Mikhail Marinich, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Latvian Republic.
Latvian Republic is one of the major trade and potential foreign policy partners of the Republic of Belarus. Irrespective of its small size Latvia has the most important significance within the sphere of interests of our country. Belarusian-Latvian relations that develop successfully once again prove in practice the aspiration of Belarusian diplomacy to conducting multivector foreign policy, serve an example of good-neighbourliness and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Belarusian-Latvian relations are not burdened by historic, territorial or any other problems. Du-ring short time since acquiring independence the countries could successfully solve complicated problems of interstate relations, such as establishment of the state border and adjustment of property rights for a number of important economic entities. There were laid solid legal foundations of perspective cooperation development.
As for the commodity circulation volume Latvia for a number of years keeps the stable 5th-7th place in the total volume of foreign trade of the Republic of Belarus and is among the major trade partners of our country. In 1998 the commodity circulation reached $230 million. Mutual trade has a stable tendency towards the growth in the current year. During the first six months of 1999 the commodity circulation of Belarus and Latvia in comparison with the same period of the previous year almost doubled and reached $158 million.
Of great significance was the exchange of visits in the first half of 1999 at the level of city council delegations between Minsk and Riga, Gomel and Liepaja, Vitebsk and Daugavpils. All visits resulted in signing of the agreements on cooperation between the above regions. The direct contacts between economic entities of the two countries also expanded. There is successful development of economic cooperation between Minsk Tractor Plant and Liepaja "Gidrolat" plant, Minsk margarine and Liepaja oil extracting plants, Belarusian enterprises of agricultural machine building and Gulben "MTZ-service" enterprise. cooperation in the banking sector between "Belvnesheconombank" and "Unibank", Minsk Transit and Baltic Transit banks permitted to ease main difficulties in the mutual payments in trade relations.
Mutually beneficial cooperation between Belarus and Latvia has a good future. It happened so that economics of our countries complement one another. Belarusian goods are well known in Latvia and Latvian ones in Belarus and do not need additional advertising, manufacturers of both states have years-long cooperation experience. Euphoria of quick reorientation of selling the local pro-ducts to other foreign countries passes by. We begin to understand more and more that we have to stand for our interests on traditional markets, first of all on the markets of neighbour countries.
Latvia is the major transit partner for the Republic of Belarus because it has geographically close, the most convenient and modern ports on the Baltic Sea (Ventspils, Riga and Liepaja). Via Latvian ports a lot of transit goods go for export. Only via Ventspils there goes about 2.5 million ton of potassium, a lot of petroleum products and the goods of oil chemistry. On the other side, via the territory of Belarus there comes a lot of Latvian and transit export goods to the CIS countries, a number of Asian states. Transit of goods via Latvia and Belarus has a strategic character for both countries. So because of their geographical position Latvia and Belarus are natural partners in the field of transit. Of great interest in Belarus and Latvia is the possibility of implementation of large international projects in the field of transit. As an example of this can serve the practical implementation together with Russia and some European economic institutions of the well-known project of the Western pipe system that envisages modernisation of the existing oil pipe Polotsk-Ventspils and the construction of a new pipeline with the aim to enlarge export of oil from the perspective northern Russian oil fields. The development of a very perspective project of the transport corridor "Baltic Sea - Black Sea", which would connect Ukrainian Black Sea ports and the ports of Latvia and Lithuania, the shortest way via Belarus, is also worthy of note.
In Latvia there is one of the largest Belarusian diasporas abroad. According to official data there live 103 thousand of Belarusians and the total population of Latvia is 2.5 million. Real figure of people connected with Belarus ties is much higher. The situation helps the establishment of good-neighbourly ties between Belarus and Latvia and makes the governments of the two countries consider this important factor when establishing their policies.
Belarus and Latvia geographically and historically must be good neighbours. To preserve stability and further strengthening of Belarusian-Latvian relations there should be present the support of constant political dialogue at all levels, expansion of mutually beneficial economic cooperation, including regional and border ones, implementation of large mutual international economic projects, close cooperation in the field of transit, development of contacts in humanitarian sphere, wide use of people's diplomacy methods.
Shortly speaking our present bilateral relations are good, especially in trade and economic dimension, they have stable dynamics of development and are very promising.