Money laundering, international security and 5G cellular networks were on the table as Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) met United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Deputy Treasurer Justin Muzinich, in New York Wednesday.
Ratas has been on a four-day working trip to New York this week, meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as well as attending various business and trade meetings and events.
He spoke to ERR current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera (link in Estonian) on Wednesday following the meeting with Ross and Muzinich.
On the issue of money laundering, Ratas noted that the banking sector and the Federal Reserve in the U.S. seem to think Estonia is now on the right track, after the country was rocked by two money laundering scandals, one of which involved the now-defunct Tallinn branch of Danske Bank.
Ratas noted that police and prosecutor's office investigations had been launched into Danske and also Swedbank's activities, as well as Danske's license having been taken away.
"These are very concrete steps ... today at the Riigikogu there is also a proposal to increase fines for money laundering, and it is also important to me that when we look at the share of non-residents in the Estonian banking sector, this has fallen from 20 percent, to less than 10 percent," Ratas said.
Much of the €230 billion in potentially illicit funds which flowed via Danske in Tallinn over a 10-year-period involved non-resident accounts.
"We are committed to a strong financial sector and a secure business environment," Ratas added.
After another meeting, with Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee James Risch (R-ID), Ratas noted the importance of Estonian-U.S. relations.
"The commitment of the U.S. to security and defense capabilities in Estonia and the other Baltic States has been invaluable. I can give my assurance that Estonia takes strengthening its independent defense capabilities very seriously, and we will continue to contribute at least two percent of GDP to national defense," Ratas said.
The U.S. has provided various defense capabilities and support since Estonia joined NATO in 2004.
Ratas also pointed to the significance of the Three Seas Initiative, a security forum featuring 12 EU Member States, mostly more recent joinees which lie on or near the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas (hence the name).
"The [Three Seas] initiative … is ambitious," Ratas said.
"I am convinced that the construction of new energy, transport and digital interconnections on the north-south axis of Europe will inject new energy into Central and Eastern European economies and thus contribute to the European Union and increase competitiveness," Ratas continued, noting that Estonia is to host the next Three Seas Summit.
Ratas also talked about the place of fifth generation (5G) networks in Estonia, a development feared by many to be the gateway to Chinese cellphone giant Huawei building its own network and thus security concern. Estonia is days away from signing the 5G Memorandum with the U.S., which should prevent Huawei's 5G dominance.
"We are definitely confident that if 5G is to be developed further, it must be secure, transparent, supported by Estonia. Today, 5G is offered by more than one country, and some of these countries are also in Europe. This would be one direction which Estonia could look towards," Ratas told ERR.
Editor: Andrew Whyte