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Baltic States: Region May Be The 'Most Dynamic In Europe'

London, 13 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis says the Baltic sea area has the potential to become the most dynamic developing region in Europe.

Ulmanis, who's on a five-day official visit to Britain, spoke last night to the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London.

He said the Baltic region is home to 100 million people; it is a large consumer market that is expected to expand; and one-sixth of global trade turnover is linked with the Baltic sea area. It benefits from well-industrialized countries and excellent communications.

"Politically, the Baltic sea becomes again the internal sea of Europe. Economically, this region has real potential for becoming the region of Europe with the most dynamic development," he said.

Ulmanis said Latvia, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of Baltic Sea States, has set a priority on encouraging the development of new economic and trade links in the Baltic region.

He said the Baltic region is strategically important because of its location and, in considering the development of its economy, Latvia is focusing on projects that ensure links between East and West.

"Creation of new links between the traditional economic zones is an important economic policy principle for us," he said.

He said priority must be given to projects with trans-regional importance in the development of the infrastructure where Latvian ports play a key role. He said: "The transportation hubs in Latvia are already an essential factor in the economy of northwestern Europe."

Turning to economic relations with Britain, Ulmanis said Britain is now his country's most significant EU export partner, taking 10.6 percent of all exports in the first half of this year. Latvia's main exports to Britain are timber, chemicals and the re-export of oil products. He said Latvia has overtaken Canada to become the third largest timber exporter to Britain after Finland and Sweden. He noted that the British telecommunications firm, Cable and Wireless, has embarked on a $160 million scheme to modernize Latvia's communications.

He said Latvia will provide "most favorable conditions" for British investors. He is expected to stress this in talks today with Board of Trade President Ian Lang and in meetings with representative of British industry including the oil, timber and information technology sectors.

Ulmanis said a solid legal basis now exists for the trading relationship including agreements on a non-visa regime, the protection and fostering of investments, and the prevention of double taxation. He will have talks this afternoon with Prime Minister John Major.