Access to sea

Several states are interested in processing Belarusian cargos in their respective sea ports
Geographically, Belarus is a solely land-based state. Yet de facto it is a sea power. the case is that 17 m tons of Belarusian cargos are transported to other states by sea annually. Potassium fertilizers go to India, China and Latin America. Tractors are supplied to Pakistan. Metal cord for car tyres is exported to USA. Oil products and timber is marketed in England and other European countries. In return, Belarus imports a lot of bulk products like raw sugar by sea.

With such large shipments, every cent saved per cargo ton results in prominent savings in total. This is why each route is thoroughly calculated in terms of costs. Eventually, it goes like this: most Belarusian bulk are processed in sea ports of Klaipeda, Lithuania and Ventspils, Latvia. About 18% falls on Nikolaev, Ukraine and the rest goes through Kaliningrad, Russia. To minimize expenses, it was decided on national level to purchase cargo ships, establish national shipping company and create our own port, if possible. Our business partners follow this process closely and give Belarus various preferences to obtain right to process Belarusian cargoes in their respective ports.

For instance, opportunities for increasing Belarusian cargo transit through Kaliningrad seaport are under active discussion now. This complies with development strategy of Belarus-Russia Union state. The question of this cooperation was given consideration to at the meeting of Presidents Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin this summer. Later Belarusian President discussed future details of this project with Vladimir Egorov, governor of Kaliningrad region. Alexander Lukashenko spoke in favor of increasing Belarusian turnover in this Baltic region. The more especially as the distance to the region is virtually the same as the distance to another ice-free Baltic seaport — Klaipeda. A special bilateral workgroup is assigned to prepare cooperative projects by the end of this year to start them working in full power next year.

Yet in any case Kaliningrad port is not likely to process over a million tons of Belarusian potassium fertilizers, due to a number of technology reasons. It was proposed to build Belarusian seaport in Baltijsk (former Pilau) situated not far from Kaliningrad. It would be possible to anchor large ocean ships there and, consequently, process up to 8.2 m tons of Belarusian bulks a year. Such port would hardly find competitors. Yet to create it, some $180-200m and several years are demanded. And we need to send and receive shipments right now.

In this situation Lithuania shows emphatic competitive activity to attract Belarusian cargo transit. This process is most evident against the background of general Belarusian-Lithuanian relations. Before Lithuania entered the EU, both parties apprehended it would be impossible to agree a great deal of documents in diverse spheres and that would affect mutual commodity turnover. However, there was no decrease observed. Moreover, mutual turnover is steadily growing and has reached the impressive level of $1.5 billion. in year 2005 it grew by half approximately as compared to the same period of preceding year. Vladimir Garkun, ambassador of Belarus to Lithuania, noted: "Our trade shows nice dynamics — and transit is of immediate importance here."

Belarusian transit through Lithuania is primarily processed in Klaipeda state seaport. Each fourth ton processed here is incoming or outgoing from Belarus: sawn timber, mineral fertilizers, tractors, metals, raw sugar, 4.6 billion tons a year in total. In contexts of severe competition with other Baltic ports this can be considered a prominent indicator of mutual confidence. Sagidas Dobilinskas, director general of Klaipeda port stated emphasizing each word: "We are very interested in cooperation. We have all-purpose structure; however, it was created with regard to Belarusian freights."

Representatives of other stevedoring companies immediately engaged in transshipment agree with him. Today the are several joint projects under development at the same time. The most prominent one concerns increase of Belarusian potassium fertilizers dispatched through Klaipeda to 1-2m tons. Minsk tractors shipped through the port count in thousands. In July first container train under symbolic name of Mercury crossed all Belarus and left for Moscow from Klaipeda port. (Besides, the train was made up mainly from cars from Kaliningrad port). Reckoning on development of such projects, administration of Klaipeda port invested Euro 290 m into its reconstruction throughout last 5 years, and keeps up the renovation. Today the port is capable of loading vessels of up to 60 thousand tons displacement and has enormous covered storehouses and well-developed access lines. Expecting increase of turnover, the port and Lithuanian railroad have set a number of allowances and preferences for Belarusian shippers.

Naturally, Belarusian enterprises view all these as steps toward improvement of cooperation. Here is a typical example: last summer delegation from Mogilev region of Belarus visited Klaipeda (these two are sister towns). Nikolai Yermak, representative of Belarusian Chamber of Commerce shared future plans with us: "We plan to use the port for shipping wood residue bricks popular in Europe as means of heating." Projects of the kind are also facilitated by the fact that our countries enjoy good neighborly relations, which was stated by Alexander Lukashenko during his accept of credential letters from Petras Vaitekyunas, Ambassador of Lithuania to Belarus, in July 2005.

And still, will Belarus stake on a single seaport and which one? It′s hard to expect specific answer. Truly, it′s difficult to combine all modern processing and shipment facilities for hundreds of commodities in one place. Additionally, absence of competition will hardly serve for the good. However, it is quite feasible that Belarusian cargo turnover through foreign seaports will soon become more balanced.

Vladimir Yakovlev
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