Balts go to Japan

  • 2001-09-13
  • Ilze Arklina
RIGA - Government officials and business people from the Baltic states are currently flocking to Japan with a view to strengthening ties which go back at least as far as the restoration of the Baltics' independence 10 years ago.

More specifically they aim to lure Japanese companies into the Baltics with assurances of a ready supply of cheap but skilled labor.

From Sept. 18 to 21 an exhibition of Baltic goods will be held in Tokyo on the initiative of Jetro, Japan's state-run foreign trade organization. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will each have 80 square meters to display their products.

"The goal is to promote exports and attract Japanese investment," said Andris Alksnis, head of export promotion at the Latvian Development Agency.

With outdoor advertising and posters in the Tokyo metro the exhibition has been well publicized. Jetro has also made a film about the Baltic states for broadcast in Japan. Among those interviewed are officials and potential exporters.

The Tokyo exhibition is one of the biggest export promotion projects undertaken by the Baltic states outside Europe. Although the Latvian Development Agency takes part in three or four exhibitions per year, its main experience is of working in Germany, Britain and Switzerland.

Alksnis said the agency lacks the financial resources to promote exports abroad. "For a few years the PHARE program provided support for training our employees and preparing development and financial plans. That money is no longer available so although we are prepared to work, the state gives us nothing for export promotion."

In 2001 the agency closed its representative offices in Frankfurt and London, leaving only those offices abroad which work for free. Despite such setbacks, Alksnis is determined to make a success of the Tokyo exhibition. "Although it is very difficult to impress the Japanese with anything, we have a few innovative products which might interest them. It is in our strategic interest to invite big Japanese companies operating in Europe to place orders in Latvia. Latvia offers cheap labor, a favorable investment climate and a stable national currency."

The Latvian delegation will meet with executives from the Japanese electronics giant Sanyo on Sept. 20. But attempts to set up a meeting with representatives of the SONY corporation have failed, said Inguna Berke of the Latvian Economy Ministry.

About 112 Japanese business people have confirmed they will attend a seminar on investment and business opportunities in the Baltics on Sept. 19.

The Latvian and Estonian delegations will be led by their countries' Economy ministers Aigars Kalvitis and Mikhel Parnoja respectively, while the Lithuanian delegation will be led by Deputy Economy Minister Gediminas Rainys.

Latvia's delegation, the largest of the three, includes 25 companies, nine of them from the woodworking and furniture producing sector. Lithuania's delegation includes 16 companies, six of them working in the amber and souvenir trade and three in the textile sector. Other Lithuanian participants include the country's largest electronics producer Vilniaus Vingis, the alcohol producer Alita and the dairy Zemaitijos Pienas. Estonia's delegation includes 10 companies.