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After centuries of Swedish and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe.
Update No: 265 - (28/01/03)
NATO and EU beckons
Estonia has opened negotiations on joining NATO, begun in early January. The Estonians know that they are a small nation of 1.5 million people in an obscure part of the northern Baltic Sea - therefore with little substantively to contribute to NATO.
Estonia was offered membership with the other Baltic states in the Prague summit just before Christmas. It was a foregone conclusion. Estonia is a Western country avant la lettre, Protestant, stoutly liberal and virtually Scandinavian (more like its neighbours across the Gulf of Finland, including Finland itself than even the othr Baltic states, let alone Russia). It is the best bet for Westernisation of any former Soviet state, something that it hates to be called.
The Estonian government has approved draft instructions of the defence forces of the former Soviet republic to participate in 14 international military exercises in 2003, one of which - Amber Workshop-2003 - will be held on the territory of the country. Late in January Estonian soldiers will head for Belgium to participate in Military Games -2003, in March - for Denmark and Romania in May and June - for Germany and Lithuania.
Besides, throughout 2003, Estonian servicemen will participate in manoeuvres in Poland, Sweden and the Baltic Sea. The Amber Workshop-2003 exercise will be conducted jointly with Finnish colleagues. These exercises will be held as part of NATO's Partnership-for-Peace programme and will include mine-clearing operations in the Baltic Sea in the wake of World War One and Two.
Estonia needs to resolve its problem with the Russians in its midst, some 20% of the population, but particularly concentrated in Tallinn and the south. The Estonians are expecting Russians to become fluent or nearly so in Estonian, a tall order since it is a Finno-Uguric language quite different from Russian and akin to Finnish and Hungarian.
These days the second language for Estonians and Russians alike is English. With NATO membership a fact and EU membership imminent an agreement to communicate in the world language makes a lot of sense.
Kesko Agro Estonia planning to set up shopping centre in Tartu
Kesko Agro Estonia is planning to establish a farm machines and implements shopping centre outside Tartu to serve the whole southern part of Estonia, BNS News Agency has reported.
Kesko Agro Estonia managing director, Tonu Kelder, told BNS that the plans are to set up a centre similar to the one now operating in Juri near Tallinn, only smaller.
Kelder said Kesko Agro Estonia has the aim of setting up four regional centres. At present such shopping centres operated in Paide and Juri. Besides Tartu, the company has in mind a centre in Rakvere, but only after the market is ready for it, Kelder said.
Planning of the centre in a site at the Tallinn-Tartu-Luhamaa motor road near its crossing with the road to Viljandi is now in progress. Kesko Agro Estonia is planning to be able to go ahead with the building later in February or early in March and have the structure ready in May or June.
Kesko Agro Estonia, a firm in the Kesko Oy group, opened its farm machines and implements centre in Juri last summer, investing 24 million kroons (EUR 1.5 mln) into building the
Sampo Bank doubles number of individual clients in 2002
The number of Sampo Bank's clients in Estonia has grown by roughly 100 per cent in the first 11 months of this year, including a growth of 115 per cent in individual clients who numbered 70,000 at the start of December. Margus Zuravljov, director of the bank's personal and retail banking division, said the growth has been particularly big in the segment of clients with above average incomes, who have above average deposits and loans.
The volume of mortgage loans issued by the bank has over the past year grown by 106 percent to approximately 800 million kroons (EUR 51.12 mln) as of the beginning of November. Sampo's share of the mortgage loans market increased in the same period by one-third to 9.1 percent. The bank has granted loans of more than 102 million kroons under its instalment plan, which has been on the market for a year.
Russian oil company planning two oil refineries in Estonia's Sillamae
The Russian oil company Noil Group is planning to build two oil and gas products works in Estonia's Sillamae and provide jobs to several hundred people, the daily 'Pohjarannik' reported.
Tonis Seesmaa, managing director of AS Silmet Kinnisvara (Silmet Real Estate), told the paper that Silmet Group sold a parcel of its territory to Oil Group, which is planning to put up two refineries in it in the next two years.
FOOD & DRINK
Coca-Cola to invest EUR 1.9m in Estonian plant
Coca-Cola HBC plans to invest this year 30 million kroons (EUR 1.92 mln) in its Estonian plant, including a six million kroon investment in the production of Bonaqua Still, a new noncarbonated table water.
