Overshadowed by the Tallinn Digital Summit, the 2017 Baltic Sea Ports and Shipping conference took place in the capital this week, attended by more than 170 delegates from all over the world. They discussed new business opportunities as well as trade routes, and the challenges brought about in their sector by changing technology.
Karp, a member of AS Silmet’s supervisory board, spoke to the Baltic News Service on the side of the conference. Like other Silmet executives did it before him, he pointed out that Estonia’s current stance towards Russia and other eastern countries left great economic potential untapped.
“You have to interact with your neighbors and see to it that relations are in order, that’s what matters the most,” Karp told BNS. “If that’s in order, freight flows will be totally different too.”
“I think a glance at the map is enough to realize that there are alternative markets very close by, the biggest neighbors being Russia, Kazakhstan, and of course China. This means that we should talk more with our partners to the east, be more open, and this holds true not for the business level alone, but also the political level. Estonia has a lot to do in this respect, and I very much hope that the new government will work in that direction too,” Karp said.
The Baltic ports, the Silmet-owned port of Sillamäe among them, are now at a geopolitically strategic point, Karp said, adding that considering this fact, things like digitization and automation should take second priority for the time being.
Karp didn’t want to comment how much freight flows via Sillamäe have shrunk as a result of the Russian sanctions.
“I believe that Estonian statistics show very well how freight volumes have developed, and the trend is in one direction in the whole Baltic Sea area. And it’s very difficult to see how digitization will change this immediately,” Karp said.
Silmet Group owns 50 percent of the port of Sillamäe, the easternmost of the merchant seaports on Estonia’s north coast, with Famer Holding and Optial Holding each holding 25 percent. The company has been involved in the Estonian transit business since the early 90s.
Former prime minister and transit businessman Tiit Vähi has repeatedly pointed to what he thinks is a lost opportunity in the East, and has called for an end to sanctions against Russia.