Embassies to shine bigger spotlight on economics

  • 1998-10-15
  • Paul Beckman
VILNIUS - Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius met with Lithuanian diplomats and economic consultants Oct. 7 to encourage them to put a greater stress on matters in the spheres of economics.

The prime minister put the embassy officials on a mission to seek out new markets in an effort to put Lithuania on the economic map and to help it withstand the financial crisis plaguing other countries.

"Already, economic advisers at embassies are valued as very important representatives of the Lithuanian Republic's economic institutions abroad," said Vagnorius. "We believe they will become strong supporters and assistants of this country's enterprises."

Vagnorius also pledged more government support for upgrading the economic abilities in embassies by expanding appropriate departments and take financial issues into consideration for the 1999 budget.

In addition to meeting with the prime minister, economic attaches also spent time throughout the week with a number of state institution officials, business representatives and finally, the press.

At the Oct. 8 press conference, Vice Foreign Minister Algimantas Rimkunas and a collection of economic advisers working in Lithuanian embassies in the United States, Russia and Germany shared experiences of their current work in the field of economics.

Nerijus Zukas, economic adviser in Lithuania's Embassy in Germany, stated there is a need for encouraging Lithuanians to use embassies to their full potential. Zukas said he was confused as to why the assistance the embassy could provide is under-utilized by Lithuanian businessmen.

"Germans often speak with us and are interested in the business of exporting Lithuanian products to Germany," said Zukas. "On the other hand, it seems Lithuanians do not seek such assistance. In the embassy, we have people who are knowledgeable in such fields and our people should show more interest in the help we can provide."

In addition to encouraging business people to use what is available, Rimkunas also mentioned the need to expand and find new and reliable trading partners regardless of how "untraditional" they are.

"Take Turkey for example," said Rimkunas. "They are not considered a traditional trading partner, but nevertheless we have a good trading relationship with them. With about 60 million people living there, the Turkish market is huge."

As expected, the subject of the Russian financial crisis was almost immediately thrown onto the discussion table. While the speakers recognized the seriousness of the crisis, they refrained from showing any kind of panic.

"On the government level, special structures concerning the barter trade with Russia are already being developed," said Rimkunas. "The Russian crisis will be like litmus paper for our business people. It will demand that they show they are flexible and able to find new markets. But Russia will always be a country which we will need for resources and a place to sell our products."

Rimutis Klevecka, advisor in Lithuania's Embassy in Russia, labeled the Russian market as risky, but still a place where normal business relationships can take place. He also said Lithuanian business people were willing to work with the Russians.

"Compared to some of Russia's other trading partners, we are like professors because we know how to work with Russia and Russian businessmen," said Klevecka. "The guest house at the embassy is always full, which shows that business people are working on their relations with the Russians and have a great interest in it."

Dalia Grybauskaite, a high ranking official in the embassy in the United States, welcomed the view that trade with Russia can still be achieved. She said that while America is considered a valuable investor in Lithuania, it is currently not high on the list as a trading partner. Grybauskaite said that among the global regions which America considers as an economical priority, Europe manages to claim only the fifth spot, behind Africa.

"And Eastern Europe is ranked even lower," said Grybauskaite. "Lithuania is not even on the list of America's top 100 trading partners. We're ranked somewhere around 114th or 116th place. The American market is complicated and dynamic and too far away for our business people to have much interest in it."

With their work cut out for them, the economic attaches said their meetings were informative and helpful. Perhaps it has given them the extra weight needed to push economic issues into the spotlight.