BALTICS SET TO DEVELOP VIA BALTICA: The first phase of the trans-Baltic Via Baltica highway must be completed by 2002, the Baltic transport and communications ministers decided Feb. 19. Estonian Transport Minister Raivo Vare said Estonia will have to solve three problems to complete the project. It will have to renew the southward road out of Tallinn, the Parnu circular road and a stretch of Via Baltica from Haademeeste to the Latvian border. Vare said these three stretches of the Via Baltica require the investment of $30 million. The ministers agreed on a strategy for the development of the Via Baltica track, by which only the most complicated roads will be developed. The main criterion in the selection of the points is their load of traffic. The Baltic countries are planning to apply for funds from the European Union's programs to finance the building of points of the Via Baltic track.
BANK CHANGES NAME: Latvijas Investiciju Banka will change its name to Merita Nordbanken Latvia, the bank announced Feb. 17. "We have prepared an application to the Bank of Latvia and hope to settle all necessary formalities in order to change the name as of April 1," said Bank President Aivars Jurcans. Hannu Halttunen, the bank's council deputy chairman, said that "after Merita Nordbanken Group became the largest of Latvijas Investiciju Banka's shareholder in 1998, the change of name was only a matter of time." He said that LIB was developing its services rapidly and had the potential to become a leading bank in provision of corporate services. At present Merita Nordbanken holds 69.61 percent of LIB shares, Nordic Investment Bank owns 20 percent, Finnfund -10.39 percent and the board - 0.006 percent of the bank's shares.
FREE TRADE AGREEMENT PROBLEMS CONTINUE: A joint Baltic committee has not reached a solution regarding Lithuania's violation of the Baltic Free Trade Agreement during their meeting in Vilnius from Feb. 17 to 18. Latvia protests Lithuania's decision to set a minimum price floor on imported foodstuffs to which taxes are added later. Lithuania proposed that Latvia should present a list of goods with prices that violate the free trade agreement. Rimantas Segzda, director of the Economics Ministry's export and import regulation department, said Latvians do not like minimum prices set on eggs, chicken meat and some other food products that match or are above the average market prices in Lithuania. The minimum price system, imposed as a domestic market protection measure, will be in effect until January 2000, he said. Latvia has urged Vilnius to change it sooner.
CHINESE SHOES FROM DAUGAVPILS: Chinese businessmen have expressed readiness to invest resources into the Daugavpils-based Daugava footwear company to develop footwear and sewing facilities. Daugava's Director Dmitry Fyodorov said the company halted production at the beginning of the year because of difficulties in sales and sent its 360 employees on leave for an unspecified term. For two years Daugava was working with the German concern Adidas producing sports footwear for the German army, but the contract was terminated because the client was dissatisfied with the quality and output volumes. Fyodorov said problems with quality rise from the outdated equipment which was installed in 1979. He said Daugava needs complete replacement of the equipment and introduction of new technologies, which would require at least $5 million. The negotiations with the potential Chinese investors could wind up within two months.
SCOOPING ICE CREAM OUT OF A NEW PLANT: Tallinna Kulmhoone plans to launch a 80 million kroon ($5.71 million) ice cream factory in April. Finance Director Evald Karu said the company needed a new ice cream factory because its existing facilities are worn-out. The new plant's capacity will be 7,000 to 8,000 tons of ice cream per year. While consumption of ice cream in Estonia is expected to grow at a slower pace in the near future than it did in the past few years, the company expects sales in Latvia and Lithuania to increase rapidly. Kulmhoone sold 380 tons of ice cream in Latvia in 1998.