EU FOODSTUFFS TO JUMP IN PRICE: The Lithuanian Agriculture Ministry is preparing a draft document that calls for a temporary rise in customs duties on meat and some milk products imported from the European Union. The EU Commission agreed to allow a tariff increase last week. The ministry has proposed to increase import duties on raw and frozen beef and pork up to 37 percent, to raise tariffs by up to 26 percent on concentrated milk and cream and up to 24 percent on cheese and curds. Both sides failed to reach an agreement on a rise in import duties on sausages and other meat and milk products.
ERA PANK'S FINAL HOUR?: The Bank of Estonia announced that it will start bankruptcy proceedings against the suspended ERA Pank if it fails to present a detailed plan for re-capitalization signed by concrete investors by the end of the week. Andrus Kuusmann, head of central bank's information department, said the Bank of Estonia is unlikely to extend the moratorium of ERA bank until the beginning of April. Although the bank's assets are bigger than liabilities, it will not meet all demands in the course of liquidation because of the loans it has issued.
STOCK EXCHANGE TO OFFER MORTGAGE BONDS: Mortgage bonds issued by Latvia's mortgage bank, Latvijas Hipoteku un Zemes Banka, and Latvijas Investiciju Banka will be sold at variable prices during continuous trading at the Riga Stock Exchange. RSE President Uldis Cerps said the price for mortgage bonds will be determined as a percentage of par value. "There will also be trading exemptions for direct deals [with mortgage bonds]," Cerps added. He admitted that by quoting mortgage bonds, the stock exchange will be able to offer securities that are risk-free investments. The mortgage bank's bonds will be put up for public offer on Feb. 15. At first, they will be quoted on the second list, but the bank hopes that in time, its mortgage bonds could move onto the official list. Latvijas Hipoteku Banka has issued 10,000 mortgage bonds at par value of 100 lats ($175) with an annual interest of 8.5 percent and a redemption period of three years.
LITHUANIA PAYS MORE IN DECEMBER: Lithuania paid the highest minimum wage among the Baltic states in December, the Lithuanian Department of Statistics reported. In December, Lithuania's minimum wage stood at $107.50 compared with $73.56 in Latvia and $82.41 in Estonia. Estonia had the largest average pension of $89.60 in the third quarter of 1998. Latvia's average pension was slightly lower at $88.88, while in Lithuania, it was $73.63. Estonia also had the highest average wage of $284.40 in the third quarter. In Lithuania and Latvia it stood at $259.41 and $237.82 respectively.
TALLINN'S FIRST FIVE-STAR HOTEL: The Estonian Tourism Department's panel granted five stars to the hotel Park Consul Schlossle, the first hotel in Estonia to get the top ranking. Anne Hermlin, the tourism panel's secretary, said Park Consul Schlossle meets the requirements set for five-star or luxury hotels by the Estonian economics minister. Under the new hotel classification regulations, effective from the beginning of this year, hotels Olumpia and Palace will continue as four-star hotels this year. The hotels Viru and Central in Tallinn, Hotel Parnu and Rannahotell in the western resort town of Parnu, and Bernhard in Otepaaare are three-star hotels.
PEGGING LITAS TO EURO: The Lithuanian national currency, the litas, might be pegged to a basket of the euro and U.S. dollar come 2000. The central bank will analyze the issue of litas repegging this year, but no decisions will be made until 2000, said Reinoldijus Sarkinas, the central bank's board chairman. "The litas will be reoriented only in 2000 and an announcement will be made six months prior to it at the latest," he said. The central banker insisted that there were no grounds for a devaluation of the litas. "The rate of the litas against [other] currencies will not be changed," Sarkinas said. The litas has been pegged to the U.S. dollar at 4:1 since 1994. Back in 1997, the central bank said the litas would be repegged to a basket of the euro and the U.S. dollar. The change had been scheduled for the second half of 1998, but the government and the central bank changed their plans after the Russian crisis started.