Belarus pledges more exports through Latvia

  • 2001-03-15
  • Jorgen Johansson
VENTSPILS - The inauguration of a recently expanded cargo terminal at Ventspils Free Port may give fresh impetus to business relations between Latvia and Belarus.

Belarusian Prime Minister Vladimir Yermoshin, who cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony March 8, expressed his wishes for the terminal to be successful.

"Belarus does not have a port," he said and added, "We will use Ventspils port for all our western exports."

The extension of the terminal, run by the company Kalija Parks, will greatly improve the loading capacity to cargo ships. It is planned that the two facilities will be able to load up to 6,000 tons of fertilizers per hour and unload some 450 railway cars every 24 hours.

To clear the inevitable spray of chemical fertilizer dust in the terminal, the expansion has included equipping the facility with a ventilation system that meets international safety standards.

Five warehouses with a combined storage capacity of 120,000 tons stand nearby. These are able to store six different kinds of fertilizers, such as nitrogenous, phosphorous and potassium fertilizers. The total throughput capacity of Kalija Parks' new terminal is 7.5 million tons per year.

Ventspils Free Port is an impressive sight, a massive complex of loading terminals, railways, cranes and warehouses. More than 1,000 people work directly in the port area and perhaps twice as many indirectly.

The port is central to the ongoing feeling of prosperity in Ventspils, Latvia's third-largest city. Some of the terminals are among the most modern in the entire Baltic Sea region.

"By increasing our overall loading capacity, we will bring transport costs down," Oleg Stepanov, chairman of Kalija Parks, said.

The previous year, Kalija Parks handled some 5 million tons of fertilizers, including nearly 300,000 tons of various commodities. In 1998, the company loaded more mineral fertilizers than any other company in the world.

Ventspils' mayor Aivars Lembergs also made an appearance at the opening ceremony, pledging that this was not by any means the culmination of the port's expansion. "The port will continue to modernize with more and more terminals," he promised

Lembergs and Yermoshin seemed to be on the same wavelength as they planned to broaden their business relations.

"We are looking for economic stability, and for us Latvia is the best," Yermoshin said. "To the east is the Ukraine, but the situation there is not stable."

Lembergs said with a winning smile that doing business with Belarus is good not only for his town but for all of Latvia.

Another issue under discussion was the costs of the transportation of goods and how to bring these costs down.

Anatolijs Gorbunovs, Latvia's minister of transport, stressed the importance of investments in Latvian infrastructure. He said he thought it important for Latvia to have an excellent infrastructure so that potential transit clients will not be lost to nearby countries.

Yermoshin said that Russia is constructing new ports and investing in its infrastructure. But he preferred Belarus to work closer together on transit issues with Latvia, and he hoped transportation costs would go down there.

"Exports are the most important business for Belarus," he said. "Every year we export a total of $9 billion."

There are currently two companies in Ventspils Free Port that enjoy all the benefits of close cooperation with Belarusian export companies - Kalija Parks and Ventspils Commercial Port.

"The mutually profitable relationship between Ventspils and Belarus is growing," said Sergey Odincov, spokesman for Kalija Parks. "Last year, the flow of cargo from Belarus through the port of Ventspils doubled compared to last year."

Later this year, Kalija Parks intends to invest in building one more warehouse with a capacity of 60,000 tons. This project is estimated to have a price tag of $10 million, and the company is planning to invite the producers of mineral fertilizers from Russia and Belarus to help pay the bill.

Still, most of the freight through Ventspils that comes from Belarus consists of metals, timber and machinery. Belarus also uses the port for imports, mostly raw sugar to be processed in Belarusian sugar factories.