RIGA - Russia's top railroad chief has told a conference in Riga that by next year Russia intends to balance its railway cargo tariffs, which currently discriminate against Baltic ports in favor of domestic terminals.
Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the state-run Russian Railway Company, said Russia would balance the tariffs in an effort to join the World Trade Organization, which it hopes to accomplish in 2009.
He said Russia intended to boost cargo shipments via the Baltics and that Latvia's ports had considerable potential in this regard.
"I believe that Latvia has a large growth potential," he said. "After meeting with Latvia's transport minister, I can assure that our positions on transport development are 100 percent compatible."
Russia's railway tariffs for cargo shipped to Russian ports are 1.5-2.7 times lower than those for cargo sent to Latvia's ports. The issue has already been discussed at various levels several times but without result.
Yakunin said Riga's Free Port was particularly attractive in that it had a significant amount of territory open for development and expansion.
Russian-Latvian relations have undergone a slight thaw in recent months, particularly after the two countries exchanged border treaties in December. Remarkably, Latvia's decision last month to expel a Russian diplomat has not dented the momentum in bilateral relations.
Rail cargo shipments between Russia and all three Baltic states last year reached 54.4 million tons, according to reports, while shipments between Russia and Latvia increasing 19.8 percent to 27.9 million tons.
Yakunin also said that talks with the CEO of Latvijas Dzelcels (Latvian Railroad) had yielded grounds for the creation of a strategic partnership on railway cargo issues.
Speaking at a transportation conference in Riga, the Russian rail chief said that the Baltics possess a good geographic position in the Eurasian transport system and a well-developed infrastructure, a selling point that, to be sure, has brough few dividends in recent years.
Yakunin said Russia's railway strategy up to 2030 provided for construction of an additional 1,500 kilometers of railway lines and upgrading of the existing infrastructure in the northwestern region.
He also said that container cargo transport in 2007 doubled thanks to the regular use of Baltika-Tranzit train, which has regular routes from the Baltic ports to the Central Asian states. "According to our estimates, the container cargo traffic may increase four times by 2020," he said.
"We consider the Baltic states to be our strategic partners and are sure that our cooperation will considerably contribute to the development of friendly relations between our sates," Yakunin said.