With EU membership on the horizon, a growing number of foreign entities view Latvia, among other East European countries, as the new frontier for business ventures. European companies are eager to get their share of whatever profit the Latvian market has to offer them, and have already begun to consider how the country's accession into the EU can be of benefit.
Meanwhile, there are also foreigners who see the approaching EU membership as their chance to help Latvia gain something itself out of the process. E.J.T. Van der Steen, chairman of the Netherlands-Latvian Chamber of Commerce, is one of these people.
The newly formed chamber of commerce is a nongovernmental and non-profit organization. Registered in the Netherlands and based in Riga, it aims to build and support networks between Dutch and Latvian companies. The chamber was founded in September of last year and was, not long after, accepted as a member of the Foreign Investors Council.
Van der Steen's goals for the organization are both forward thinking and admiralbe. . The chairman explains that the chamber hopes to build connections that would lead to gains for both foreign ivestors and the small Baltic state.
"I'm becoming a little bit of a patriot for Latvia," said Van der Steen, who has lived in the country for the past eight years. "I want to get stable, lasting investments into Latvia, and people want to come now [to Latvia] because we will join the European Union."
Things are moving with such rapid speed that Van der Steen expects the NLCC to have about 80 members by the end of the year. In the first six months of its existence, the chamber has already accumulated about 50 members. Ninety percent of the NLCC members are business companies from Latvia and the Netherlands, such as banks, hotels and shipping businesses among others.
"There is a big interest in the project," the Dutch expat said. "We never thought that we would already be where we are now."
Despite the organization's quick growth, the NLCC has not yet had the time to complete their proposed business projects. Rather, they have spent the last half a year informing people about the organization and gathering members.
"We are collecting members, and we can now start matching [the companies] now within our chamber," Van der Steen said.
He stresses that, for this project to work, it's important that the NLCC includes not only Dutch companies but Latvian components as well.
As an NGO, the organization lives off the members' fees - from 100 lats (150 euros) to 500 lats a year, and therefore makes it a priority keep them satisfied. The NLCC seeks to do this through, among other things, social events.
"We try to be a little bit different from other chambers of commerce. Most of the members do business in a tie and a suit, but business has to be fun as well."
Van der Steen believes that it's easier to do business under social circumstances. The NLCC regularly goes bowling, golfing and has barbecues with its members. Since the chamber's success depends on the input and ideas of its members, active involvement is crucial.
"In the beginning people are shy, but now the members are starting to get involved, and that is exactly what we want," Van der Steen said.
According to Van der Steen, the organization's greatest achievements so far are its FICIL membership and its ability to bring the Netherlands Embassy in Latvia on board as an honorary member. Since the embassy is usually the first place Dutch investors go, it can recommend the NLCC to them for active and direct help.
"We can take the investors by the hand and show them whatever they want to see. Investors in land - we can show them the land. Investors in factories - we show them the real factories. We can spend time with them and give them a feeling of the life and culture here," Van der Steen said. "We just want to give people a little view of how nice and beautiful Latvia is."
For further information, go to the Web page of the Netherlands-Latvian Chamber