SEAMEN PROTEST TAX-FREE ABOLITION: The Independent Trade Union of Estonian Seamen and the Union of Ship Owners have warned against dropping Estonia's demand in accession talks with the EU for a transition period before halting tax-free trade on ships. Dropping the demand would defeat the object of holding negotiations, the unions said. "The previous government decided to apply for a transition period of six-and-a-half years, a decision which is both economically and politically grounded," a spokesman said. "What's the price of making a concession? What will make up for the discontinuation of shipping services, the money tourists bring in, jobs in transportation, trade, hotels, restaurants and the income lost by the state?" The Reform Party's Kristiina Ojuland, who assumes the post of foreign minister next week, said that postponement of several important decisions during the reign of the previous government had slowed down Estonia's talks with the EU. "The government sought to put off certain decisions which needed to be made sooner to maintain the pace of the talks," Ojuland told the daily Eesti Paevaleht, naming as an example the issue of abolition of tax-free trade.
NBA PLAYER EXPECTS RETURNS: Sarunas Marciulionis, former NBA basketball player, predicted that within 10 years he would see a return on an investment of 60 million litas ($15 million) he has made in a sports and entertainment center, Forum Place, which is being built on the bank of Vilnius' Neris River and is due to open at the end of this year. "Given current prices and services, it is estimated that the project will bear fruit in 7-8 years," said Marciulionis. The five-floor, 14,000-square-meter entertainment center will house a sports club, swimming pools, saunas, disco, banqueting halls, bowling center, casino, strip-tease bar, restaurant and sports bar. It is expected to employ 200 people in addition to security and cleaning staff. The center, which is being constructed by the Kaunas-based construction company Kautra, will have a two-story 2,500-square-meter underground parking. Marciulionis declined to name the other investors in the project but noted that some investment was coming from Russia.
CARRIERS FREE TO GO: Russia will temporarily suspend applying of tougher controls on Lithuanian road haulers. The decision was made after the Lithuanian side resolved to increase measures against the transport of contraband goods during a meeting between Valerijonas Valickas, head of the Lithuanian customs department, and Mikhail Vanin, chairman of the Russian state customs committee, in Moscow on Jan. 25. Russia imposed tighter controls on Lithuanian carriers in late 2001 and on Jan. 25 introduced a mandatory convoy procedure for all consignments from Lithuania. Vanin applauded cooperation between the Lithuanian and Russian customs offices in trying to prevent breaches of the customs procedures and expressed hope that after suspending the tighter measures the Lithuanian national road carriers association, Linava, would find ways to efficiently control the issuing and use of permits which allow speedier border crossing.
FRIENDLY FOOD: The Lithuanian Parliament postponed until spring adopting a new draft of the law on value added tax , which would establish new VAT rates in line with EU requirements. A disagreement arose after MPs approved by a narrow majority a proposal by the opposition Liberal faction to levy a 5 percent VAT tariff on environmentally friendly food products, a reduction from the regular 18 percent rate in line with EU guidelines which Finance Minister Vitas Vasiliauskas said would leave an unacceptable hole in this year's budget. After the vote the parliamentary budget and finance committee demanded the law's adoption be postponed until an extraordinary parliamentary session which is likely to start on Feb. 28. The plan was for the new version of the law to take effect Jul. 1. If, as seems possible, all foodstuffs are classed as environmentally friendly and therefore only subject to 5 percent VAT budget revenues would decline by 300 million litas ($75 million) per year, Vasiliauskas said.
SWEET QUOTAS: The Lithuanian government rejected a bill under which the price of white sugar would be regulated and existing quotas for sugar production would be redistributed. The government had been asked to give its opinion regarding draft amendments to the law on sugar worked out by a group of lawmakers. The amendments would establish a minimum price for sugar sales on the domestic market and sets fines to be imposed on companies that fail to meet this requirement. Also the bill would impose equal white sugar production quotas on all the country's four sugar refineries in 2002. The government rejected such measures saying that setting a minimum sugar price contravened World Trade Organization rules and the terms of the World Bank's structural adjustment loan to Lithuania. Last year in response to a flooding of the market the government temporarily set a minimum sale price for sugar manufactured from raw materials within the established quota system of 2.43 litas ($0.61) per kilogram. The government intends to set a sugar production quota of 122,000 tons this year, compared to the 2001 quota of 112,000 tons.