The Outer

Interview| Latvian Ambassador to Cairo: There is an urgent need for safe and secure humanitarian corridors in Gaza

By Manal El Warraky

Ambassador Andris Razans, the Latvian ambassador to Cairo, said that his country strongly stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people during the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, supported the UN General Assembly ceasefire resolutions, and stressed the need to protect civilians in Gaza and Rafah.

Regarding Egyptian-Latvian relations, the ambassador confirmed in an exclusive interview that Latvia was the first Baltic country to open its embassy in Egypt, and since then the embassy has played its role in strengthening political, economic, commercial, educational and cultural relations between the two friendly countries, according to the text of the Interview..

How would you describe the current state of bilateral relations between Egypt and Latvia?
I must begin by saying that for a diplomat to come on a diplomatic mission to Egypt is a dream come through moment. To work in Egypt, country with her extremely rich history and culture, with her unique gigantic footprint on the history of humankind – Umm Al-Dunya.
Since my arrival to Cairo last August I have met here with Egypt`s very warm and hospitable people. It is a unique experience for every diplomat.

But it is certainly not only unparalleled richness of its history for what Egypt is known these days.  Egypt plays a leading role on international arena, be it at the UN level, regional international networks or as a bilateral partner. Egypt`s voice is heard and her opinions respected. Egypt is a very good and trustworthy partnerfor Latvia.

Although our two countries are situated in two different geographic regions, Latvia on shores of the Baltic Sea in North of Europe, Egypt in MENA region connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, we are united in our shared interest to strengthen rules based international order that is the foundation for international peace and security. The history of Latvia as a free and sovereign member of international community lasts more than a Century. During this time, we have learned a hard way dysfunctionality of rules based international order caused by the WWII.

That is the reason why today, Latvia as a member of the United Nations strongly defends international order that is based on rules and clear principles.  Egypt is a very good partner for us in our common endeavor to achieve this goal.

As a member country of the European Union Latvia has a strong interest to see that the EU engages strategically and mutually beneficially with its neigbouring regions in East and South. This year it is 20 years since Latvia joined the EU and since the EU-Egypt Association Agreement entered into force. My country has a strong interest that the EU and Egypt develops its relationship in a new Comprehensive and Strategic Partnership. Partnership that reflects a long-term importance of Egypt as Europe`s economic partner and as a responsible contributor to stability and security within the Middle East and Africa. I should mention that Latvia was the first Baltic State that opened its Embassy in Egypt and since then the Embassy has performed its role strengthening political, economic, trade, educational and cultural ties between our two states.

What are the main areas of cooperation and exchange between the two countries, particularly in terms of trade and investment?
I should say that we see a very good potential for our economic cooperation. Opportunities are many. The main Latvian investment in Egyptian is real estate (Red Sea Area).  Latvians can appreciate the Red Sea resorts and the wonderful Egyptian winter weather. Because of different geographical locations, different size of our countries and divers historic experiences, there is a lack of information for business opportunities that exist in our two countries. Many people in Latvia think of Egypt as a tourism destination and less of a doing business partner. That is what our Embassy tries to correct, informing Egypt`s businesses on opportunities in Latvia, bat as well expanding the knowledge on business opportunities in Egypt back in home.

Latvia`s export is 64% from our GDP and as a small country we need to be export forward oriented. What isthe fastest growing sector in Latvia? ICT contributes to 9% of total product export and ICT services 14.5% of total service export. Latvia is above EU average in using digital government services (85% of the population) and women participation in ICT (23%). Main ICT services are AI (including language technologies, image processing), e-government solutions, 5G, data centers, data transmission technologies, cybersecurity and fintech.

Latvia is also known to be the 5G testing site (Latvia hosts 5G Ecosystem Forum “5G Techritory” – one of the world’s leading 5G technology events). We have proud history of electrical engineering and electronics industry. Companies in Latvia manufacture products such as advanced acoustic systems and related accessories, wireless data transmission equipment, and other telecommunications systems, industrial optics, nuclear electronics, electronics control, and monitoring devices used in many industrial and scientific applications. For example 5G routers, world class drones (military, surveillance to heavy lifting drowns, aerial surveys and aerial photogrammetry).

I have to have to mention our timber industry, for it occupies a very special place. It has always been Latvia’s export leader. Exports of wood and its very diverse products were the most significant export sector (2020), comprising 19 % of total export value. About 73 % of forestry-sector output is exported. With forests covering more than 50 % of the country’s territory (almost double the world average), Latvia is one of the most forested EU member states. And sure, one of the greenest states on the planet.

Historically, Latvia has been one of the main transit points for both north-south and east-west trade flows. Its geographical location remains central to strategically relevant transportation flows connecting major world economies.  The transit sector is one of the strongest industrial sectors in Latvia. Nearly 90 % of turnover in Latvian ports, more than 80 % of rail cargo, and the major proportion of oil and oil products transported by tanker wagons is transit. More than 8 % of Latvia’s employees are engaged in the transportation and servicing of transit cargo. Besides excellent maritime ports Latvia has one of the biggest and finest airports in the Northern Europe connecting the travelers from all around the world very often by modern fleet of Latvia`s National Air carrier`s AirBaltic aircrafts.

