Baltic circle ever expanding

[b]Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Latvia Alexander Gerasimenko tells us about the intensification of Belarus’ co-operation with the Baltic States in every direction [/b][i]Dear Mr. Ambassador! This autumn, Riga is hosting important image making events for Belarus. The 8th National Belarus EXPO-2010 Exhibition recently finished, in addition to the Belarusian-Latvian Investment Forum. Not long ago, our Foreign Minister, Sergei Martynov, went to Latvia. What role does this country play in the field of economic modernisation, attracting foreign investments and strengthening the European vector in the Belarusian economy? [/i]
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Latvia Alexander Gerasimenko tells us about the intensification of Belarus’ co-operation
with the Baltic States in every direction

Dear Mr. Ambassador! This autumn, Riga is hosting important image making events for Belarus. The 8th National Belarus EXPO-2010 Exhibition recently finished, in addition to the Belarusian-Latvian Investment Forum. Not long ago, our Foreign Minister, Sergei Martynov, went to Latvia. What role does this country play in the field of economic modernisation, attracting foreign investments and strengthening the European vector in the Belarusian economy?
For Belarus, Latvia is primarily a strategic trade-economic partner. In 2009, it occupied third place in terms of turnover beyond the CIS, while standing in second position for exports. Before the global financial-economic crisis began, Belarus and Lithuania were witnessing steady positive dynamics of bilateral trade. Of course, the crisis has influenced the pace of Belarusian-Latvian mutual trade development. The unfavourable situation in foreign trade is the result of a sharp deterioration in the market situation, dwindling business activity and lack of demand. Exports have fallen, as have average prices, with reduced supplies of oil and chemical products most influencing the drop in export revenue, in addition to limited rape seed sales. To restore its volume of exports, Belarus is gradually diversifying its supplies. From January-July 2010, deliveries of 105 new products were launched.
Latvia is also a promising ‘venue’ for the establishment of co-operative collaboration and promotion of Belarusian products to the EU. At present, MTZ-Service (co-founded by Minsk Tractor Works) and Alkomtrans (MAZ’s dealer) are operational in Latvia. A range of promising projects are being studied, with Belkommunmash JSC and Riga Carriage Building Plant discussing the possibility of joint production of trams. Under Latvia’s initiative, AMO Plant (Jelgava) has begun assembly of MTZ tractors, for further sale to Asian and African markets. The assembly of buses, trolley buses and other complicated machinery in Latvia is also under discussion. In addition, dozens of Latvian enterprises are receiving production components from Belarus, as well as chemical compounds.
I’m strongly convinced that the development of production co-operation between our countries will drive Belarusian-Latvian trade-economic interaction to a whole new level. Every year, investment collaboration between our two countries strengthens. In the first half of 2010, $29.6m of Latvian investments were attracted into Belarusian economy, including $20.1m of direct injections. Many have gone to the credit-financial sphere.
The liberalisation processes being observed in Belarusian economy is strengthening Latvian investors’ assurance that they’ve made a correct choice in the direction of their capital injections. In 2009 alone, the number of companies using Latvian money rose by 47, totalling 397. Last year, 48 firms with Belarusian capital were registered in Latvia, with their total number reaching 631. From January-July 2010, 54 companies with Belarusian funds were registered in Latvia, indicating Belarusian businessmen’s huge interest in Latvia and the realisation of their own commercial initiatives. Investment interaction is being observed in the spheres of industry, energy, public catering, real estate and construction.
Meanwhile, co-operation in the field of transport and transit is an important aspect of our bilateral ties. Up to 70 percent of all Belarusian cargo travels via Latvia, with vessels travelling to third countries. In turn, Belarus is the second most important transit partner for Latvia, after Russia; in 2009, it took on 24 percent of Latvian Railway’s loading, in addition to 19 percent of Latvian ports’ goods.
As a result, Belarusian-Latvian trade-economic relations are deve-loping dynamically, boasting sustainable strategic partnership.

As far as I know, new possibilities are opening up not only for business but regarding personal contacts between people…
You’re right. During Mr. Martynov’s visit to Riga, an agreement was signed between the Latvian and Belarusian governments on the simplified order of mutual travels by those residing in the border regions. Hundreds of thousands of citizens from Belarusian and Latvian border regions will now be able to visit border territories in the neighbouring state using visas which range from one to five years. Their travel arrangements will be greatly simplified as a result.
Among other important topic tackled during Mr. Martynov’s meeting with Latvian top officials was economic co-operation, with focus on transport and transit. Much attention was paid to the competitiveness of the Belarusian-Latvian cargo route from third countries, from North-South and East-West. The expansion of Belarus’ participation in the trans-European transport network was also highlighted. The parties discussed promising projects in the field of industrial co-operation; assembly facilities could be built in Latvia with the participation of Belarus’ industrial leaders.
A session of the Belarusian-Latvian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic and Sci-tech Co-operation is to be held soon, studying a range of issues dealing with bilateral economic collaboration.

