MPs urge talks with Russia over wood tariffs
A discussion in Parliament on Wednesday on protecting the Finnish forest industry focused on the issue of the export tariffs imposed on raw timber by the Russian government.
"During the time of President Kekkonen the matter would have been taken care of", said MP Kimmo Sasi (Nat. Coalition Party), who also criticised the present government for being passive. He said that he would have expected the current president to be more active in the matter.
Sasi was joined by Left Alliance MP Esko-Juhani Tennilä, who noted that the issue has not taken care of itself via Brussels.
Tennilä called for a special high-level team that would engage in direct negotiations with Russia.
The discussion on the current topic was launched on the basis of a decision by the Parliamentary Presidium at the initiative of MP Kari Rajamäki (SDP).
Rajamäki looked back wistfully at the forest policy summits organised by former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen. He also warned the present government against hasty implementation of road use fee systems, whose impact on the costs of business and on trade with Russia has not been thoroughly assessed.
The implementation of Russia's plans for wood tariffs would increase the amount of wood felled in Finland by 10-15 million cubic metres, and many Parliamentarians emphasised that the present forest and rail network could not withstand the additional burden.
This gave Minister of Transport Anu Vehviläinen (Centre) the opportunity to point out that on Wednesday she had set up a working group to examine the impact of tracks with a low level of usage on the securing of wood supplies.
It fell upon the government to persuade Parliamentarians that everything was being done to fight the planned wood tariffs. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) and Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen (Centre) listed the meetings that they have had over the matter.
In Vanhanen's view, negotiations on the timing of the wood tariffs are still going on, and he believes that it is possible to influence them.
The Prime Minister said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had insisted that Russia is seeking a solution that does not harm Finnish interests. Prime Minister Fradkov has said that Russia is ready to discuss the timing of the increases in export tariffs, and the types of wood that they would apply to.
"Finland understands Russia's goal of raising the degree of refining wood in Russia, but notes at the same time that the way that it has chosen will not lead to the desired result", Vanhanen said.
As Vanhanen sees it, Russia's wood resources are so plentiful and they grow so rapidly that there will be enough both for export, and for processing at home.
The debate covered nearly all of the key questions of Finnish forest policy of recent decades, from caring for seedlings, to taxation, and education.
The government has already decided to increase funding for basic care for forests by a total of EUR 20 million by 2011.
Previously in HS International Edition:
EU links Russian WTO membership with wood tariff issue (11.6.2007)
President Halonen says all possible steps taken over timber tariff issue (4.6.2007)
Timber tariffs decrease investors´ interest in Russian forest industry (31.5.2007)
Russian wood tariffs could threaten economic viability of Saimaa Canal (29.5.2007)
Väyrynen demands discussion of wood tariff dispute at EU-Russia Summit (18.5.2007)