FREE ZONES WILL REMAIN, THOUGH ILLEGAL: Estonia has no legal basis for free zones even though the previous government set up three such zones by its decrees, said Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja. In Estonia, a free zone can be interpreted in the context of the customs law, but the former government gave the law a wider interpretation, Parnoja said May 12 in answer to lawmakers' queries. The Sillamae and Valga free zones are in essence free economic zones, the economics minister maintains, therefore they have no legal guarantee. Duty-free zones are conceivable but only as what the customs law defines as customs warehouses, that is, goods stored in or removed from them are exempt from turnover duty. Yet the free zone in Sillamae, established by the previous government's decree, is to be used not only to store goods but also to process them and give them added value. The new government however finds it inexpedient to change its predecessor's decrees.
BEER AND SPRATS - LATVIA'S BEST PRODUCTS: Experts have selected Piebalgas Alus beer, Golden Sprats made by Banga, Marupe tomatoes, Gotina toffees produced by Turiba and sour-sweet bread baked by Madonas Maiznieks as the best Latvian food products. The selection was made as part of Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans' initiative titled "Latvian Products for the 21st Century." Kristopans admitted that experts had a hard time selecting the very best of a total of 31 high-quality products entered in the competition. The premier said that so far "Latvian producers had been left sort of neglected as a poor relative" but the situation needs to be changed and similar exhibitions had to be held in the largest exhibition facility in Kipsala, Riga, every year. A similar competition will also be held for manufactured products before the exhibition ends on May 29.
SEB MIGHT TAKE CONTROL IN VILNIAUS BANKAS: The Vilniaus Bankas' management does not rule out the possibility of Sweden's Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken taking a controlling stake in the Lithuanian bank. "I suspect that SEB might want to have 50 percent plus one vote in Vilniaus Bankas. If the banks are operating successfully, why not own them," said Raimondas Kutra, Vilniaus Bankas' deputy board chairman. SEB has not ruled out that it might boost its holding in Vilniaus Bankas if there are favorable conditions and good price, Kutra noted. SEB Baltic Holding Vice President Harald Fleetwood said SEB considers boosting its stakes in Vilniaus Bankas and Estonia's Uhispank, adding that the implementation of these plans would depend on the price of shares. SEB now holds 36.6 percent of Vilniaus Bankas, 44.3 percent of Uhispank and 48.8 percent of Latvia's Unibanka.
COMPANY READY TO CLOSE ITS DAIRY: Estonia's Uhinenud Meiereid may close its dairy either in Paide or in Viljandi, the Aripaev business newspaper reported. "Polva Piim dairy specializes in the production of powdered milk and butter and we will either cut back production in the other dairies or close one of them," said Andres Vinni, Uhinenud Meiereid's council deputy chairman. Closure of either of the dairies would mean loss of jobs for 300 people. Viljandi's Mulgi Meier dairy is currently working at less than half capacity. During the past year, it has laid off 130 people and closed several of its shops. The united dairies lost 59 million kroons ($4.07 million) in 1998.
PREATONI GETS INTO PASTRY BUSINESS: The new owner of Staburadze pastry factory, Italian businessman Ernesto Preatoni, is ready to make long-term investments in the pastry factory. Preatoni, who bought his shares on a whim after a dinner with the company's management, admitted that he knew nothing about the food industry, just like he had no idea about building houses when he started his real estate business in Latvia. The Italian businessman acquired shares in the Latvian pastry factory through Estonia's Hansapank. The shares had been bought both at the stock exchange and from existing Staburadze shareholders.