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Saturday 16.12.2017 | Name days: Alvīne
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BNN summary of the week: medicinal cannabis in Lithuania, cargo anti-record, and Lemberg’s dwindling influence in UGF

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUBNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Fight; Growth; Truth; Future and Opinion.

BUSINESS: Bite Latvija buys Stream Networks and Latnet

Mobile commutations operator Bite Latvija has signed a purchase agreement for 100% of shares of Stream Networks and its subsidiary Latner Serviss, as BNN was informed by Bite manager in Latvia Kaspars Buls.

Buls said by combining Bite’s output with Stream Networks and Latnet Service’s competence in development of ICT solutions and service provision will set the foundation for modern mobile communications and formation of ICT services portfolio for corporate clients.

«By combining our forces, we will be able to integrate mobile communication services with modern ICT solutions, such as optic internet, IP telephone services, video surveillance, cloud services and other modern business services,» says Buls.

Full article here

FIGHT: LDz cannot raise tariffs and perform rail electrification under cargo anti-record

Because Latvijas dzelzceļš has set an anti-record in cargo transports in the first ten months of this year, Saeima deputy and member of the National Economy Committee Anrijs Matīss says raising the fee for the use of infrastructure cannot be allowed. He adds that the intended railway electrification project should be considered very carefully.

According to him LDz should drop generous advertisement and sponsoring contracts, as well as perform internal reformation.

Warnings about the dramatic situation with railway cargo transports were first voiced in summer. LDz, however, continued using status policy and reported on supposed cargo volume increase in spite of experiencing serious declines in summer months. In October, low cargo indexes could no longer sustain major cargo declines, and statistical information finally revealed the downward-spiralling tendency.

In the first ten months of 2017, LDz handled only 36 million tonnes of cargoes, which is the lowest index in the past decade. More than 40,000 tonnes of cargoes were carried by rail before the month of October. In 2012, this volume was 51 million tonnes. The situation keeps getting worse.

Matīss believes that increasing infrastructure fees in such a situation would be a short-sighted and irresponsible decision, one that would make Latvia the country with the most expensive railway infrastructure in the European Union. «It would not improve competitiveness, and cargo decline would continue. Raising prices under declining turnover would be madness,» said the Saeima deputy.

Full article here

TRUTH: Ašeradens admits the need to change Unity’s operational model

Unity’s chairman and Latvia’s Economy Minister Arvils Ašeradens see no reason to recall and reform Unity’s Saeima faction, as requested by Kustības Par! members. He does admit, however, that it is necessary to change the party’s operational model.

As Ašeradens stated in an interview to Viens pret vienu programme on Tuesday, 14 November, processes in Unity with Solvitas Āboltiņa’s participation did not go as they should have. This became clear to him when he became the leader of the party. «The situation turned different after I took over the party’s reins,» said Ašeradens. At the same time, he reminded that in certain cases he had voted against other members of the board «in an attempt to maintain balance in the party for a little longer and find a solution».

When asked to comment on the initiative proposed by members of Kustības Par! to change the name of Unity’s Saeima faction, Ašeradens said that this proposal came as a surprise to him. Nevertheless, he sees no reason to rename the faction. He also added that the parliament does not have a tradition of recalling entire factions. At the same time, Unity’s leader said it is important to reach an agreement on the faction’s operational model and how opinions are coordinated on the inside. «Until now we concentrated on a single-person policy, but I would rather see teamwork.»

Full article here

GROWTH: Latvia reaches highest employment level in past 20 years

Latvian employment rate has increased by 1.8 percentage points over the year. In Q3 2017, Latvian employment rate was the highest one recorded during the two past decades – 63.6 %. Employment rate exceeding 63 % (constituting 63.1 %) was recorded only in Q2 2008.

In Q3 2017, in Latvia there were 903.0 thousand employed persons aged 15–74, which is 8.0 thousand more than a year ago, according to data from the Labour Force Survey performed by Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Compared to the previous quarter of 2017, in the 3rd quarter employment rate rose by 1.0 percentage points, while the number of employed persons by 11.3 thousand. The most significant increase in the number of employed persons was recorded within the age groups 45–54 and 55–64 (5.8 thousand and 2.8 thousand, respectively).

