Estonian Minister for Foreign Trade and Entrepreneurship, Anne Sulling, claimed today that Estonian milk producers have been unable to achieve success in China due to high-profile meetings between Estonian statesmen and Tibetan leader in exile, the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama was on an unofficial visit in Estonia in 2011 where he met with the President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and the then Defense Minister Mart Laar (IRL).
According to Sulling, trade relations between China and Estonia have been frozen since.
Sulling has been looking to open new markets for the Estonian dairy industry that has been effected by the Russian trade sanctions, imposed in retaliation to the EU sanctions on Russia in light of the Ukraine crisis.
Finnish exporters are active in Chinese market, but Estonians have not so far succeeded, minister said in an interview with Delfi.
“Estonia and Finland have a different export strategy. They are concentrating on China, but we don't because their market is currently closed for us. There is no point to develop business contacts if the access to Estonian products is not granted. We have not been successful in the Chinese market since the Estonian officials welcomed the Dalai Lama here,” Sulling said.
Sulling added that negotiations in other Asian markets continue.
“After three months of negotiations, we have achieved a good contact with an Asian corporation and we have introduced Estonian dairy producers to them,” she said.
Some Asian businesses have also visited the producers, such as Põltsamaa Cheese Factory, Valio factory in Võru and the Tere factory in Põlva. The Asian entrepreneurs wanted to check the quality norms and were content with the Estonian standards, Sulling said.
Estonia exported 210 million euros worth of dairy products last year, out of which 50 million euros was to Russia, about one-quarter of the total.
According to Statistics Estonia, the government's statistics bureau, exports to China accounted for 4 percent of imported goods to Estonia in September, worth 52.0 million euros. That makes China the ninth-largest country in Estonia for imports, and the worth of those products has grown 43 percent from September 2013.
China does not finish in the top 10 of export destinations for Estonian products. However, no Asian nation finishes in the top 10 in destinations for Estonian goods. The United Kingdom is 10th, taking 24.9 million euros of Estonian products, or 2 percent of Estonia's exports.
The Dalai Lama has visited and met with about 60 foreign dignitaries since 2011, including the Foreign Minister of The Netherlands, the Prime Minister of Poland, the President of Lithuania, the Latvian Minister of Justice, the Chancellor of Austria, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the Foreign Minister of Czech Republic. He has also met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama.