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Estonian Review: December 15-21, 2003

24.12.2003

FOREIGN NEWS
DEFENSE NEWS
DOMESTIC NEWS
ECONOMIC NEWS
SPORTS NEWS



FOREIGN NEWS

Japanese, Colombian ambassadors present credentials in Estonia

Dec 18
- New ambassadors of Japan and Colombia presented their credentials to Estonian President Arnold Rüütel.
Ambassador Shigeo Kondo said Japan admires the fast and steady development of the Estonian economy and society adhering to the principles of a free and democratic Europe. According to Rüütel, Estonian-Japanese political, economic and cultural relations have made steady progress over the past decade but there is yet room for improvement. Estonia is interested in co-operation with Japanese companies and is waiting for Japanese tourists to discover this Baltic State.
Colombia's Ambassador Dory Sanchez de Wetzel relayed to Rüütel best regards from his counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, and the latter's wish for closer ties of friendship and co-operation between the two countries.



DEFENSE NEWS

Estonian troops serving in Iraq awarded US decorations

Dec 15
- The U.S. military command decorated Estonian troops serving in Baghdad with medals for outstanding service. The commander of the Estpla-7 infantry platoon, Capt. Eero Kinnunen, his second-in-command 2nd Lt. Kristjan Kostabi and platoon leader Sgt. Maj. Enn Adoson were awarded the Bronze Star Medal and members of the platoon, the Army Commendation Medal.
The U.S. 2nd Armoured Battalion in whose ranks the Estonian platoon is serving was visited by the commander of the coalition ground forces in Iraq, U.S. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. The general thanked the Estonian troops for excellent service and wished them success.


Estonia's NATO entry not to break defence co-operation with Finland

Dec 17
- Estonia and Finland's military co-operation will continue despite the end of the Viro project and Estonia's accession to NATO, a high-ranking Finnish officer said.
"The bilateral cooperation will continue for certain," said chief of staff of the Finnish defence forces Lt. Gen. Kari Rimpi, who met with his Estonian counterpart, Col. Alar Laneman. "We enjoy excellent cooperation also with NATO members Norway and Denmark." Rimpi said future co-operation with Estonia will focus on military training and education.
Finland's assistance has played an especially significant role in the training of Estonian military. More than 100 officers and NCOs have studied at the Santahamina cadet college, Lappeenranta NCO college and shorter courses. Estonians have also taken part in courses for U.N. military observers in Finland.



DOMESTIC NEWS

Freedom Clock inaugurated in Estonian capital

Dec 20
- A new monument, the Freedom Clock, was opened in the Estonian capital Tallinn. The monument on the south-western edge of Tallinn's Freedom Square is made up of two 12-meter vertical pillars covered respectively with stainless steel and limestone.
The limestone pillar has a clock in its upper part, while two electronic displays on the other pillar show the number of years that have passed respectively since Estonia's independence and regaining of independence from the Soviet Union. Beams of light point to the sky from the top of both pillars.


Estonia: First child's allowance to double

Dec 17
– The Estonian parliament unanimously passed a bill that doubles the monthly allowance to a family after the birth of the first child.
The law raises the first child's allowance to 300 kroons (EUR 19.2) a month. At present the family is paid an allowance of 150 kroons a month while following the birth of a second or third child the family will recieve 300 kroons a month.


Estonian parliament passes ambitious income tax reform plan

Dec 17
- The Estonian parliament passed a bill that will gear an income tax reform, raising the tax-free minimum income next year and lowering the income tax for individuals in the years to come.
The income tax will remain flat at 26 percent in 2004, but the tax-free minimum income will go up to 1,400 kroons (EUR 89.46). The act lays down the schedule of lowering the income tax in the future.


Estonian parliament endorses Tax, Customs Boards merger plan

Dec 17
- With 55 votes in favour, the Estonian parliament passed acts laying the foundation to a merger of the Tax Board and the Customs Board next year.
The aim of the bill presented by the government in October was to make substantial and technical amendments into several legal acts in connection with the planned merger of the Tax Board and the Customs Board starting from January 1, 2004.
According to the bill, the advantages of the merger will be reflected in the loss of dubbing concerning domestic services and investigation, coordinated revisions and better services to clients.
According to the covering letter to the bill, merger of the tax administrators will increase tax income. Besides, it will have the preventive effect of more responsibility in meeting tax obligations and of decline in tax fraud.


Estonian government endorses 2004 minimum monthly pay at EUR 158.47

Dec 18
- The Estonian government endorsed the minimum full-time monthly pay at 2480 kroons (EUR 158.47), and the minimum hourly pay at 14.60 kroons (EUR 0.93).
Simultaneously the government cancelled the December 3, 2003 order, which established the minimum monthly pay at 2,160 kroons and the minimum hourly pay at 12.90 kroons.



