Although Russia's economic woes this past year have inspired the Lithuanians to hunt around for alternative export markets, the recent protocol indicates that Russia is still a customer impossible to ignore.
According to the protocol, signed by Lithuanian Agriculture Minister Edvardas Makelis and Moscow city government's food stock department head Vitaly Morozov, Lithuania will send 5,000 tons of first class beef, 2,000 tons of butter, 1,000 tons of powdered milk, 3 million tins of stewed beef and 50,000 tons of wheat to the Russian capital next year.
"This agreement was a serious step in proving Lithuania as a serious exporter," Makelis noted. "Compared to Belarus, which is also a big agricultural country, Russia agreed that Lithuania was a more serious partner. Lithuania is able to guarantee a larger amount of exports."
Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas helped set the stage for the protocol when he met with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Russian Prime Minister Sergy Stepashin at the end of June. Morozov told the Baltic News Service that the economic agreements signed during Paksas' visit, such as the avoidance of double taxation, has opened the door for more Lithu-anian exports to arrive.
When Russia was belted by a financial crisis nearly a year ago, Lithuania's exporters of agricultural products also got the wind knocked out of them. Suddenly, Li-thu--ania's biggest trading partner, at that time, had no money to pay up. But Ma-kelis recently said that plenty of export opportunities still exist in Moscow.
"Moscow is a big market and that market can pay," said Makelis. "Every year $40 billion is spent on food there. Every day Moscow needs 25,000 tons of food."
Still, the deal with Moscow will be carried out by a government intermediary called the Lithuanian Agriculture and Food Market Agency. The agency buys up agricultural products and hunts for foreign buyers to sell them to. So far this year, the agency has already sold $6.25 million worth of food products to Moscow, according to ELTA figures.
The agency's director, Danius Rumskas, said Muscovites have had opportunities to buy Lithuanian grain only recently. After "the complicated process" of getting the quality of Lithuanian grain evaluated and approved for the Moscow market, Rumskas said that approximately 50,000 tons of grain will be exported to the Russian capital this year.
"As far as grain goes, we've only began working with Moscow a couple months ago," said Rumskas. "Before, Lithuanian grain was absolutely unknown in the Moscow market."
Makelis seems to have the impression that the Russian market is not as hideous as it is sometimes made out to be by the press and some politicians.
"Even after [the Russian crisis], Russia's market is still interesting to countries like the United States, Canada and New Zealand," said Makelis. "In my opinion, the market is still attractive."