20 december 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Latvian President Valdis Zatlers

At the meeting, the prime minister pointed out that now, after the economic downturn, the two countries' trade and economic relations are growing. “Our objective is to preserve and strengthen this positive trend. We should do our best to ensure that our relations are developed and diversified,” Vladimir Putin said.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: I’m glad to see you, Mr President. We have met many times before. I know that you have a very full schedule – visits to Moscow and St Petersburg, a lot of work to do, a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev and the signing of a number of documents. Our colleagues in the intergovernmental commission met in June, didn’t they...

Valdis Zatlers: Yes, in Pskov.

Vladimir Putin: …and were preparing these documents to be signed during your visit, so that it would be productive. At the beginning of our meeting I would like to mention that our trade and economic relations dropped dramatically – by 48% – during the crisis. But they grew by more than 50% (53%) in the first nine months of this year and we have every reason to believe that we will approach the pre-crisis level by the end of the year. However, we will not reach it. Our trade and economic relations stood at $8.5 billion and will reach a little over $5 billion this year. Nevertheless, this is a positive trend. Our objective is to preserve and strengthen this positive trend. We should do our best to ensure that our relations are developed and diversified and that we can work efficiently in our countries’ markets. Latvian goods are traditionally in demand and enjoy a good reputation on the Russian market – I’m speaking about every area, of which there are many, particularly agricultural products. Another important area for us is transport. Russian goods account for more than 70% of shipments through Latvian ports. Naturally, the energy sector remains an important area of cooperation, but it is not the only one. We have good joint projects. And I sincerely hope that your visit will be a good sign for cooperation and will provide momentum for it. Welcome.

Valdis Zatlers: Thank you very much for such a warm welcome. Today was a truly productive day. Naturally, I would like to draw attention to the large number of agreements signed. This is the outcome of several years of work by the intergovernmental commission. This is a good start. I have already said – this is a start. I believe that my visit itself will change the tone of our relations, including political relations. I would like to say once again that the main thing is to ensure that businesses focus on business risks rather than political risks. This is a turning point in a certain sense. It’s good that we see a positive trend in trade. Naturally, I must cite the numbers – from a rate of plus 11 we slid down to minus 18. Now we can speak of a growth in trade between Latvia and Russia. And we will reinforce this trend. Journalists have been asking today what the atmosphere of our relations is like. They are more concerned with the atmosphere than with the documents we signed. I am glad that the atmosphere is very good. I would like to thank you, Mr Putin, personally because when we met earlier this year the atmosphere was not as good as today. Our meeting in Helsinki was very productive and in fact paved the way for me to come to the May 9 celebrations. So, thank you very much, Mr Putin.

And to strengthen the positive tone that was created at that meeting… Do you remember that we were talking about the KHL Continental Hockey League? When I returned home people asked me: “What did you talk about?” I replied: “About hockey.” Everyone smiled at that.

Vladimir Putin: This is almost a project of mine.

Valdis Zatlers: I know. We have a suggestion to continue this project. This is Dynamo Riga (presents the prime minister with a Dynamo Riga hockey jersey, No. 7). You once said that he is our man on your team (Pyotr Aven, president of Alfa Bank and co-chair of the Russian-Latvian Business Council), but you are your man on our team.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Valdis Zatlers: It’s No. 7.

Vladimir Putin (smiling): A lucky number.

Valdis Zatlers: It is especially lucky if you were born on the seventh.

Seriously now, we have a lot to discuss in terms of bilateral economic cooperation and in terms of the European Union and Russia. I mentioned the groundwork we made in order to start taking the necessary steps for both sides to scrap visas. This issue is important because Latvia borders on Russia. I believe that this measure will help us create an environment that is more conducive to the intensive development of the economies of the EU and Russia. Naturally, there are many responsible ministers both in Latvia and in Russia. I would also like to say a few words about the business council that has been doing so much. Both Mr Aven on the Russian side and Mr Melnik (Vasily Melnik, counsellor to the Latvian president and co-chair of the Russian-Latvian Business Council) on our side have done a lot. So we have laid a good foundation.

What do we see? We expect the demand for energy resources to increase. Trade between the EU and Russia will grow as well. But we need to truly coordinate our efforts to develop fast and reliable transport routes.

I would like to hear your opinion on this. This may be with railways – then how do we increase the trade? What can we do at our ports? We have three ports and all of them have very large areas to build terminals for this network to function properly. We may also use road networks. We need to have both sides understand what we are building – a narrow road, or a bit wider one (a lane and a half wide) or maybe two- or four-lane roads? We need to look into the future because we have to make it clear that we have long-term intentions.

Vladimir Putin: As for transport infrastructure, we will speak about this in detail. One of our companies, for example, intends to invest in the development of the Riga Port to ship mineral fertilisers through it. This is one of the projects. We will discuss the entire sector.

We know that Latvia’s economy was hit hard by the global economic downturn.  And we would be glad if our bilateral relations were a factor that, first, would help us mitigate the consequences of the global crisis and, second, would be a substantial factor to put our economies on a steady track of development. I’m referring to the fact that we have a good starting point for this, from what we’ve inherited from the past (there has been a lot of good in the past), including the infrastructure and the fact that our economies complement each other. We certainly need to use these competitive edges to their full extent to reach a positive result.

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