ECONOMIC NEWS

Estonia among most developed e-countries in Central, East Europe -- poll

Dec 16
- A survey by the TNS chain carried out in 32 countries shows that Estonia is one of the most developed users of public sector e-services in Central and Eastern Europe. 36% of Estonian residents aged 16 to 74 have used the Internet in communicating with the public agencies or institutions looking for information from state agencies' web sites, printing out documents, forwarding personal information, making payments to public institutions or participating in public discussions.
Public sector e-services are used the widest in Denmark and Norway where 62-63% of the residents have used these services via the Internet. Finland, Singapore and Holland follow these countries.
Compared with the other countries, Estonia stands out for a high proportion of people who had made payments via the Internet -- 26 percent of Estonian residents had made payments to state agencies during the 12 months before the interview. According to the last TNS Emor poll, 47% of Estonia residents aged from 15 to 74 are Internet users.


IMF regards co-operation with Baltic countries as smooth

Dec 17
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that its co-operation with the Baltic countries was smooth and drew the conclusion that the fund's contribution to the reorganization of the Baltic countries' economy was valuable.
IMF said in its overview of its ten years of work that its co-operation with the Baltic countries was rather unique in the sense that the authorities from the beginning sought close co-operation with the fund, and contrary to other countries, this co-operation was rarely put in doubt, even at times of domestic difficulties.
IMF said that the fund's financial assistance to the Baltic countries was not large but it was important for its catalytic nature, which facilitated the countries' access to international capital markets. The fund assessed its policy advice and technical assistance to be the biggest contribution, adding that in contrast to many other transforming economies, the Baltics took the policy advice to heart and adopted it completely.


Poland restores pork export subsidies

Dec 18
, BNS - Estonian pig farmers and meat packers say Poland is again paying export subsidies on pork although it had promised not to do it any more.
"Cheap Polish subsidized pork has again started to arrive in the country and no domestic pig farmer can compete with it," said Indrek Lekko, purchasing director of the Rakvere Lihakombinaat (Rakvere Meat-Packer).
Estonia abolished its import duties on Polish pork as of the beginning of December, as Poland announced it had scrapped export subsidies.


S&P upgrades Estonia's rating outlook to positive

Dec 18
- The Standard & Poor's rating agency upgraded Estonia's rating outlook to positive and confirmed the ratings at the present levels A-/A-2.
"The positive outlook reflects the upward ratings potential EMU accession will have for Estonia given that it will protect the country against one of its key weaknesses, its external vulnerability," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Mary Nnachi. But Nnachi pointed out Estonia's high current account deficit as a potential risk factor.
S&P said that the Estonian rating is supported by a track record of fiscal prudence. Estonia's general government debt will rise moderately over the coming years but will remain low at about 5% of GDP at year-end 2004, S&P said.
As another positive factor S&P pointed out robust growth and added that among EU accession countries, Estonia has been at the forefront in reforming its markets and institutions.
The agency also underlined Estonia's predictable and prudent economic policies, despite a tendency for governments to be unstable. Fiscal and monetary policy has remained prudent since independence and grown in credibility, S&P found.
The factors constraining the rating, according to S&P, are significant external imbalances, the challenges of achieving real economic convergence with higher-rated sovereigns. S&P added that although Estonia has made substantial progress toward adopting EU rules and regulations, it would need to ensure that this new body of law filters down to the real economy.


Currency Rates in Kroons

December 21, 2003

British pound - GBP - 22.298
Canadian dollar - CAD - 9.434
Swiss franc - CHF - 10.063
Danish krone - DKK - 2.103
Japanese yen - JPY - 0.117
Latvian lat - LVL - 23.461
Lithuanian lit - LTL - 4.532
Norwegian krone - NOK - 1.875
Russian rouble - RUB - 0.430
Swedish krona - SEK - 1.744
US dollar - USD - 12.590
Euro - EUR - 15.646



SPORTS NEWS

Šmigun shines

Dec 21
- Estonia's Kristina Šmigun claimed the women's double pursuit race at a cross-country skiing World Cup event in Ramsau. Smigun was on fire in the Austrian resort, flying through the 2 x 7.5-km-long course in 44 minutes 44.2 seconds, a comfortable 25.6 seconds ahead of Ukrainian Valentina Shevchenko and 37.2 seconds faster than Germany's Claudia Kuenzel. Rounding out the top five were Russia's Olga Savialova and Norway's Hilde Pedersen, in fourth and fifth respectively. Thanks to her victory and the 100 points that go with it, Smigun extended her lead in the overall World Cup standings ahead of top rival Shevchenko






EESTI RINGVAADE is compiled from local news services, including BNS and ETA, and is issued by the Press and Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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