24 April 2001, Volume 2, Number 10
REGIONALSLOWER ECONOMIC GROWTH FORECAST.
Citing the worldwide cooling of the economy, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has lowered its forecast for the economic growth of the Baltic states in 2001 from an earlier 5-7 percent to 3-6 percent, BNS reported on 10 April. PWC analyst Hardo Pajula noted that judging by last year's provisional results -- GDP growth rates of 6.6, 6.4, and 2.9 percent for Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, respectively -- the economies of the three countries are in good condition. However, the increased uncertainty on the international economic arena is sooner or later likely to affect the economic performance of the Baltic states. While Estonia has benefited the most from a weak euro, its current account deficit has increased the most from 4.5 percent in 1999 to 6.6 percent of GDP in the third quarter of 2000. The similar deficit of Latvia decreased from 10.0 to 7.9 percent, and that of Lithuania from 11.3 to 6.5 percent.
PRIME MINISTERS PRAISE SWEDISH EU PRESIDENCY...
The three Baltic prime ministers told their Swedish counterpart Goran Persson in Stockholm on 3 April that their countries are making considerable progress in EU membership negotiations during the first half of this year (during which time Sweden is heading the EU), BNS reported. Persson responded that they should immediately begin negotiations on the more difficult chapters in the agreement, namely, those on environmental, agricultural, and energy policy, and on freedom of movement. He approved the Baltic states' efforts to maintain pragmatic and apolitical cooperation with Russia, citing the recent visit of Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus to Moscow and Kaliningrad as an example.
...BUT OPPOSE GERMAN PROPOSAL BLOCKING FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOR.
The three premiers expressed their opposition to a German proposal that would block citizens of Baltic states from working in other EU countries for a seven-year transition period after they join the EU, BNS reported. Paksas said that they opposed any period of transition and that the free movement of labor was "very important economically, politically, and psychologically." Berzins noted: "We don't want the well-educated young people to go to other European countries either. But the freedom of movement is still important."
ESTONIARUSSIA TO LIFT DOUBLE TARIFFS ON IMPORTS.
Foreign Ministry trade negotiator Mait Martinson and Russian Economics Ministry European department head Ivan Galaktionov initialed the text of a commercial and economic cooperation agreement on 11 April, BNS and ETA reported. The agreement -- once signed and ratified by the Russian parliament -- would lead to the abolition of double customs duties that Russia has imposed on imports from Estonia. Ratification in the Estonian parliament is not necessary because similar agreements with other countries have usually been endorsed only by the government. Talks on lifting Russia's double tariffs have been held for seven years, but Russia has a newfound interest in abolishing the double tariffs because they are a hindrance to its aims to join the World Trade Organization by 2004.
PROGRESS REPORT PRESENTED TO NORTH ATLANTIC COUNCIL.
Prime Minister Mart Laar, Defense Minister Juri Luik, and commander of the defense forces Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts presented a report in Brussels on 6 April to NATO's North Atlantic Council on their country's progress in implementing the NATO membership action plan, BNS reported. Before the meeting, the officials discussed political subjects with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Laar said that the NAC had praised Estonia's progress and declared: "We now have a serious and real chance of being invited in 2002 to join NATO." A NATO official, who attended the meeting but did not want to be named, said: "There are also signs [that] Germany's erstwhile lukewarm attitude toward NATO enlargement [has] changed in a welcome direction for candidate countries."
PRIME MINISTER WEATHERS NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE.
The parliament rejected, by a vote of 43 to 51, a no-confidence motion against Mart Laar on 11 April, BNS reported. The opposition had accused the Laar-led government of non-transparent privatization, neglect of rural and regional policies, and growing unemployment.
PRIME MINISTER VISITS MALTA, ITALY.