Since the end of Q4 2012, Latvian employment rate has been exceeding the European Union (EU) average indicator (59.8 % in Q2 2017), and in Q3 2017 it was equal to that registered in Lithuania (63.6 %), however lower than that recorded in Estonia (68.3 %).

Full article here

FUTURE: Medical cannabis bill paves way in Lithuanian legislature

Otherwise conservative Lithuania has made a big stride forward legalising cannabis for medical use with 92 Lithuanian parliamentarians voting Thursday, November 15, to open the bill draft on medication containing cannabis. The law draft should go back to the parliamentary floor for deliberations on December 12.

After the vote, which registered only one abstention with none opposed to it, Mykolas Majauskas, a Conservative MP and chairman of the Seimas Commission for Suicide and Violence Prevention, who has been an outspoken spearhead of the legislation, stated the amendment is «the first time»that a decision on such a sensitive issue enjoys a broad public and political support.

Full article here

OPINION: Lambergs no longer has major influence over UGF to get him picked for the coalition

Concerns about possible cooperation between Union of Greens and Farmers and Harmony in the next government are nothing more than infantile and amateurish pre-election slogan intended for poorly-informed voters, says For Latvia’s Development board member Edgars Jaunups.

At the same time, he notes that perhaps this is what Aivars Lembergs wants, but he no longer has the kind of influence over the party he once had to pull off something like that.

He says every person who anything about Latvia’s politics understands that «getting a decision to let Harmony join UGF would be as impossible as it would be for this party to join the National Alliance».

«The average UGF deputy in the Saeima is such a big national that they do not seem all that different from members of NA. Aivars Lembergs may want such a coalition, but he has long since lost the influence he once had over UGF to dictate the partners to form the coalition,» says Jaunups.

The politician is confident that UGF faction leader Augusts Brigmanis would never agree to form a coalition with Harmony, because he is «already an old man and he now thinks more about concluding his political career». In spite of his experience working in the Soviet Union, Brigmanis has spent the last twenty years building up his image of a national politician, says Jaunups.

Full article here

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Citadele Index: businessmen are more optimistic about economic growth

After a four-year gap, optimism has been noticed in all of Latvia’s business sectors. For the third consecutive quarter Citadele Index value exceeds 50 points. Businessmen are also positive about the country’s economy and their own finances, according to the final Citadele Index study for 2017.

Bank of Latvia increases GDP growth outlook to 4.7% for 2017

Bank of Latvia has decided in increase gross domestic product growth outlook from 4.2% to 4.7% for 2017, as reported by the bank’s governor Ilmārs Rimšēvičs.

Latvian residents’ opinion of government’s work remains negative

Latvian residents voiced the biggest degree of dissatisfaction about the development of the situation in Latvia and the work performed by the government. Although the previous evaluation of government’s work had increased by four points, it has since declined by two points, according to data from Baltic International Bank’s Latvian Barometer.

Eel fishing to be restricted in Baltic Sea for three months

European Union Fisheries Council has decided to restrict eel fishing for three months in 2018 in all waters, including the Baltic Sea. Although the World Wide Fund for Nature and environmental organization in Europe view it as a notable first step, these efforts are unlikely to have a major impact on the most important problem – eel population continues declining rapidly, as noted by WWF.

LCCI: increase of electricity bills for thousands of companies in unacceptable

Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) categorically opposes increasing electricity bills for the majority of small and medium-sized companies due to mandatory procurement component’s differentiation. The organization believes that this would basically introduce a new additional tax, making them even less competitive.

Head of Latvian Association of Regions to spend Christmas thinking on remaining in the party

Dissatisfied with multiple decisions made by Latvian Association of Regions (LAR), Riga City Council member Mārtiņš Bondars will spend the holiday thinking about his place in this political party, as he mentioned in his interview to Rīta panorama or LTV.

Estonian fund permitted to purchase several Latvia energy production companies

Latvian Competition Council has permitted Estonian fund to purchase several energy production and agricultural companies.

Meat processing giant sees room for growth in ready-to-eat foods

Consumption in the meat market segment of ready-to-eat foods is growing quickly, evaluated Finnish meat processing group HKScan that is planning to invest eight million euros in its factory in Estonia.

To fight for national minority schools, Russian representatives promise to hold a referendum

Defenders of Russian schools in Latvia promise to organize a referendum for autonomy of national minority schools, said co-chairman of Latvian Russians Association Miroslavs Mitrofanovs in regards to the transition to education only in Latvian language.

