TALLINN - Neinar Seli, chairman of the supervisory board of the Port of Tallinn, has suggested that the state should acquire Estonia's ports and merge them with the national railway as a way of strengthening the Baltic state's competitiveness in the transit market.
Writing in an opinion article in the daily Postimees, Seli, a member of the ruling Reform Party, said that Estonia needed to think ahead to the distant future in order for the state to fortify its position in transit trade, an increasingly competitive business.
"We must analyze whether it is sensible to invest, for example, 2 billion kroons (128 million euros) in the extension of the Muuga harbor or use the money for acquiring other ports and merging them," Seli wrote.
The opinion expressed in the article was his own and not of the Reform Party.
Rein Kilk, owner of Parnu Port, said it was a welcome idea that a state-owned company was attempting to put business calculations first, not politics. Still, he said it hadn't occurred to him to sell Parnu Port.
Tiit Vahi, who owns the Sillamae Port, said the port was not for sale at present, and there hadn't been any talk about state interest in it.
"We maintain that, considering the changed situation, we are not planning any new investments into the port but will carry out decisions made earlier," Vahi said.
An Economic Affairs Ministry official, Marika Priske, found that there was little likelihood that the state could extend its grip over Estonian ports. "Given the low ebb in transit it is unthinkable to increase the state's risks in that sphere," she said. "It is a view of Seli's that hasn't been considered at the ministry."
In Seli's opinion, merging the ports would help increase Estonia's competitiveness since it would cut out the need for extra investments and different spheres of operations could be distributed between the harbors.
Since the second quarter, turnovers of Estonian transit companies have fallen sharply due to Russia's decision to curtail transit through the Baltic state after the decision earlier this year to remove the Bronze Soldier 's a Soviet war memorial 's from a downtown Tallinn square.
Both private and public companies have suffered as a result of Russia's policies.
Cargo handling at Estonian ports in January - July this year rose only 2.8 percent to 29.8 million tons. The Port of Tallinn continues to lead all Baltic ports, handling 24.3 million tons over the seven-month period, a 1.1 percent increase year-on-year.
By contrast, Latvian ports have seen their ports' cargo turnover increase 5.2 percent year-on-year, while Lithuania's ports saw the steepest increase of 11.2 percent from January to July.
Though privatized in 2001, Estonian Railways was renationalized last year.