«There is nothing good I can say about the current state of Latvia’s transit industry – cargo volumes handled by the country’s ports continue to decline. The volume of coal cargoes transshipped by Ventspils port, for example, has dropped to 40%. The overall decline last year, when compared to 2014, reaches 20.5%. This decline has been continuing since 2012,» – Inga Antane, president of the Baltic Association –Transport and Logistics, said in an interview to BaltNews.lv.
The decline at Riga port, according to her, has not yet reached such dramatic depths. Nevertheless, it does exceed 10%. A significant decline has also been noticed for cargoes carried by rail: the overall decline of cargoes has reached 20% over the course of the first nine years of 2016. The flow of transit cargoes through Latvian ports has declined 19%.
«All this time I have been telling officials – ministers and the prime minister – that our country’s transit industry remains in serious trouble. I told them this in 2012, when experts of the World Bank presented their report, which stated that Russia had plans to develop its own ports. Even then it was clear that Russian cargoes, which make up 80% of out transit, would be diverted away from us sooner or later. This is why Latvia desperately needs a transit industry development plan,» – Antane emphasized in the interview. According to her, Russia’s strategy is understandable and logical – if a country has its own ports, it is interested in developing them. Latvia happens to have ports, three of them, in fact. All of them provide considerable contribution to the state budget – around EUR 1 billion annually. «But this problem does not seem to worry our heads of state. Now that a full loss of Russian cargoes is imminent, we sit and wait. But we should have done the thinking much earlier, when there was still a way to change something,» – Antane added.
She had previously said that even if officials are doing anything to resolve this problem, businessmen remain in the dark about any future plans. ‘We have a port development programme that provides for cargo turnover reaching one hundred million tons annually. But that’s absurd. The situation has changed drastically and this programme no longer works. Cargo volumes are dropping. Last year’s result was only 68 million. Because of that, Latvia desperately needs a new transit strategy,’ – said BATL president.
When asked if there is anything Latvia can offer China that Russia cannot, Antane said Latvia is a member of the European Union with three ports close to Scandinavian countries. With that, Latvia can offer China an exit to Europe and further to the west, which Russia, which is not part of the EU, cannot. «However, we still need Russia in order to work with China. And this is where politics come in from one side and economics come from the other. I see what the situation is like with our ports and railway. And if we as a country want the industry to bring profits, we cannot hope to get by without Russia. No one cancelled geography as far as I’m aware,» – Antane said in her interview.
She believes it is unfortunate that the government took notice of the fire only after half the housed burned down. ‘Had the fire been addressed shortly after its first appearance, the situation would have been different. Now it will be much harder to restore everything. Maintaining the remaining cargoes is now far more important than attracting new ones,’ – Antane added.
«I can say one thing for sure – things will never be the same as they were a couple of years ago. The situation continues changing in Latvia and elsewhere in the world. China is in the foreground now. This is something no one could have expected in the past. If Latvia succeeds in joining this new transit system, everything will be alright with our transit system,» – Antane concluded, adding that she hopes Latvia will succeed in presenting its transit services as best it can at the upcoming summit in Riga. Antane believes Latvia has good chances. The country only needs to use its talents in a clever and professional way.
The 16+1 format consists of China and 16 other countries: Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary.
BNN had previously reported that government leaders from countries taking part in 16+1 format will gather in Riga at the beginning of November to discuss important matters and establish economic contacts.