Dear Madam President,
Dear Board Members and members of the Chamber,
Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
I am truly delighted that, after two longs years, we are able to meet in person to discuss current affairs and the way forward for Latvia.
Your presence here today and your interest in our discussion is a testimony to your continuous commitment to Latvia’s future. In your own words, the aim is to make Latvia “a better place to live, work and do business”. This is an endeavour I fully share with you.
And here I’d like to congratulate our new citizen, John Tully, and to tell him how much we appreciate his generous commitment to the fight against cancer for the good of our children in Latvia. Thank you, Sir! You set an example and you have given purpose and meaning to our work here today.
I warmly welcome AmCham’s initiatives and you will always find the door open at my Chancery.
Now, down to business.
First, I will speak about where we stand (one and a half years into the pandemic), and then I’d like to make a few points on where in my view we should be heading.
I trust you have registered that the latest economic data in Latvia are rather promising: GDP growth in the second quarter was higher than expected and has reached the pre-crisis level; we’re seeing a solid trade growth in the first half of this year, both on the side of exports (20 %) and imports (24 %); also, employment has started to recover.
Surely, the struggle for those sectors that were hit the hardest with the pandemic is not over. In the face of uncertainties business confidence in Latvia is not quite there where I want it to be, but if we manage to keep the economy going, I trust the mood will start to improve.
Latvia has been able to keep its 19th place in the World Bank's 2020 “Doing Business” report. We obtain a very honourable 6th position from the top at EU level, practically on a par with Estonia and, I must say, right ahead of Finland and Germany. We have been ranked as the most start-up friendly country in Europe alongside our Baltic neighbours.
If I look at Latvia’s and the U.S. bilateral economic relations, I see a positive trend with both trade and investment flows growing. We highly value U.S. direct investment in Latvia and I believe there is still considerable potential to explore.
In this regard, I hope that the newly adopted regulation – the so called “Green Channel” (in force since March) – will help to speed up and streamline the investment process, especially in areas of strategic importance such as science and technology.
Our Investment and Development Agency is putting its shoulder to the wheel to make this happen and we appreciate you being on board.
At the European Union level, we are also pleased to notice that trade and economic dialogue with the United States has resumed and that we are moving towards a more predictable and constructive agenda.
We very much welcome the decision of the June EU–U.S. summit to launch the Trade and Technology Council in order to expand and deepen trade and investment, and to enhance cooperation on key policies in the fields of technology, research, innovation, digital and others.
The U.S. are our strategic partner in global affairs. I strongly believe that our joint efforts are mutually beneficial and will make multilateralism stronger and the world a better place.
I wish I could stop here on these positive and encouraging developments. But I want to be realistic. Our current situation is not entirely satisfactory, as you well know.
There are still many issues where our work should become more effective if we want to deliver on reforms and ensure progress, so that people and businesses see a real, positive impact.
Whilst coping with a pandemic that is far from over, we cannot divert our attention from our strategic goals. We have already undertaken significant steps towards reforming the financial sector, and also on taxation and on higher education. But Latvia is still lagging behind in terms of competitiveness, productivity and innovation.
Our education, science, technology and economic policies have not yet been intertwined in the most effective way; they have not been interlinked in a single, coherent chain where all parts work with the greatest possible return.
While responding to immediate needs (and this has been, understandably, the priority for the last year and a half), we cannot lose sight of structural issues and of new challenges that must be addressed without delay.
Among those, I see education, digital skills and innovation. Progress in these areas will require adequate commitment from the state. Financial institutions and the private sector in general will also have to take responsibility and engage more actively with the education and science sector.
All these issues must be on the top of our to-do list. Latvia can do better and will do better.
Alongside these tasks on the domestic front, there are many opportunities we want to seize and crucial debates we will want to influence internationally.
The U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, that will take place in Glasgow in early November, is a case in point. As we enter this critical decade on climate action, every nation is summoned to contribute to this “whole economy transformation”.
Other interrelated events, like the U.N. Food Systems Summit to be held in New York later this month, will also deserve my attention and full commitment.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the world, the U.S., the EU, Latvia, our immediate neighbours, each one of us individually will have to commit to change.
Apart from all the above issues, let us not forget that we have a common agenda – Agenda 2030, agreed by every single nation in the world, for which the contribution of the private sector, of businessmen like you is paramount. And we have less than nine years to achieve those ambitious goals.
In concluding, I’d like to mention an initiative that hopefully proves the point I just made. I’m talking about a forum of twelve states, called the Three Seas Initiative.
Latvia will host the next Three Seas Initiative Summit and Business Forum in 2022. I see it as a productive platform to accelerate digital, energy and transport connectivity between the northern and southern parts of the EU.
Latvia also envisages the Three Seas Initiative as leverage to strengthen the transatlantic bond. We believe that the success of the Initiative lies in the continuous participation of key partners – not least the United States of America. This is why it is so important to ensure the strongest possible U.S. involvement during the Summit and its Business Forum.
I am pleased to acknowledge that at the Sofia Summit and Business Forum in July your Chamber, alongside nine others have signed an important declaration in support of this initiative.
Your Chamber’s contribution will be most appreciated. I look forward to taking on board your suggestions also on this.
I thank you for your attention and will be glad to take your questions.