• 2002-05-16
EU DREAMING: With the Latvian economy set to grow faster than 5 percent for the second consecutive year, the country's president said May 9 she hoped it could catch up to European Union income levels within 10 years. "I hope that it won't take 30 years or so. I hope Latvia will reach this level in around 10 years if we continue as we have started," President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told businessmen at a conference in Riga. Recent EU projections based on Latvian economic forecasts suggested it will take until 2027 for the country's gross domestic product per capita to reach 75 percent of the average EU level - the point at which a country becomes ineligible for structural aid from the EU budget. Latvia has weathered the recent global downturn well, with its economy growing by 7.6 percent last year, mainly on the back of traditional industries such as transit and wood products. The International Monetary Fund on May 8 raised its forecast for Latvia's 2002 GDP growth to 5 percent, matching forecasts from the World Bank and EU. Latvia hopes to complete negotiations later this year and join the EU in 2004. (Agence France-Presse)

TRADE GAP: Lithuania's foreign trade deficit widened by 19.5 percent in the first-quarter of 2002 compared with the same period last year to 1.73 billion litas ($453.59 million), the national statistics department said May 10. Lithuanian exports grew by 1 percent to 4.33 billion litas, while imports increased by 5.7 percent to 6.06 billion litas during the quarter. The European Union was the destination for 51.5 percent of Lithuanian exports and was the source of 45.5 percent of imports during the period. (AFP)

MILK QUOTAS: Estonia will lobby members of the European Union to raise the quota for milk production it has been offered, the country's agriculture minister was quoted as saying May 13. "Our hope is pretty big," Jaanus Marrandi told the newspaper Vorumaa Teataja. "Why shouldn't it be?" Estonia is sending two teams of experts to major EU capitals to explain its need for a higher quota. The European Commission earlier this year angered countries seeking EU admission with its proposals for agricultural production quotas. Its plan to cap direct subsidies to farmers at 25 percent of the level of current member states was likewise poorly received. Estonia is one of 10 countries that hopes to wrap up negotiations and join the EU in 2004. The European Commission has suggested that Estonia's production quota for milk should be 562,000 tons a year, instead of the current level of 680,000 tons. Estonia is seeking to secure a quota of 900,000 tons a year, arguing that the EU's proposed figure reflects the low point in the country's post-Soviet era agricultural situation, which has significantly improved since then. Marrandi said that if Estonia's quota were not increased to the desired level immediately, it might be done in stages. (AFP)

GAS DEAL CLOSING: Lithuania's State Property Fund and a consortium of German investors, including the gas firms Ruhrgas and E. On, signed an agreement May 14 on the sale of a 34 percent stake in Lithuania's state-owned natural gas utility Lietuvos Dujos. The Lithuanian government is expected to approve the deal later this week. A shareholder agreement is expected to be inked sometime in June. Under the deal the German investors will pay 116 million litas ($30.41 million) for the stake. The government, which currently holds 92.36 percent of shares in Lietuvos Dujos, plans to launch a second tender to sell another 34 percent stake in the company to a Russian natural gas supplier. (Baltic News Service)

ALL QUOTAS: Agriculture ministers from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia last week appealed to the European Union to increase production quotas offered to candidate countries as current proposals would lead to higher unemployment. Lithuanian Agriculture Minister Jeronimas Kraujelis and his Latvian counterpart Atis Slakteris and Jaanus Marandi of Estonia told journalists on May 8 that they had sent another joint letter to the EU urging it to improve its current offer to candidate countries. In a letter sent to EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler last month the Baltic ministers called for farmers from candidate countries to immediately receive equal subsidies as farmers in current member states. But on May 9 the ministers expressed more concern about the impact of low production quotas, especially for milk and sugar. "If current EU proposals are approved, we shall have to abandon about one-third of all arable land," said Kraujelis. "With the quotas proposed by the EU we wouldn't be able to compete in the EU," added Slakteris. The ministers expressed the low quotas would cause unemployment to shoot up sharply, with rural development aid unlikely to replace lost farming income. (AFP)

EXPORTS TO EU DOWN: Latvia's exports to European Union countries decreased during the first three months of the year while imports from the EU increased, the national statistics office has reported. During the first-quarter of the year Latvia exported goods worth 189.37 million lats ($305.43 million) to the EU, down 4.7 percent or 9.36 million lats compared with the same period last year. Imports from the EU, meanwhile, continue to increase. In the first-quarter of this year, Latvia imported goods worth 280.68 million lats, up 12.3 percent or 30.80 million lats compared with the first-quarter of last year. Exports to the EU accounted for 60.7 percent of Latvia's total exports during the first-quarter of the year and EU imports accounted for 54.2 percent of total imports. (BNS)

FINNISH TRADE: Finland, a key trade partner with Estonia, had a trade surplus in March of 1.18 billion euros ($1.08 billion), slightly higher than the 1.01 billion euros in March last year, preliminary data from the Finnish National Customs Board showed on May 13. Exports in March fell 7 percent from the figure of 12 months earlier to 4.12 billion euros. Imports decreased by 14 percent to 2.94 billion euros. The trade surplus for the first three months of the year stood at 2.68 billion euros, compared with 2.83 billion in the same period last year, the board said. (AFP)