* EU says Greek primary surplus at 0.8 pct of GDP in 2013
* Underscores progress after four years of harsh austerity
* Debt relief talks expected later this year
(Adds bailout anniversary, background)
BRUSSELS/ATHENS, April 23 Greece is set to
obtain more debt relief from its international lenders after
European officials confirmed on Wednesday that Athens had topped
its fiscal targets and achieved a budget surplus in 2013.
Wednesday's announcement come on the fourth anniversary of
Greece's official request for a bailout after it lost access to
global bond markets. Earlier this month, Greece returned to the
markets with the sale of five-year bonds.
The budget surplus is a sign of the progress Greece has made
to fix its finances after four years of tough bailout-imposed
austerity that wiped out almost a quarter of its GDP and sent
unemployment to record highs of almost 28 percent.
"The country and its economy are in a much better position
now, after very tough years for households and businesses," said
Greece's deputy finance minister, Christos Staikouras.
The 2013 surplus, which came one year ahead of bailout
schedule, paves the way for some form of additional debt relief
from euro zone governments that are now holding more than 80
percent of Greece's 319 billion euro public debt.
Athens hit a primary surplus, excluding debt servicing
costs, of 1.5 billion euros or 0.8 percent of GDP last year, its
first since 2002, the European Commission and the Greek
The reading also excludes other one-off spending and revenue
items, such as aid to recapitalise Greek banks or profit returns
to Athens by European central banks, made on their Greek
government bond holdings.
DEBT RELIEF TALKS
Talks about further debt relief for Greece will start in the
second half of the year, said European Commission spokesman
The debt relief is most likely to include stretching out the
maturities of its rescue loans to about 50 years and also
cutting interest charges on some of them.
The EU and the IMF have so far extended 218 billion euros of
bailout loans to Greece over the past four years and Athens
stands to get 19 billion euros more by the end of the year.
On top of this aid, the European Central Bank has bought
about 40 billion euros of Greek bonds and Athens obtained debt
relief worth 170 billion euros in 2012, most of it by imposing
big losses on private bondholders.
Under the terms of a November 2012 deal, the EU has promised
to provide further debt relief to Greece, on the condition that
it meets targets for its primary budget surplus and reforms.
The debt relief for Athens is to ensure that after the
International Monetary Fund lending programme to Greece ends in
2016, the country can reach a debt-to-GDP ratio of 124 percent
in 2020 and substantially below 110 percent in 2022.
The debt stood at 175 percent of GDP at the end of 2013.
On its return to bond markets on April 10 after its
four-year absence, Greece sold 3 billion euros of five-year
bonds to yield-hungry international investors. Athens is paying
a yield of 4.95 percent on the debt.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing
by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Gareth Jones)