The new head of Coca-Cola HBC in the Baltics, Dan Nistor, intends to invest 30 million kroons in the Estonian plant and 6.2 million kroons in training staff, the company told BNS News Agency.
The beverages maker began to produce Bonaqua Still in Tallinn at the start of the year. The new water will soon begin to be exported into Latvia and Lithuania.
Bonaqua is the best-selling table water in Estonia, Coca-Cola said. Last year consumption of bottled mineral water increased by 22 percent in this Baltic state, the company added.
Coca-Cola HBC took in 2002 over the production and marketing of The Coca-Cola Company's soft drinks in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Coca-Cola HBC bottles and sells the products in 26 Central and East European countries and Nigeria.
In Estonia the company has currently two soft drink production lines in operation. One line is working in Lithuania, and in Latvia the firm has an intermediate warehouse.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Chinese to decide about bringing in Estonian chemical co by end-2003
The northern China-based chemical group that held talks with Viru Keemia Grupp (VKG, Viru Chemical Group) has promised to make up its mind by the end of this year about the involvement of the Estonian company in launching a shale oil plant in China.
The Chinese have previously put off making the decision on several occasions.
The Chinese side said it needs extra time to carefully and profoundly consider the serious decision, Dainis Hirv, PR chief at VKG, told BNS News Agency.
VKG will decide shortly whether it agrees to the Chinese offer to wait until the end of the year. According to provisional evaluation, VKG would rather accept the proposal. VKG and Harbin Gas & Chemical Industry Corporation began talks on setting up a chemical plant in China back in 2001.
Information made available previously suggests that the Chinese chemical group is planning to build an oil plant with a consumption of 600,000 tons of oil shale. VKG has offered to project the plant and support the construction and launching process.
EU set to allocate money for nuclear waste treatment in Estonia
The EU will allocate 24.6m kroons [US$1.6m] to Estonia to ensure the safety of nuclear waste at Paldiski [near Tallinn] and to begin its treatment, Eesti Paevaleht has reported.
Through last year's PHARE [Poland, Hungary Assistance for the Restructuring of the Economy] programme, the EU supports a project in Estonia aimed at starting preliminary operations of waste treatment. A Ministry of Finance press officer told the Baltic News Service [BNS] that the money would be given as non-refundable aid. Estonia is co-financing the project with 4.4m kroons [US$0.3m].
Port of Tallinn to build metal terminal in Muuga Port
The Port of Tallinn is holding talks with a Russian firm for the building of a metal terminal in the new part of Muuga Port. Supervisory Council of the Port of Tallinn authorized the board to sign cooperation and building rights contracts with the metal terminal's operator, BNS News Agency has reported.
The terminal, to be launched in 2006-08 depending on the agreement with the operator, will handle both non-ferrous and ferrous metal.
The metal terminal plan is a good example of the fact that direct contacts with Russian producers will help make the transit chain considerably more competitive and flexible, the Port of Tallinn said.
Port of Tallinn marketing specialist, Tiina Liitmae, told BNS that it was not possible to give out more detailed information on the metal terminal before an agreement with the client was signed. But she added that the terminal's yearly freight volume would amount to millions of tons.
Finland's Viking Line brings booking centre entirely to Estonia
The shipper Viking Line has laid off most of the nearly 30 workers booking tickets in Finland by phone and hired more staff at its call centre in Estonia.
"Four to five Estonians can be hired in Estonia for the pay of one Finnish worker," Risto Peltola, marketing director at Viking Line, told Eesti Paevaleht. "It'll probably take years before wages in both countries become equal," he said.
Viking Line launched a call centre in Tallinn at the beginning of 2001. Until earlier this month the centre worked as a parallel unit to a similar center in Finland, but as the Estonian staff have been trained by now, there is no longer any need to maintain the Finnish operation, said Peltola.
"In Finland we have only a few operators fluent in Swedish left, because not all operators working in Tallinn are fluent enough in Swedish yet," said Peltola.
Also Viking Line's competitor Silja Line has opened a call centre in Estonia, but that company has not cut any staff in Finland for that reason.
Another major company having its call centre in Tallinn is the Hilton hotel chain. Nearly one hundred people work at that centre, answering up to 2,000 calls per day.
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