VISA CARDS SPREAD FAST IN ESTONIA: Over the past year, Estonia has been the fastest growing Visa debit and credit card market, with 354,000 Visa cards issued by the end of March and the volume of Visa card transactions exceeding 10 billion kroons ($682.13 million). From April 1998 to the end of March 1999, the number of Visa cards issued in Estonia increased by 214 percent, and the volume of transactions by 410 percent, said Martin Bate, Visa International vice president for the Baltics and CIS. "Considering the size of population, Estonia has more Visa cards than Denmark, Sweden and several other European Union countries," Bate said. The bulk of the bank cards issued in Estonia are Visa Electron debit cards, with the share of credit cards being relatively small.
CZECHS SUE UTENOS BREWERY OVER TRADEMARK: The Czech brewery Plzensky Prazdroj has sued Utenos Alus, claiming that the Lithuanian beer maker has illegally put the name Pilsener on its production. The Czech company wants the court to ban Utenos Alus from using the word Pilsener, which they say misleads consumers. "Consumers may think that the beer is produced in Pilsen itself," said Marius Jakulis-Jasonas, a lawyer with the AAA company which has filed the suit on behalf of the Czech brewery in a Vilnius court. Plzensky Prazdroj has registered the brand names Pils, Pilsener and Pilsen in Lithuania, and local producers are not allowed to use them, the lawyer said. Utenos Alus Director General Stasys Krasauskas said the word Pilsener has been used by many breweries all around the world, adding that the company has secured permission to use it from all relevant institutions. Pilsener now accounts for some 30 percent of Utenos Alus sales, being outstripped only by the Utenos brand in terms of popularity.
RAILROAD RAISES PASSENGER FARES: Latvian Railways is planning to increase tariffs for passenger transportation as of Sept. 1, when passengers will have to pay on average 0.0125 lats ($0.02) per kilometer instead of the current 0.011 lats. At present the cost of one passenger per kilometer is 0.034 lats, and the difference between the actual cost and the ticket price is covered by the company. Last year the railway company lost 8.2 million lats in commuter traffic and 6.8 million lats in local passenger traffic. After the Russian crisis and Russian imposition of tariffs on cargo coming to or from Latvia, Latvian Railways found it difficult to subsidize passenger traffic from cargo transportation profits.
MORE ESTONIANS CHOOSE MOBILE PHONES: According to preliminary information released by Eesti Telekom, Estonia had 22 mobile phone users per 100 inhabitants at the end of the first half of 1999. At the end of 1998, mobile phone density was 17.1 percent. Eesti Mobiiltelefon continues as the leader on the Estonian mobile phone market. In terms of clients, EMT's market share is up to 63 percent and in terms of turnover more than 80 percent, Eesti Telekom Board Chairman Toomas Somera said. The number of EMT's clients increased by 52,700 to 204,200 in the first half of 1999. Two-thirds of the new clients use the prepaid Simpel phone card.
BREWERIES MIGHT JOIN FORCES WITH PEPSI: The Swedish beer group BBH is looking into the possibility of joining forces with the soft drink giant Pepsi-Cola on the Baltic market. BBH holds majority stakes in Lithuania's two biggest beer producers: the Panevezys-based Kalnapilis and Utenos Alus. Managers of Jungtinis Alus Centras, the wholesaler of Utena and Kalnapilis beer production, held talks with representatives from Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers and Pepsi-Cola International in Vilnius earlier this week. "We exchanged information on each other's sales networks and positions in the market," said Arunas Jarmolavicius, the wholesaler's director general . Both sides would benefit from such cooperation. It would enable Pepsi-Cola to enlarge its sales network, while the beer producers would be able to offer a wider range of products to their customers, Jarmolavicius said. He said that decisions on cooperation were unlikely until mid-September as the parties needed to weigh their offers.