Mart Laar held talks on 30 March with his Maltese counterpart, Fenech Adam, on their countries' preparations for EU membership, BNS reported. An agreement on avoiding double taxation, the text of which was initialed in January 2000, should be signed soon and negotiations are nearly complete for agreements on the promotion and protection of investments and an aviation accord. Laar also met with President Guido de Marco, who is scheduled to visit Estonia in May. He flew to Rome on 1 April, where the next day his Italian counterpart, Giuliano Amato, asserted that Estonia has good chances to complete membership talks with the EU by the end of the year. Amato also noted that NATO enlargement should not be delayed because of Russian opposition.
MILITARY INFORMATION PROTECTION AGREEMENT WITH DENMARK SIGNED.
Defense ministers Juri Luik and Jan Troejborg signed an agreement on 4 April in Tallinn that will allow the countries to exchange confidential military information and improve defense cooperation, ETA reported. Estonia has already signed similar information protection agreements with the U.S., Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Norway, and Finland. In a meeting with members of the parliament's National Defense Committee, Troejborg stressed that Denmark will firmly support the candidacy of the Baltic states at the 2002 NATO summit in Prague.
LITHUANIAN PREMIER INTERESTED IN ESTONIA'S EU PROGRESS.
Rolandas Paksas suggested to his Estonian counterpart Mart Laar and parliament chairman Toomas Savi during a one-day visit to Tallinn on 12 April that Estonia, which has already closed 18 of the 31 chapters of EU admission negotiations, should hold an international conference to share its experience in overcoming barriers and avoiding possible errors in EU entrance talks, ELTA reported. The premiers noted that cooperation between their states on NATO and EU integration were advantageous to both sides. They also raised the issue of the need to improve communication between Vilnius and Tallinn.
* Chief European Union entry negotiators from the so-called Luxembourg group -- Estonia, Cyprus, Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary -- gathered in Tallinn on 9 April to discuss problems that have emerged with the chapters on free movement of individuals, transport, and agriculture, BNS reported. They claimed that the EU's initial enlargement deadline of 2003 is in jeopardy because the EU has failed to take a common stance on these issues.
* The government on 10 April approved an antidumping bill which regulates procedures for investigating and implementing measures against foreign imports at too low prices, ETA reported. It also passed an employment program for the Virumaa county, currently having an unemployment rate of around 23 percent. The area, 80 percent of whose population consists of non-Estonian speakers, has high unemployment because several huge Soviet-era factories and plants were closed.
* Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves told the meeting of foreign ministers from the 15 EU member countries and the seven Northern Dimension countries in Luxembourg on 9 April that it was necessary to involve regional organizations and the business sectors in the Northern Dimension plan, BNS reported the next day. He stressed that the businesses must be offered uniform conditions by means of fair competition, equal treatment, and avoidance of discrimination to ensure economic development and prosperity in the region. Ilves also noted the importance of environmental protection in the Baltic Sea where rising volumes of freight traffic by sea were a source of increased risk.
* The Tallinn administrative court on 2 April annulled its decree of 26 March and allowed the Estonian Privatization Agency to continue the privatization negotiations of Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railroads) with Baltic Rail Service, ETA reported.
* The consumer price index increased by 0.4 percent last month and by 5.8 percent compared to March 2000, BNS reported on 6 April. The price of goods grew by 0.6 percent (food by 0.7 percent and manufactured goods by 0.5 percent) in March over the previous month, but the price of services remained unchanged.
* The fifth no-confidence motion in the Tallinn City Council against Pro Patria Union Mayor Juri Mois failed on 5 April when it received only 25 votes, BNS reported. To pass the motion required a minimum of 33 votes in the 64-member council. Mois was accused of questionable actions regarding the sale of land in the city's port area.
* On the basis of an application by Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff, the security police on 30 March launched criminal proceedings to investigate whether Venezuela-based ethnic Estonian businessman Harry Mannil had participated in the persecution and murder of civilians during World War II in Tallinn, BNS reported on 3 April. Estonian authorities have previously investigated similar charges against Mannil several times but found no corroborating evidence.
* The FBI will give $75,000 to the Public Services Academy for purchasing computers, other training aids, furniture, and specialized software to assist in the establishment of a training center, "Postimees" reported on 11 April. The center will train police, border guards, and rescue officials as well as military from Estonia and other Baltic states as well as possibly from Russia.
