic collapse. The business sector, employers and employees, were the number 1 victims of the crisis. We had members who were literally crying for assistance. I think those were really dismal days for all of us, particularly as we had no capacity to change political decisions, especially those that were made by third parties, such as the Eurogroup.

Generally speaking, Limassol has a great potential… there is only one way and this is the way up, doing better and better.

But now things look better and Limassol seems to be spearheading Cyprus ahead.
Things are definitely better, notwithstanding the persistence of serious problems on several fronts. There are those who say that Limassol was less affected by the crisis, which is only partly true. Limassol was also shaken by the events of 2013, although the particular characteristics of the city, especially its being a center of international entrepreneurship and especially home to thousands of Russians, helped sustain the market, to some extent anyway.

Now things are indeed moving ahead, there is strong evidence of robust activity on the construction front, with impressive new buildings, the Oval, the ONE, the Del Mar, to name just a few. And these are of course in addition to 2 major long-term projects, the Casino Resort and the Science & Technology Park, which among other things will open up a significant number of new job opportunities, both at their construction and operation stages.

Would you say that the LCCI supports and promotes what it believes will be Limassol’s future?
Certainly. The LCCI wants to see the entire Limassol, urban and rural, realize its full potential. In this regard we are somewhat different from a municipality in that a municipality has to operate within its own geographical boundaries, whereas our boundaries are those of the entire Limassol district. Underlining this fact is our active participation in the Limassol Tourism Promotion and Development Company as well as in the Development Company of Limassol District.

What is your view regarding Limassol’s future development needs?
Developments needs are endless. No living body can afford to remain stale, let alone a vibrant city like Limassol. As we know the need of Limassol having a marina was mooted as early as the 1960s. It took quite a while but now we have a marina and one we can be proud of. Back then, projects like a casino-resort or a technology park were almost inconceivable and now they are both in the pipeline.

I am certain that over time new ideas for new projects will emerge, as the bid for a better quality of life for all is, and should be, inexhaustible. There are things that might sound like pipedreams at the moment, or other that might be even inconceivable, but the potential is always there. Development and growth bring more development and more growth. Limassol surely has what it takes to be a highly attractive investment destination.

Is unemployment of any concern to the Chamber?
Of course it is, a major concern. Unemployment, which remains very high, in Cyprus in general and in Limassol, is one of the most serious problems still confronting the Cyprus economy. The Chamber is not exactly an employers’ organization. We are here to support entrepreneurship and enterprises consist of employers and employees. I said earlier that the private sector, employers and employees were those who mostly felt the brunt of the economic crisis. It is clear that as the economic environment is improving so do employment opportunities.

So, unemployment is an indicator of how well things are going?
Unemployment is an indicator of how bad things are going. With the economic crisis reaching its climax a few years back, unemployment reached unprecedentedly high levels. Now, with things improving, unemployment is declining. Naturally in the wake of the 2013 events and the changes incurred thereby on the Cyprus economy, employment opportunities will be less in the public and more in the private sector. It is private entrepreneurship that will support employment in Cyprus in the years to come.

Where does the LCCI want to see Limassol in the next 10-20 years?
We aspire to see Limassol developing into a modern, smart European city, both in terms of infrastructures and in terms of attitudes. Yes, there are weaknesses that need to be addressed like for example the inadequacy of public transport, resulting from which we often hear people complaining about traffic congestion, inadequacy of parking spaces, etc. We often hear that buses are never on time and therefore the whole system is unreliable. Unless there are designated bus lanes, where you can have exact times for arrival and departure, this problem cannot be helped…

Generally speaking, Limassol has a great potential. It is already Cyprus’ leading economic hub, home to leading export industries, with a vibrant services sector, one of the top ship management centers in the world, a top quality tourist destination and, more recently, host to world-renowned hydrocarbons companies. For Limassol there is only one way and this is the way up, doing better and better.

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