After the unplanned “stress test” of capital controls most Greeks will have become much more aware of the country’s dependence on imports for its most basic economic activities. Most will know that Greece imports essentials like fuel and medicines, as well as raw materials for most manufacturing activities (a great visualisation is available here). All of these would become more expensive overnight if Greece were to revert to a national currency and face a devaluation. So far, so (yawn) interesting for economists. Most civilians, however, still believe that even after much belt-tightening they could still go “back to basics” and find comfort in life’s simple pleasures.
This is sadly not true. Even the most “Greek” of everyday pleasures could become luxuries for Greeks after a Grexit because they, too, are dependent on imports so their prices would skyrocket:
- Souvlaki: Almost two thirds of pork consumed in Greece is imported mainly from Denmark, Holland and Germany. Over 80% of beef is also imported from other EU countries, as are substantial quantities of chicken. Even with a strong currency, Greece’s exports in fish and olive oil are not remotely sufficient to cover its imports in red meat. The negative balance of trade in meats has increased as a direct result of the Common Agricultural Policy which favours livestock farming in the North of Europe, but is also due in part to a lack of quality control infrastructure and sclerotic regulation in Greece.
- Anything with lemon: despite growing lemons, last year Greece imported close to 25 metric tonnes from Argentina, Turkey and Italy to cover domestic needs. Greek fruits frequently go unharvested when they are undercut by global prices.
- “Greek” yoghurt: Greece is self-sufficient in fresh milk but does not produce enough for other dairy products. Most mass-produced yoghurt is therefore supplemented with powdered or condensed milk from other EU countries.
- The “Mediterranean diet”: Aside from olive oil, most other components of the Mediterranean diet, particularly pulses which are the traditional source of protein, are largely imported, often across large distances. This includes 90-95% of lentils consumed in Greece (from Canada, the US and Turkey), 65-70% of chickpeas (Mexico and Turkey) and 55-60% of beans (US, Canada). A nostalgic return to the simple φασολάδα (fasoláda, bean soup), which many Greeks consider the real national dish, would not necessarily be as cheap as we would hope. Two thirds of bread flour is also imported. And although Greece could be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, the fuel, fertilisers, pesticides and machinery used for their cultivation are almost entirely imported.
- “Tost” (τοστ): A staple of most family homes is a toasted sandwich made with sliced bread, yellow cheese and ham. The vast majority of yellow cheese consumed in Greece, particularly the cheap sliced stuff, is imported from Holland and Germany; most local Greek cheese varieties are too expensive to be melted in a sandwich.
Photo by koutofrangos. All rights reserved.