Swedish ties that bind

  • 1999-05-20
  • By Paul Beckman
VILNIUS - From time to time, American funnyman David Letterman treats his nationwide late night television audience to a game in which the object is to find Swedes.

Known for his off the wall humor, Letterman sends a camera onto the streets of New York City and asks people at random if they are Swedish. A successful find is generally rewarded by an enthusiastic round of applause by audience members, though citizens from the largest Scandinavian country are rarely found.

Letterman would definitely meet more success with his Swede hunt in Lithuania, which seems to have an increasing number of Swedes hanging around. But the Lithuanians are not complaining.

In fact, economic relations between Sweden and Lithuania only stand to benefit from it. Sweden has been the big man in Lithuania's direct investment scene ever since a Swedish-Finnish consortium called Amber Teleholdings locked up a $510 million deal for a controlling chunk of Lietuvos Telekomas. But Lithuania's once anemic trade relations with Sweden look stronger ever year.

According to the Swedish Export Council office in Vilnius, Sweden's exports to Lithuania have increased by over 30 percent from 1997 to 853.3 million litas ($213.3 million). Lithuania, saw a more modest increase in its exports from 300.2 million litas in 1997 to 384.3 million litas in 1998.

"We are seeing that trade has increased," said Laura Guobuzaite of the Lithuanian Development Agency. "The trade gap is more or less the same as a year ago."

The Lithuanian Development Agency is working to keep the amount of trade heading upward while lessening Lithuania's trade gap. One way they feel they can do that is to establish more contact between Lithuanian and Swedish business folk. Currently a program called "Baltic Tigers" is aiming to get the mingling started.

"As you know, we had our first contact fair last year," said Guobuzaite. "The next one is planned to start on May 19 in Vilnius. Lithuanian companies get contacts and contracts."

The Swedish Trade Council is also striving to boost trade with Lithuania and other countries in the Baltic region. Their bureau in Vilnius has been operating for five years trying to make the tracks of trade constantly smoother.

On May 10 and 11, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson visited Lithuania. Persson's participation at the opening of Sweden's new embassy and his opinions on the Ignalina nuclear power plant got paid the most attention by the press. But his less publicized visit to the Swedish Export Service's new office and to Ericsson, Sweden's telecommunications giant, indicated how important economic relations with Lithuania are.

Ericsson, is a mobile phone giant on a global scale and, according to the company's export head for Eastern Europe, Anders Krook, "the largest company on the Swedish stock exchange." It is also a top seller of mobile phones in Lithuania

"We believe that business is local," said Krook. "And we're here for the long term. We enjoy being in Lithuania and plan on being here for years to come."