LATVIARIGA MAKES PROGRESS IN EU TALKS.
Foreign Ministry Deputy State Secretary Andris Kesteris and European Union officials in Brussels on 30 March formally opened eight and closed two chapters of the EU membership talks, BNS reported. The meeting approved the opening of chapters on the free movement of goods; social policies and employment; energy; telecommunications and information technologies; regional policies and structural instrument coordination; the environment; the customs union; and financial and budget requirements. It also closed a just-opened chapter on the free movement of goods, and an earlier opened chapter on cultural and audio-visual policies, which could not be closed until the radio and television law was amended.
TB/LNNK APPROVES COALITION WITH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS.
The board of For Fatherland And Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) on 9 April approved the decision made by its faction in the Riga City Council to form a coalition with the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP), LETA reported the next day. TB/LNNK spokesman Janis Kuzulis said the board made the decision because it was assured that the coalition agreement would contain a provision that the party would have the right to veto the selection of other coalition partners, i.e., to fulfill its pledge not to cooperate with the leftist union For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL). Sergei Dolgopolov of the PCTVL, however, asserted that the TB/LNNK will not be able to exclude entirely his party from the coalition, as he will retain his post as deputy mayor.
FORMER RIGA MAYOR QUITS LEADING PARTY POSITION.
Former Riga Mayor Andris Argalis, who was re-elected in March to the Riga City Council, has informed the board of For Fatherland And Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) that he is resigning from his posts as party deputy chairman and as a member of the board, LETA reported on 6 April. He will, however, continue to work as a rank-and-file member of the party. Argalis said he made the decision because of the TB/LNNK board's "toothless stance" on several issues, including not reacting to the "blatant lies and insults" directed toward the City Council by Latvia's Way and the People's Party during the election campaign.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION SUPPORTS 10, REJECTS TWO PHARE PROJECTS.
The parliament's European Affairs Committee was informed on 2 April that the European Commission (EC) had decided to support 10 and reject two of Latvia's projects for the PHARE program for 2001, BNS reported. Latvia will receive 30 million euros ($26.7 million) for the 10 projects, of which 9 million euros would be allocated for institution strengthening, 2 million euros for cross-border cooperation, 10 million for investment in taking over EU legislation, and 9 million euros for the equalization of social and economic conditions. The EC rejected a project developed by the Justice Ministry to combat corruption because appropriate legislation has not been prepared and the status of the formation of an office for combating corruption is unclear. Moreover, the EC also did not approve a project pertaining to the inspectorate for data protection because its preparation was insufficient.
AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS RIGA.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner on 3 April began in Riga a scheduled three-day visit to the Baltic states by meeting President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, with whom she discussed Latvia's NATO integration and the development of greater economic relations between their countries, BNS reported. Ferrero-Waldner also held talks with Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, who informed her about Latvia's current presidency of the Council of Europe. The next day, she held discussions with Prime Minister Andris Berzins and parliament Chairman Janis Straume.
WORLD BANK TO FOCUS MAINLY ON SOCIAL SECTOR.
World Bank Polish and Baltic states Regional Director Michael Carter told a news conference on 4 April that a World Bank mission would visit Latvia for two weeks following Easter to discuss the granting of a second $40 million loan as part of its structural reform program, BNS reported. He praised Latvia for achieving significant economic growth and maintaining a generally stable macroeconomic situation. He noted that cooperation between Latvia and the World Bank will be very close in the coming years as the country strives for EU membership. Latvia will have a lot of work to do on legislative amendments, improving state institution processes, pension reforms, and social issues. During his first visit to Latvia since assuming the post in late January, Carter also met government officials and visited the eastern city of Daugavpils.
KALININGRAD-ST. PETERSBURG TRAIN TO BYPASS LATVIA.
Reacting to the Latvian government's decision on 27 March to cancel a 1993 intergovernmental agreement with Russia under which Russian citizens were not required to obtain visas to cross Latvia in transit by railway, Russia will change the Kaliningrad-St. Petersburg route in order to bypass Latvia, BNS reported on 11 April.
NEARLY 60 PERCENT OF LATVIA'S RUSSIANS CAN SPEAK LATVIAN.
According to the provisional results of the population census in Latvia, there are 609,859 ethnic Russians among the 2,138,202 respondents above the age of seven, BNS reported on 9 April. Among the Russians, 356,955 persons, or 58.5 percent, said they are proficient in the Latvian language. But the overall share of people in Latvia able to speak Latvian (81.7 percent) was lower than those able to speak Russian (84.4 percent). Of the 763,675 residents living in the capital Riga, 336,613 are native Latvian-speakers; 414,376 are native Russian- speakers; 5,833 gave another language as their native tongue; and 6,853 did not reveal their native language.
CZECHS TO CONTINUE SUPPORTING LATVIAN ARMED FORCES.
Czech Armed Forces Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy told Latvian National Armed Forces Commander Raimonds Graube at the Adazi garrison in Kadaga on 12 April that his country is ready to provide Latvia with additional technical assistance, BNS reported. He noted that the Czech Republic supports NATO enlargement and Latvia's admission into the alliance at the NATO summit in 2002 in Prague.
ACCORD SIGNED WITH UNDP ON FINANCING INTEGRATION PROGRAM.
Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka, Minister for International Financial Affairs Roberts Zile, and UN Development Program Representative in Latvia Jan Soerensen, on 11 April signed a joint agreement on attracting nongovernmental organization and foreign donor funding for the implementation of the national program "Social Integration in Latvia," LETA reported.
* The Central Election Commission (CEC) decided on 2 April to hold repeat municipal elections on 8 July in Viesturi county and the Preili district because a court had canceled the results of the 11 March elections, BNS reported. The CEC did not call for repeat elections in Ilukste in the Daugavpils district saying it wants to look into the legality of the court ruling annulling the elections.
* Latvian and European Union officials on 30 March in Brussels signed the annual finance agreement on Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD) for Latvia, LETA reported. The agreement provides for funding of 136 million lats ($215 million) this year, but before the money can be distributed Latvia will have to establish a National Payment Agency to administer the funds. So far the EU has not officially accredited the agency of any of the aspirant countries.
* The government on 10 April approved the participation of National Armed Forces troops in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Georgia as observers, BNS reported the next day. It is not yet known when the troops will be sent to Georgia.
* Belarus National Border Guard Force Committee Chairman Alyaksandr Pavlovsky signed an agreement on 12 April in Riga with the Latvian State Revenue Service and Border Guard on the transit of goods, BNS reported. Pavlovsky noted with satisfaction that no illegal immigrants between the two countries had been detained last year.
* The government approved the minimum sales price for the controlling stake in the state-owned Latvian Shipping Company (LASCO) on 11 April, but refused to reveal it, LETA reported. It also decided to allow both companies that had submitted initial price bids to take part in the auction of LASCO which is set for 11 May. The companies will have to pay a security deposit of $5 million to participate in the auction.
* The Prosecutor-General's Office on 3 April opened another criminal case over crimes against humanity against Russian national Nikolai Tess, who is charged with taking part in the deportation of 138 Latvians on 25 March 1949 while serving in the state security ministry, BNS reported. The previous day the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Latvia of continuing a campaign of persecution against war and military veterans who had fought against fascism. The statement specifically mentioned Tess and Mikhail Farbtukh, whom the Riga city court recently refused to release for health reasons.
* The consumer price index in March increased by 0.5 percent last month and by 1.4 percent in comparison to March 2000, BNS reported on 9 April. The costs of goods increased in March by 0.9 percent, but those of services fell by 0.8 percent.
