Distinguished members of the American Chamber of Commerce,
Dear Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you sincerely for the invitation to take part in this business luncheon. I am especially delighted to greet you – our investors, business partners and friends who contribute to a large extent to the growth of Lithuania’s economy and the quality of life in the country.
I am convinced that this meeting will provide us with an opportunity to exchange views on the political and economic situation in Lithuania and discuss the prospects of investment enhancement in our country.
On the very first morning after I assumed the duties of the head of state, I met the diplomatic corps of Lithuania. I urged Lithuanian ambassadors to search for new markets in the East and the West, and to promote the flow of foreign investment to Lithuania. The fact that Lithuanian ambassadors had gathered in Lithuania at that time facilitated the arrangement of this meeting. On the other hand, I have always been determined to take any effort to attract investments and promote a dynamic dialogue between business people and the governmental institutions.
In the past three months I have attended a number of business forums here at home and abroad and had the meeting with Lithuanian business leaders, which was attended by 120 CEOs of the most advanced Lithuanian companies.
My attention to business is not accidental as I am convinced that business is one of the most effective instruments to promote Lithuania across the world and to bring that world to Lithuania.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am not afraid share with you my delight at the progress achieved by Lithuania. Our aspiration to achieve even greater transformation of life in the country is easy to understand since our latest accomplishments demonstrate a steady growth of the country’s national economy.
Lithuania’s economy has earned a broad recognition of being the most rapidly growing economy even in global terms.
Recent years have witnessed a steady growth of exports and imports, and our gross domestic product grew last year by almost seven per cent. According to the estimates of experts, the GDP growth during the next three years will make 5-6 per cent each year and there are no evident reasons to doubt this forecast.
For the past decade Lithuania enjoyed a stable national currency. The inflation rate has been extremely low during the last few years. Labour costs in Lithuania are 8-10 times lower than in the developed West European or Nordic countries.
Lithuania does not experience the shortage of qualified labour. Compared with other European economies, Lithuania has the highest number of university students, which makes 39 students per a thousand of inhabitants.
It gives me a particular pleasure to mention that according to the growth rate of foreign direct investment, Lithuania is ahead of a number of Central and Eastern European countries.
Lithuania has achieved almost full approximation of its legislation with the EU directives and regulations. This provides foreign investors with either the same or highly similar business guarantees that exist in other European democracies.
Certainly, the realities of our life is a constant reminder that much remains to be done before we achieve the desired prosperity of our state as we need to overcome the existing Soviet legacy and eliminate the enormous gap separating us from the European democracies.
In building our state on the ruins of the Soviet planned economy, we are well aware of the progress achieved in Europe from which we had been brutally severed 63 years ago and to which we return having won our freedom 13 years ago.
For centuries Lithuanians have been living at the crossroads of Western and Eastern civilisations. Our geopolitical situation had not for once been the source of painful sufferings and the cause of historical cataclysms.
History has recorded how difficult was the road of Lithuania to Europe. Lithuanian rulers Mindaugas, Gediminas and Vytautas were real Europeans. But each time Lithuania had to pay a precious price for its aspiration to be part of the European mainstream: it was deprived of lands and had to fight a fierce battle to defend its very existence.
In 1918, after 120 years of occupation, Lithuania restored its statehood and during the two decades when it enjoyed independence it became a European state of well-developed economy and high standard of living.
However, in geopolitical terms, Lithuania remained isolated from both the East and the West, and the country existed, I would say, in a threatening environment.
I have made this short journey to history to show that never throughout its existence Lithuania has enjoyed such a secure environment as today.
I do not doubt that security guarantees, issued to Lithuania by membership of the EU and NATO should naturally encourage foreign business people to invest in Lithuania.
However, it is also evident that discrepancies between the economic development of the members of the enlarged European Union will inevitably accelerate the economic growth of the new members.
I am well aware of the significant role that foreign investors will play in this process. Therefore, I pledge to spare no effort to ensure the most favourable climate for investment in the country.
Membership of the European Union will open up to Lithuania new possibilities. At the same time, it will bring new trials for our state and its institutions.
I will demand from our officials personal responsibility for rational, effective and transparent use of support received from the EU.
I will work to establish a business-conducive taxation system and equal competition conditions for domestic and foreign companies.
In the near future Lithuania will bridge the East and the West. I believe that our geographic location and well-developed infrastructure will help us implement successfully this mission.
Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania, will be connected to the West by a European gauge railway line. Also, we should complete the Via Baltica project that will connect Helsinki with Warsaw and the rest of Western Europe.
Modern highway runs from Kaunas International Airport to Klaipeda seaport. Thus, Lithuania has every possibility to become a functioning transit state.
Also, I will work to ensure the fastest possible interconnection of the Lithuanian electricity network with the Western European power grid.
During my recent meeting with the Presidents of Latvia and Estonia we discussed closer economic co-operation as well as upgrading transport and energy infrastructure.
These issues are important as many West European investors treat the three Baltic states, which share a similar historical development, as a common economic area.
I believe that American business people also perceive Lithuania as part of the Baltic region.
Next year, when Lithuania becomes a full EU member, one fifth of the European eastern border will be Lithuania’s border with Russia and Belarus.
I am convinced that we should use our successful co-operation with Kaliningrad for the furtherance of relations with our eastern neighbours, especially the Northwest region of the Russian Federation.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
Though in my speech I have addressed the present situation in Lithuania and prospects of its future development in the context of the forthcoming membership in the European structures, today we are also considering the future of transatlantic relations. A month ago the U. S. Ambassador John F. Tefft made a remarkable speech at the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences on the subject of “Lithuania and the United States: a strengthening partnership”.
In his address, Ambassador Tefft highlighted priority areas for co-operation between Lithuania and the United States, reflecting the very essence of our partnership.
They include strengthening of strategic, security, economic and commercial relations, joint development of conditions for healthy society and its values and development of direct human contacts.
I fully subscribe to Ambassador Tefft’s ideas and believe that through common efforts we shall find the best ways to address these tasks.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for all your efforts and the possibility to share with you my thoughts on the topical issues that concern our state.
I hope that by joint efforts we will succeed in further enhancing our fruitful co-operation for the benefit of Lithuanian and your people.
May I wish you sound health and the best of success.
H.E. Mr. Rolandas Paksas, President of the Republic of Lithuania