OLD FRIENDS

Kazakhstan 2014 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Andris Bērziņš, President of Latvia, on how both countries aim to improve relations and economic ties over the coming years.

HE Andris Bērziņš
BIOGRAPHY
Andris Bērziņš was born in 1944 and attended the Faculty of Mechanics at the Riga Polytechnic Institute before, between 1963 and 1966, performing service in the Soviet military. He then returned to the Riga Polytechnic Institute, this time to the Faculty of Radio Engineering, before attending the University of Latvia’s Faculty of Economics in Industrial Planning. Before becoming President of Latvia in 2011, he was Member of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia, and Chairman of the Economic, Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Policy Committee. Between 2006 and 2010, he was President of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and has also served in a number of other significant public and private roles.

In 2012, you celebrated the 20th anniversary of relations between Kazakhstan and Latvia. What is the importance of this relationship?

The countries share a close link dating back to Soviet times. Kazakhstan, today, marks a new step in our global development activities, particularly to the backdrop of a growing China and Central Asia. We see Kazakhstan as an important counterpart in our future activities. For Latvia, transit remains an essential consideration, particularly as we boast ice-free ports of large, underutilized capacity. We see similar growth and development in Kazakhstan, and also in other former Soviet countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. They all share our desire to remain fully independent states that enjoy secure and friendly relations with their neighbors. This is an excellent basis on which to expand our current activities, as well as seek out fresh opportunities, particularly in the field of education, and the exchange of our experience of becoming members of the EU, NATO, and various other international organizations.

In 2014, President Nazarbayev revealed a desire to increase the trade volume between Kazakhstan and Latvia from $350 million to $500 million. How can this be achieved?

During my recent visit to Kazakhstan, we were accompanied by a large delegation of entrepreneurs, and not only business people, but also many university rectors and heads of cultural institutions. Culture and education are key fields for future development. Latvia has a strong tradition of musical education starting from kindergarten, and the country boasts a myriad of opera singers and conductors working around the world. We view this as a very important field for expansion. In terms of education, we are heading in new directions in developmental terms, and Kazakhstan has enormous experience in that respect. We also have some highly developed branches of education, and such exchange is crucial. Including the industrial aspect, every part of the trip proved highly successful. Meeting with President Nazarbayev was particularly informative, and we found the country fascinating. Our two nations share a firm mutual understanding and vision for the future. Life is not just a question of trade and industry, and we are eager to create bonds in all fields, particularly by strengthening relationships in areas where we may have differences. If there was one positive aspect of the Soviet era, it was an emphasis on the cultural development of the individual, and we feel we can build on this ideal.

How does cooperation in the Baltic benefit the region?

Some projects are already underway, an example being a grand terminal that, once built, will be very important for Kazakhstan. All transit-related infrastructure is positive. In terms of utilizing railways, both countries are actively exchanging views and trying to take practical steps to grow. We have to maintain more terminals, but we also have to foster practical links with Kazakhstan and with all countries interested in entering the European markets.

In 2015, Latvia will preside over the Council of the EU. What goals do you hope to achieve during that time?

We want to attach significance to develop ties with countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. This is tied to the EU's long-term goals, including the finalization of activities in Afghanistan and assisting it in changing its distribution model from a martial to a commercial one. In that respect, Kazakhstan, as well as countries like Turkmenistan, are playing an important role. We have created the necessary basis for progress, and it will now take dedication from both sides over time. We have excellent personal relations on all levels, and we have opened up real opportunities, which is a solid basis for the future.