Belarus has received observer status on the Council of Baltic Sea States. What opportunities does this open up?
Since Belarus gained its indepen-dence, it has been steadily increasing its constructive contribution to various processes and forms of co-operation with the Baltic States. The Belarusian Parliament has established fruitful dialogue with the Northern Council and the Parliamentary Conference of the Baltic Sea. We liaise with the Baltic Ring Electricity Co-operation Committee and the Union of Baltic Cities and actively participate in the EU Baltic Sea Regional Programme for 2007-2013.
Belarus is closely connected to the region via an extensive communication network. Some of our routes boast centuries of history — such as the water routes along the Nieman and Zapadnaya Dvina. On July 1st, 2009, Belarus gained observer status on the Council of Baltic Sea States (one of the most authoritative organisations in the Baltic Region). This was the natural result of Belarus’ gradually developing interaction with the region.
We are especially interested in activating co-operation with the Baltic States in the fields of energy, environmental protection, radiation security, health protection and customs and border services (including migration).
Belarus has made certain proposals to the Council of Baltic Sea States, relating to collaboration in fields such as environmental protection, education, culture, energy, customs and migration; some have been realised already. Moreover, Belarus’ corresponding agencies and ministries are following up on these, showing our sincere intention to participate in the work of the Council, making an active contribution.
This year, Belarus participated in the 2nd Baltic Sea Tourism Forum in Vilnius, held as part of Lithuania’s chairmanship of the Council of Baltic Sea States. Additionally, Belarus took part in the 8th Baltic Sea States Civil Protection Directors-General meeting in Vilnius. Specialists from the Interpol National Central Bureau in Belarus established interaction with the CBSS Working Group for Co-operation on Children at Risk. Belarus has appointed a national contact officer for children lacking parental guidance or who have fallen victim to human trafficking in the Baltic Sea Region; the person will participate in Working Group sessions.
With help from the Council of Baltic Sea States, Belarus has received an invitation to participate in the EU’s Northern Dimension Partnership, dealing with public health and social welfare. I’d like to especially note the assistance given by the CBSS in establishing partnership ties between children’s health establishments in the Baltic States and Belarus. A visit to the Children’s Cardiac Surgery Centre, at Minsk’s clinical hospital No.1, by Gabrielle Kцtschau (the former Director of the Secretariat of the Council of Baltic Sea States), and by a German Professor of Medicine, Dr. Kramer, was a significant development.
I’d like to stress again that states within the Baltic Sea Region are a priority for Belarus’ foreign policy. In this respect, our observer status on the Council of Baltic Sea States — a key regional organisation — is a formal acknowledgment of Belarus’ membership of the Baltic Region and an important step towards realising mutually beneficial joint projects.

Work is underway regarding Belarus’ participation in the 11th Baltic Economic Forum. Who’ll comprise the Belarusian delegation?
This year, Belarus is participating in the Baltic Economic Forum for the first time. Our PM, Sergei Sidorsky, is likely to attend its plenary session, delivering a speech regarding Belarus’ need for better access to the Baltic Sea Region, via domestic and foreign transport links. Mr. Sidorsky will meet representatives of business circles from the Baltic States and Scandinavia. Bilateral meetings are planned, in addition to four-sided talks between the prime ministers of Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (the first of its kind).
As you can see, our participation in the Forum is rich. I’m convinced it will yield fruitful results for our country’s co-operation, both with the Baltic States and their business communities.

The trilateral co-operation of Belarus, Ukraine and Latvia seems interesting. I recall that the Intergovernmental Latvian-Belarusian-Ukrainian Economic Commission has pointed out the important role played by Belarus as a stable transit state. Can you explain why our country has been so highly praised by these two neighbouring states? What are your views on Baltic-Black Sea regional development?
Belarus is traditionally viewed as a transit state, providing transport links between the East and the West. However, the South-North direction is no less important for us; it unites the Black and Baltic Sea regions. Our economic and political co-operation is expanding, creating foundations for establishing serious interregional projects in the spheres of transport and energy. Among the most signi-ficant transport-related examples are container train projects. Since 2003, the Viking container train has been successfully operating, uniting Ukrainian Ilyichevsk sea port and Lithuanian Klaipeda. In 2009, an alternative container train, called Zubr, also began travelling between Minsk and Riga. The potential of this project has been highly praised by Estonia, with the route extended to reach Tallinn’s port.
Energy-related interaction is important for Baltic-Black Sea Region states, since it allows diversification of supplies. Latvia is keen to import Ukrainian energy via Belarus’ energy networks.
I’d like to especially note the importance of interregional transport links, including pipe transportation. These are an alternative channel of supply. The existing Polotsk-Ventspils and Odessa-Brody pipelines are growing in importance, as they could be used to deliver Venezuelan oil to Belarus.

My last question regards the Belarusian-Latvian Investment Forum. It’s including business representatives from the Baltic Sea Region (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden and Finland) for the first time. Has Belarus’ circle of Baltic friends expanded?
This year, we revamped the Forum’s traditional format, transforming it from a bilateral to a multilateral discussion. Belarus was able to speak to states from the Baltic Sea Region, which is one of the most economically developed in the EU — much owing to Scandinavia. Interestingly, the significant growth seen by Baltic economies upon joining the EU was connected with the arrival of Scandinavian financial structures. These invested dozens of billions of Euros in post-Soviet Baltic republics.
In my opinion, Scandinavia’s commercial companies and financial structures are viewing Latvia as a venue for further expansion on the Belarusian market.
It’s worth mentioning that interest in the Forum was huge. It gathered famous large businessmen, heads of banking structures and representatives of state and local authorities. This proves that interest in co-operation with Belarus is growing.

Thank you for the interview.

By Nina Romanova
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