"When you've done all you can and still face losses, the only thing left is to turn to the government," Valdemar Nuvall, McDonald's regional general director, told Lietuvos Rytas this week.
Deploring five years' of constant losses in Lithuania, Nuvall said the customs issue could determine McDonald's fate in the country.
However, McDonald's subsequently denied it was threatening to pull out of Lithuania, according to the newspaper Verslo Zinios on Jan. 15.
The business daily cited company spokesman Krzystof Klapa as saying McDonald's only wanted to draw attention to the fact that import tariffs were much higher in Lithuania than in Latvia and Estonia.
McDonald's officials were unavailable to respond to questions from The Baltic Times.
According to Lithuanian media the fast-food giant is asking the Lithuanian government to authorize duty-free imports this year of 100 tons of beef, 150 tons of buns, 45 tons of chicken patties, 3 tons of fish and 35 tons of cheese.
Last year the government approved a similar exemption for the high-profile U.S. investor, despite opposition by the Finance Ministry.
The company says quality standards and economic considerations underlie its policy of importing nearly all food products for its stores in the Baltics from Poland.
In Lithuania, local suppliers provide only Coca-Cola drinks, sugar and salad ingredients.
McDonald's has invested $10 million in Lithuania to date and currently has six restaurants in the country, the same number as in Latvia and Estonia.
Local competitors are indignant at their American rival's request. "Why should an exemption be made for one company? There should be equal conditions for all market players," the owner of the popular Vilnius restaurant Kuba, Algimantas Jablonskas, told Lietuvos Rytas.
"We'd also like to import products from abroad if we could do so without having to pay customs. But maybe there are political motives here, maybe you're supposed to love foreigners more," he added.
The paper, citing unofficial sources, said the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius had appealed to the Lithuanian government in support of McDonald's position.