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ATHENS, GREECE - Tax hikes planned by the Greek government as it struggles to slash a mountain of debt will have an "A-bomb" effect on the country's struggling small businesses, their confederation said Wednesday.

"Any further VAT increase will have a 'A-bomb' effect," the confederation of professionals, craftsmen and merchants (GSEVEE) said in a statement.

The group presented a nationwide study showing that one in five of their members face bankruptcy in coming months amid a deepening recession, and with a new sales tax hike reportedly planned by the cash-strapped Greek government.

"That counts for 175,000 enterprises ... almost double compared to the respective figure in May 2009," the confederation said.

In addition, eight in 10 enterprises said their economic condition had deteriorated in every indicator including turnover, demand and orders in the six-month period to June, the study by the Marc polling company showed.

Based on the findings among 960 small businesses, the group warned of a "great risk" of over 300,000 job losses by the end of next year even under a moderate scenario.

Some 88,000 posts have already been lost in the first half of the year, it said.

The new tax hike expected next year will likely affect a number of key goods such as flour, milk and bread, and services such as coffee shops and restaurants which currently have a lower tax rate of 11 percent.

The general sales tax was hiked by four points this year to 23 percent.

Another study by a related trade group, the national confederation of Greek commerce (ESEE) in early August showed that 17 percent of businesses in central Athens have shut down because of the economic crisis gripping the country.

The Greek government came to the brink of default on its debts in April before it was rescued by a massive bailout loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

It was forced to adopt unpopular austerity measures in return for the loan but must show progress to the EU and the IMF to continue drawing funds from the package, worth 110 billion euros (140 billion USdollars) over three years.

The latest figures show that state budget cuts are well ahead of target but
hat net revenue is some 350 million euros short. --AFP

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