* The annual report by the Bank of Latvia indicated that the balance-of-payments current account deficit in 2000 was 296 million lats ($469 million), or 6.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), BNS reported on 30 March. The deficit had been 9.6 percent of GDP in 1999. The unfavorable trade balance of 644 million lats was partially offset by the positive balance of services of 273.7 million lats and of direct foreign investments of 242.3 million lats.
* A Melbourne court on 5 April ordered alleged Nazi war criminal Konrads Kalejs to attend at least the first day of the hearing on his extradition to Latvia next month, LETA reported. Kalejs' lawyer's explained that his client was not only legally blind but also suffering from prostate cancer and dementia.
* Juris Sinka, a 73-year-old parliament deputy from the For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK party who was also the chairman of the Latvian delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (CEPA), died of a heart attack on 3 April while visiting the People's Republic of China, BNS reported the next day. Vaira Paegle from the People's Party was appointed as the new delegation head to CEPA on 5 April.
* A survey carried out by the Latvian Development Agency indicated that excessive bureaucracy and corruption still hamper the republic's economic development the most, LETA reported on 11 April. The lack of stimuli for small- and medium-sized enterprises, lack of constructive cooperation between the government and entrepreneurs, as well as the lack of predictable economic policy are also considerable drawbacks. The conditions for receiving long-term loans in lats, which had been mentioned as the third most important problem in a similar survey in 1999, had dropped to eighth place.
LITHUANIAPRESIDENT VISITS MOSCOW...
Following a three-hour meeting on 30 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his visiting Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus announced that they had agreed that Russia would not suffer any adverse consequences once Lithuania joins the EU and that the two should take part in meetings with the EU on the future of Kaliningrad, BNS reported. Adamkus also held talks with LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov and the head of the Russian gas company Gazprom, Rem Vyakhirev, on their purchase of shares in Mazeikiu Oil and Lithuanian Gas.
Adamkus concluded his three-day visit to Russia in Kaliningrad on 31 March where he agreed with the region's governor, Vladimir Yegorov, on the need to improve the current procedure of transit, BNS reported. Yegorov, the former commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet, dismissed as unrealistic the proposal by radical Russian Duma deputy Viktor Alksnis to have a transit corridor from Belarus to Kaliningrad through Lithuania. Noting that 11 new joint Lithuanian-Russian companies had been established during the three months of 2001, Yegorov told a forum of Lithuanian and Russian businessmen that Lithuania is the leading foreign investor in the Kaliningrad region and whose investments total almost $100 million.
RUSSIA LISTS REQUIREMENTS ON KALININGRAD.
Prior to President Valdas Adamkus' visit to Moscow, Russia sent the European Union and Lithuania a list of requirements intending to protect Kaliningrad from isolation should Lithuania join the EU, BNS reported on 4 April. The list included many measures regarding transport, transit, visa policy, energy, fisheries, and other areas. It also called for granting yearly Schengen visas to permanent Kaliningrad residents for trips to Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia as well as giving Russia the right to ship cargo by road and rail through these countries without border checks. A request was also made for the right to lay oil and gas pipelines and electricity grids in the three countries, and for Kaliningrad fishermen to be allowed to fish in the EU zone of the Baltic Sea. Other documents requested that no visas would be required for people traveling between Russia and Kaliningrad by fixed bus or train routes, and for establishing a special permit system for travel by car.
PRESIDENT VISITS JAPAN.
Valdas Adamkus, accompanied by Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Culture Minister Gintautas Kevisas, as well as 33 businessmen, began an official five-day visit to Japan on 9 April, BNS reported. The aim of the visit was to encourage the development of bilateral relations, give presentations on the Lithuanian economy, politics, and culture, as well as to discuss issues of international policy and cooperation. Adamkus discussed with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori the need to strengthen bilateral relations and develop political dialogue.
POLITICIANS REACH PARTIAL COMPROMISE OVER LISCO SALE.
Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas and parliamentary party representatives reached a partial compromise on 11 April over the privatization of the Lithuanian Shipping Company (LISCO), BNS reported. Leftist opposition deputies had proposed a three-month moratorium on the company's sale and expressed support for its sale to the national road carriers' association, LINAVA. It was agreed that government officials, representatives from the State Property Fund (SPF), and representatives from LINAVA, will meet to go over the LISCO privatization agreement with the Danish company DFDS Tor Line once again to ensure that local carriers' interests will be protected. DFDS Tor Line agreed to allow LINAVA a representative on the LISCO board, and suggested that LISCO's most profitable component, its tramp fleet, remain at the disposal of the government with an eye on its eventual privatization.
PARLIAMENT LEGALIZES GAMBLING.
The parliament passed a controversial law on 12 April that legitimizes the opening of gambling establishments by a tally of 72 to 22, with 12 abstentions, ELTA reported. The law, which will go into effect beginning 1 July, permits the opening of gambling establishments throughout Lithuania, but only after approval from local municipal authorities is obtained. Persons under 21 will not be entitled to gamble in the casinos, which can be opened only by stock companies with a minimum authorized capital of 4 million litas ($1 million). The Finance Ministry has estimated that legalized gambling could bring in an additional 25 million litas in tax revenue annually.
POLISH PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION VISITS.
The delegation, headed by parliament deputy Tadeusz Wrona, began a four-day visit to Lithuania on 4 April. In a meeting with parliament chairman Arturas Paulauskas on 6 April, the delegation devoted specific attention to such bilateral issues as the funding of Polish schools and the use of original spellings of names, ELTA reported. Paulauskas also suggested that the building of an electrical power-supply bridge between their countries be accelerated and that Poland modernize its share of the Via Baltica highway.
PARLIAMENT BACKS COMMISSION TO PROBE INVESTMENTS AND LOANS.
The parliament on 10 April approved a motion from Economic Committee Chairman Viktor Uspaskich to establish an ad hoc commission to assess the performance of the Property and Road Fund and the utilization of state investments and state-guaranteed loans, ELTA reported. Uspaskich noted that 7.5 billion litas ($1.875 billion) have been disbursed in loans -- of which 2.9 billion litas were given to economic entities -- and that outstanding loans with postponed repayment deadlines now stand at 2.3 billion litas. Uspaskich also called for the replacement of all of the Privatization Commission members, including its chairman, Eduardas Vilkas.
HEALTH MINISTER RESIGNS.
President Valdas Adamkus on 2 April signed a decree accepting the resignation of Vinsas Janusonis and appointing Social Security and Labor Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute as acting health minister, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Janusonis, who was selected by the Social Liberals, is the third of 13 ministers to leave their posts since a new cabinet was formed in the fall. Janusonis told a press conference that personal reasons, which he did not specify, were the basis for his decision and that he would return to his former post as the head of a hospital in Klaipeda. The newspaper said that the main reason for his decision was the poor health of his seven-year-old daughter, to whom he could not give enough attention to while working in Vilnius.
NATIONAL TELEVISION AND RADIO DIRECTOR RESIGNS.
Vaidotas Zukas resigned as director on 3 April after a vote of no-confidence was proposed at a meeting of the Lithuanian Radio and Television Council, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Zukas, who was appointed director 15 months ago, not only had failed to reduce the entity's 15 million litas ($3.75 million) debt he inherited when he took over, but in fact had seen the debt increase by 2.4 million litas in the first two months of this year.
* Leaders of the four most important parties: Rolandas Paksas (Liberal Union), Arturas Paulauskas (New Union), Algirdas Brazauskas (Social Democrats), and Vytautas Landsbergis (Conservatives) signed an agreement on 5 April establishing a provisional commission that will coordinate the adoption of the especially important laws, BNS reported.
* Deputy Foreign Minister Dalia Grybauskaite on 5 April submitted for ratification the block of 24 treaties and agreements, containing over 2,000 pages, on Lithuania's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), BNS reported. She stressed that if the parliament did not ratify all the agreements by 1 May, any of the 140 members of WTO could demand that Lithuania resume the negotiations that had lasted 6 years.
* Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner told President Vladas Adamkus and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis on 4 April that Lithuania should set a date for closing the second reactor of its nuclear power plant at Ignalina before 2004, BNS reported.
* Lithuanian and Latvian Foreign Ministers Antanas Valionis and Indulis Berzins agreed on 7 April at the seaside resort of Palanga to initiate three-way consultations among top Baltic foreign policymakers on key issues of foreign policy, BNS reported. They discussed the necessity to coordinate the NATO efforts of the Baltic countries, with a special focus on cooperation with European partners under a formula 3+1, namely the three Baltic states and one European country. The ministers also talked about the delayed ratification by Latvia of their sea border treaty because fishermen fear that they will lose some of their traditional fishing areas.
* Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) agent in Lithuania Cihan Sultanoglu signed on 2 April an agreement which will provide $100,000 in preparing a national human rights action plan, ELTA reported.
* The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) signed an agreement on 5 April in London to administer the operations of an international support fund for decommissioning the Ignalina nuclear power plant, BNS reported. In Vilnius last June the EU and 11 donor countries pledged to contribute more than 200 million euros ($178 million) for closing the plant's first reactor by 2005.
* World Bank President James Wolfensohn told Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas and Deputy Finance Minister Mindaugas Jonikas in Finland on 30 March that the bank was ready to provide financial and technical assistance to Lithuania to carry out its pension reform, BNS reported. Long-term loans from the World Bank would be one of the sources for financing a projected budget deficit of the state-run social insurance fund SoDra.
* The power utility Lithuanian Energy on 2 April in Vilnius signed a long-term agreement with Russia's UES on the export of electricity, BNS reported. The Russian company will pay 0.044 litas ($0.011) per kWh for five billion kWh of electricity to be exported to Belarus and 0.040 litas per kWh for another two billion kWh of electricity to Kaliningrad.
* The consumer price index increased in Lithuania by 0.5 percent last month and by 0.6 percent compared to March 2000, BNS reported on 9 April. The price of food rose by 1.1 percent in March, but other goods and services remained relatively stable, with the exception of transportation, which rose by 1.8 percent.
* In the first two months of the year, exports rose by 21.3 percent compared to the same period last year to 2.786 billion litas ($697.5 million), while imports grew by 19 percent to 3.038 billion litas, BNS reported on 11 April. The foreign trade deficit rose by 12 percent, year-on-year, to 830.6 million litas. EU countries received 50.9 percent of exports and supplied 39.2 percent of imports.
* The volume of freight through the port of Klaipeda in the first quarter of the year amounted to 4.133 million tons or 22.35 percent less than in the same period last year, BNS reported on 9 April. While the volume of freight loaded decreased by 23.28 percent to 3.406 million tons, that of unloaded fell by 17.68 percent to 727,000 tons.
* The State Property Fund and the Estonian bank Hansapank initialed an agreement on purchasing a 90.24 percent share of the state-owned Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank) on 2 April. The agreement still has to obtain the approval of the Privatization Commission, the government, the Competition Commission, and the Bank of Lithuania.
* Agriculture Minister Kestutis Kristinaitis announced on 2 April that Lithuania had secured Russian permission to export meat and dairy products to Kaliningrad although the ban on exports to other Russian regions remained in place, BNS reported.
* The government on 4 April appointed Dalius Prevelis, a 39-year-old deputy director of the Personal Insurance Office at Preventa, one of Lithuania's leading insurance companies, as the new director of the state-run social insurance fund, SoDra, BNS reported. The previous day SoDra announced budget revenues of 1.005 billion litas ($250 million) and expenditures of 1.087 billion litas for the first quarter of this year, resulting in a deficit of 82.5 million litas or 5.3 million litas more than planned.
* The parliament by a vote of 69 to 11 with seven abstentions on 5 April amended the alcohol control law to end the ban on selling alcohol from 6-11 a.m., ELTA reported. By a vote of 71 to one with one abstention it also amended the national currency litas law to make it easier to change the pegging of the litas from the U.S. dollar to the euro.