RIGA - Though it has proven to be unprepared for EU accession, the leadership of Riga Free Port has been busy trying to strike new strategic deals with potential partners in both Asia and North America in order to realize the port's vast unfulfilled potential when Latvia becomes a member of the European Union.
This week Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars, who is also chairman of the port, was in Houston where he met with port officials to talk about strategic cooperation. According to Bojars, port managers there expressed interest in container and oil product transit.
The visit came just one week after Bojars returned from China, where a high-level delegation led by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga visited the Hong Kong international terminal, one of the largest and most efficient ports in the world.
Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers said of the visit: "I hope that a small part of cargos could be shipped through Latvian ports and this would help us to develop rapidly."
According to Slesers, "Hong Kong was not interested in Latvia while it was not a EU member but the situation will change after May 1 [Latvia's EU accession date], and I think we will see some real cooperation already this year."
The networking couldn't come earlier for Latvia's ports, none of which is certified by the European Union to handle food products from non-EU member states. None of Latvia's railroad terminals is also prepared to deal with imports and exports of food products.
By contrast, Estonia has two ports - and Lithuania three - that will be ready to handle food shipments from non-EU countries come May 1.
The lack of sanitary preparedness will hit the ports' bottom-line, though no one was guessing the extent of the loss.
U.S.-based Globex Internation-al, for instance, announced this week it would cease chicken transits through Latvia since the country has failed to bring its sanitary border control points up to EU standards.
Leonid Kogan, who founded the company, told the Dienas Bizness newspaper that transit through Latvia to CIS countries, excluding Russia, made up about 25 percent of Globex's business.
Until the Riga port receives the EU accreditation, Globex will have to switch temporarily its business to neighboring countries, Kogan said.
Experts have said that Latvia's ports, including Ventspils and Liepaja, are likely to be prepared and certified by the end of the year. The government, however, was angered by the news, and a working group has reportedly been established to determine who is at fault for the lack of preparedness. o