Portugal is still a virgin territory for Cyprus, which established its first embassy here only five years ago. The Portuguese are currently in the process of establishing a resident embassy in Nicosia and the cornerstone of establishing commercial relations between the two countries has been the opening of these embassies.
However, Cyprus doesn’t have a large volume of trade with Portugal, largely because both countries produce the same goods, such as wine, agricultural produce and leather goods. Neither are there any Cypriot companies that have delegations in Portugal – Cyprus is not an industrial country and its economy is based on banking, marketing and other activities in the service sector. The country also relies on tourism, which provides its main income.
This lack of trade has not marred the friendly relations that exist between the two countries. The Cypriot people consider the Portuguese as a ‘Mediterranean people’, despite the fact Portugal is located on the Atlantic. So what is the Cypriot Ambassador to Portugal, Nearchos Palas, trying to achieve here? “Our main priority here is to see if we can pass on the potential our market offers to the Portuguese and the international business community working in Portugal,” he says. “It is also to explore and see whether some of our businessmen can take up opportunities that might exist in Portugal,” he adds.
The key to the Cypriot Embassy’s business strategy is in creating awareness that Cyprus is the perfect base from which to do business in the wider region, particularly the Middle East. “We want businessmen and companies to come in, settle and do business in the neighbourhood. Particularly with the Arab countries, with which we have particularly close relationships,” he stresses.
Cyprus has an excellent infrastructure in terms of banking, telecommunications, airports and air connections. The political situation is secure and safe, despite the division between the so-called occupied Turkish-Cypriot northern sector. “Portuguese businesses opening an office in Cyprus can be sure of finding a convenient and secure base from where they can expand their business operations in the neighbourhood,” Palas says.
Cyprus has always been used to this kind of business because, before it entered the European Union, the island was seen as an offshore business location. “We used to call them offshore businesses, now we call them international businesses whereby foreign businesses can just come into Cyprus, base themselves there, and then do business outside,” he explains. This is an activity the Cypriots know and can operate very well. They have the entire infrastructure and facilities for any business to move in and operate freely from their territory.
Another way of building economic bridges lies within the tourism sector, where Cyprus hopes to provide an attractive, colourful and historically-rich holiday destination for the Portuguese. As part of this strategy, Eurocypria initiated direct flights from Cyprus to Portugal for the first time last summer. “We’ve seen a substantial interest in the Portuguese going to Cyprus and they seem to be going for the culture and history, not just the beaches and sun,” he observes. The Euro 2004 football championships also proved a gateway for the Cypriots to visit Portugal. “What struck us during that soccer month was that the Portuguese people were so polite, their hospitality is something that is still being remarked upon in Cyprus. They took their defeat in such a humble, gracious and civilised way,” he comments.