Can you provide an overview of the trade volume and investment flow between Egypt and Latvia in recent years?
The bilateral trade with Egypt is within range of 50-75 million euros annually. Two main export products to Egypt are timber  (sawn wood) and grains (dried fava beans), other product categories:  electrical equipment, motor oils, food.

Egyptian main exports are fresh citruses (85% of all export), vegetables, dried herbs and textiles.

There is an opportunity diversify  and source different minerals from Egypt. The trade volume has decreased over the past year. Egyptian exports to Latvia has grown 5 times since 2016. I see a good potential for increase.

Are there any specific sectors or industries where Latvia sees potential for increased collaboration with Egypt?
The main priority for us the ICT industry. The sector is strong – it is the well-established institutes, solid industry legacy, tradition and the strong education in mathematics and physics. We are also looking forward the development cooperation with Egypt, to share the reform experience especially in digital transformation and data.

Can you provide examples of successful business partnerships or joint ventures between Egyptian and Latvian companies?
Latvia`s  X-Infotech participated in the “Family card” project, a subsidized food card for subsidy receivers in Egypt. Another  software banking solutions company TietoEvry have had projects with Egyptian Post. Most Egyptians enjoy Latvian oats and our company MikroTikexports world class internet routers to Egypt.

How would you assess the current level of tourism exchange between Egypt and Latvia?
From news what I read and from conversations what I`ve had, I should say that Egypt is one of the very favouritewinter destinations for our tourists. Levels are good, Egypt provides a good quality for a good price product. Can we expand? Yes.

What are the main attractions or destinations in Latvia that might be of interest to Egyptian tourists?
Although Latvia was established as an independent Republic in 1918 its cultural identity has been formed through centuries of interaction among North European nations. It is reflected in our cuisine, architecture, traditions and way of life. Latvia is easily accessible country with excellent air connections via Riga International Airport. Latvian forests, white sandy beaches, rivers and lakes are true gems for nature lovers from all around the world. Latvia`s Capital City is a true Baltic Sea metropolis. It has one of the most charming European medieval old towns embraced by gardens and unmatched presence of Jugendstil architecture buildings. Because Latvia has all four seasons during a year, each of that has its own beauty, one should make his choice in accordance with personal preferences. All in all, it is a value trip for a price.

Are there any specific cultural or historical ties between Egypt and Latvia that can be leveraged to enhance tourism cooperation?
Amber in ancient treasures of Egypt originated form the Baltic Sea. And there are authoritative opinions that the Christmas tree tradition originated in Latvia.

What is Latvia’s position on the recent Israeli aggression against Gaza?
Latvia`s position is reflected in the common position of the European Union reflected in European Council conclusions on October 26 last year. This position condemned Hamas attacks on the 7th of October, acknowledged Israel`s right to self defence in line with international humanitarian law, stressed the need to alleviate humanitarian situation in Gaza, need to avoid regional escalation, EU readiness to revive the peace process. Latvia has been supporting the two statesolution for years and Latvia will continue to do so. That`s why the EU is the biggest donor in the Palestinian territories supporting the two state solution.

Latvia`s position is that the violence must stop and hostages should be released immediately. De-escalation is vital to prevent further civilian suffering and the spill over of violence in the wider region.

Civilians must be protected in line with international law and international humanitarian law. Safe and sustainable delivery of humanitarian aid  to the Gaza strip is essential. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic. Therefore safe humanitarian corridors and peace is needed.

Are there any efforts being made by Latvia to contribute to the peace process and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Latvia is one of 27 EU member states. On foreign policy issues the EU decisions must be supported by all members. Because the peace and stability are vital to Latvia’s national interests, my country acts accordingly by trying to facilitate agreement among all 27 partner states. This agreement can happen only if all member states of the EU are willing to find a compromise decision that satisfies all. That is the logic of the decisions.

Latvia supported the recent UN General Assembly resolution with the EU majority demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, emphasizing the need for protecting both Palestinian and Israeli civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law, as well as demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

The only viable, lasting and sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the establishment of two states agreed upon by conflicting parties in accordance with international parameters, living side by side in peace.

Has Latvia taken any specific actions or initiatives to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza and support the affected population?
Latvia is among the smallest EU members states. But in solidarity with the Palestinian people, Latvia has allocated an additional funding of 100 000 euros to UNRWA and additional 20 000 euros to the World Food Programme.

How does Latvia view the impact of the conflict on regional stability and security? and what role can Egypt play in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East?
The current conflict in Gaza has very negatively affected regional stability and security. It is critical to stop the conflict in Gaza and avoid further sliding into the regional escalation. I can only commend very balanced, stabilizing and responsible approach of Egypt that strongly contributes to cementing regional stability and security.

The second point here is that the conflict in Gaza goes in parallel with another war in Europe – Russia’s war against Ukraine. It is in our common interest to see that the Israelis and the Palestinians find a sustainable way to coexist in peace and prosperity for regional wars tend to nourish each other irrespective of geographic differences.

The third point I`d like to raise is that regional instability and lack of security directly affects volumes of cargoes navigating through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. It diminishes income from this commercial navigation and raises prices for commodities so needed for our economies. It is our common interest to deescalate.

Does Latvia support a two-state solution as a viable path towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Yes, Latvia has been supporting the two-state solution for years and Latvia continues to do so.

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