Tax payment process from capital growth to change in Latvia

As part of the tax reform, changes will be added to the Personal Income Tax Law starting from 1 January 2018. One of the changes is associated with payment and declaration of income from capital growth. The tax rate and the term for submission of declarations on income from capital growth will change next year.

Tusk deems EU migrant quotas ineffective as some states oppose taking in migrants

Donald Tusk, the head of the Council of the European Union and chairman of this week's EU summit, has evaluated that mandatory EU-wide quotas are ineffective and that there is a split between east and west as regards asylum policy.

Riga City Council’s 2018 budget – poorly planned or well-developed?

As the vote for the 2018 budget of Riga City Council draws near, representatives of all opposition parties say they will not support it as long as politicians of the ruling coalition continue viewing the city’s most important financial document as good and aimed at development.

Euro area economy has grown quicker than expected, European Central Bank estimated

Growth has been at a faster pace in the eurozone prompting the European Central Bank to raise its economic growth forecasts.

Weekends in Latvia expected to be snowy

A layer of snow will form in Latvia’s central and western regions that will remain until the middle of next week, as reported by State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Opinion: Latvia at risk of restricting healthcare to 300,000 people

Kustība Par! political party has sent a letter to Latvia’s President Raimonds Vējonis, asking him to return to the Saeima the recently approved law on healthcare funding legislative draft. According to the party, the law restricts healthcare for 300,000 people in Latvia.

Lithuania’s 2018 budget focuses on spending cuts, NATO commitment and social security

Lithuania's 2018 budget, approved this week by the Seimas, Lithuanian Parliament, makes history for being the first budget ever with fewer spending for the governmental sector, the commitment to NATO of earmarking 2 per cent of the gross domestic product to defence and bigger allotments for social security. The budget was adopted by 84 MPs, 29 voted against, with 15 abstentions.

EU member states have to strengthen measures against sexual abuse of children

Member states of the European Union have to take more serious measures and cooperate more intensely with Europol and information technology industry to better combat sexual abuse of children, as noted by members of the European Parliament.

Latvian parliament views initiative for changing VAT rate for food product

On Thursday, 14 December, Latvia’s Saeima made its decision on the collective application that proposes reducing VAT on everyday healthy food products and increasing VAT on unhealthy products.

Maxima: residents have become more conservative in their choice of products

In Q2 and Q3, a higher degree of conservatism was noticed in residents’ choice of products. The number of buyers who gladly purchase new products has declined, whereas the number of buyers who do not change anything in their purchasing habits has increased, according to results of a study performed by Maxima.

Civil processes to be sped up and simplified in Latvia

On Thursday, 14 December, Saeima supported amendments to the Civil Process Law in the final reading. Amendments propose several major changes to the process of review of civil processes to make court sessions quicker and more efficient.

State Auditor dissatisfied with parliament’s slow legislative process

Latvian State Auditor Elita Krūmiņa plans to inquire to the Saeima about the delay with the approval of the legislative draft on the expansion of authority of her institution, as she mentioned in an interview to Rīta panorama programme of LTV.

Aldaris commences exports to France, China and Netherlands

Aldaris concludes 2017 with three new export contracts, commencing exports of products to China, France and Netherlands. Until now Aldaris has exported products to eight markets, with the largest one being United Kingdom, taking up 78.71% from Aldaris export volume, as reported by the company.

Estonian budget passed with 0.25 billion-euro deficit

The Estonian Riigikogu with 55 votes against 41 has passed the country’s 2018 state budget bill planning to spend by 0.25 billion more than it is planned to earn.

AFSAL: loan requests in non-banking industry are declined in 69% of all cases

In the first six months of 2017 Alternative Financial Services Association of Latvia (AFSAL) issued a total amount of EUR 84.7 million in consumer loans. No increase is noted in this amount when compared with the same period of 2016. Increase did not exceed 0.2%, as reported by the association.

European Parliament supports changes for combating activities detailed in Panama Papers

Public registries with names of true owners of businesses, effective protection of whistle-blowers and stricter requirements for financial intermediaries are some of the proposals intended to assist with the fight against tax avoidance, as noted by members of the European Parliament.

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