Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to address you today on the occasion of the opening of the seminar dealing with business opportunities in Estonia.
Our current visit to Ireland is very special for us. Estonia and Ireland have had numerous high-level bilateral contacts over the past few years: your President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Bertie Ahern have visited Estonia, successive Estonian prime ministers and politicians have been in your charming country on various occasions. In May 2004, when Estonia became a member of the European Union, I celebrated this historic day joyfully here in Dublin and Galway. And today, I am delighted to be here with the mayor of Tallinn, Mr. Jüri Ratas, and representative business delegation. It is the largest delegation of Estonian businesspeople to visit Ireland so far.
Many of our business leaders are well aware of Ireland’s flexible economic model. The first group of Estonian businesspeople visited your Trade Management Institute already in 1988 – during Estonia’s Singing Revolution. Your people have always been very open and friendly towards us, and as a result, your way of thinking has established strong roots in the Estonian business community.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Estonia has many parallels with Ireland: for example, the weather, which is dependent upon the moods of the sea and the ocean. But we also have other essential similarities: our size, our economic performance, and our economic policies. Neither of us has yet to discover abundant strategically important natural resources, and our greatest capital is our people. Estonia has enjoyed seven straight years of annual economic growth rates of more than 7%. And the prospects for the future are even more positive – this year, for instance, Estonia’s GDP growth has reached 12%. The Irish GDP grows considerably above the EU average as well.
Because of our successful structural reforms and open economy, the Estonian business and investment climate is, together with Ireland’s, among the best in the world, as seen by many international rating agencies. Estonia is also considered to be the initiator of the ‘flat tax revolution’. To encourage companies to expand their business operations, all reinvested earnings are exempted of corporate income tax. Only distributed profits or dividends are taxed at a flat 23% rate.
Foreign direct investment per capita in Estonia is the highest among the last already-not-so-new EU member countries. Last year, the annual inflow of foreign direct investments was record high – over two billion euros. Some of the biggest acquisitions took place in the banking and commercial real estate sectors.
Actually, the whole Baltic Sea Region is an interesting market. The three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – and the four Nordic countries – Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway – all have, compared to the rest of Europe, relatively high growth rates. Estonia is at the heart of Europe’s fastest growing market – the Baltic Sea Region, with its population of over 90 million.
We can observe an interesting integration trend with the Nordic countries – nearly 80% of all foreign investments in Estonia come from Finland and Sweden. The Nordic countries also account for almost half of Estonia’s trade. Cross-border clusters and linkages are shaping up in the timber and engineering industries, plus the information and telecommunication, as well as financial sector.
However, the most interesting developments are taking place in the info technology sector. I’ll give you just a few examples: computer users everywhere usually know what Kazaa and Skype mean. But, usually, they don’t know that Estonia is the birthplace for all those hi-tech info technological achievements. In 2000, Estonia also became a world pioneer by changing our Cabinet meetings to paperless sessions using a web-based document system. Last year, an electronic voting system was used in local government elections for the first time. This system allows citizens to sign their ballots electronically, via the Internet, at their home computers.
Since 1991, both the central and local Estonian governments have looked to IT and the Internet as central pillars of our economy. Three out of four people in Estonia have a mobile phone, and they can use it to pay for almost anything, from a glass of beer to a parking place. Estonia is, currently, among the world leaders in Internet banking. For example, more than 80% of tax declarations are submitted online.
But you will be presented with a detailed overview of the developments in this field later today.
It is a pleasure to be able to state that Ireland is, in various ways, a generous source of inspiration for Estonians. For instance, the repertoire of a theatre in our capital, Tallinn, includes a popular improvisation based on Irish ballades and tales by William Butler Yeats – the wanderings of the minstrel Hanrahan, in a fairies’ Ireland, are seen through the eyes of … Estonians employed in modern-day Ireland. And, it’s a fact that about 3000 Estonians currently live and work in Ireland. And, as we can see, they have already made an impact on our culture.
There are very few things in this world, which cannot be improved. The current total Estonian-Irish trade turnover makes up just 0.3% of the total of Estonia’s foreign trade, and places Ireland 32nd among our trade partners. Our main export articles to Ireland include timber and wood products, but we wish that our trade relations would be more diverse and significant. Thus, it is pleasure for me to invite you to visit Estonia.
Ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely encourage you to establish and develop mutually profitable business relations with your Estonian colleagues.
Welcome to Estonia!