The Belarusian fertilizer manufacturer Belaruskali, which co-owns the company Birių Krovinių Terminalas (Bulk Cargo Terminal, or BKT) jointly with Lithuanian national Igor Udovickij, wants to export more fertilizers via the port of Klaipėda, Lithuanian Transport and Communications Minister Jaroslav Narkevič said on Thursday. Some members of parliament have previously expressed concern over Belarusian influence in the Lithuanian port.
The minister declined to comment on the Lithuanian government's recent decision, undisclosed to to the public, about investments by Belaruskali and Udovickij in Klaipėda, apart from saying that it opens the way for BKT's expansion and the deepening of the port's quays.
No details of the decision, adopted by the Cabinet earlier this week, were disclosed to the public.
“I can only say that they [BKT] need additional port space to increase their loading volumes. That's all I can say,” Narkevič, who met with Belaruskali CEO Ivan Golovat in Minsk earlier this week, told BNS.
“The acquisition [of Nemuno Terminalas] will make it possible for them to increase their territory and fertilizer exports,” he added.
According to Narkevič, Lithuania is interested in preventing Belarusian shipments from being diverted to Latvian ports.
“First, [we have] to keep what we've got, because competition is intensifying. Belaruskali has offers from Latvia, but since it has good relations with our railways and the port [and] 30 percent of shares [in BKT], they want to expand,” he said.
Narkevič did not say if he discussed Belaruskali's intention to increase its shareholding in BKT with Golovat.
“I can't speak about that [...] Under the agreement, they have a possibility to expand, but this requires infrastructure. This is about deepening the [Klaipėda] port, too, because the arriving ships are not fully loaded. We are now speaking about deepening [the port's waters] at least by 0.5-1 metres; this will allow increasing [exports] during the transition period,” he said.
The Lithuanian government took its decision on BKT's plans to buy shares in Nemuno Terminalas at a closed meeting last Monday. The planned acquisition was earlier discussed by a special governmental commission vetting deals by strategic companies.
At the opposition's initiative, the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence plans to look at the circumstances surrounding the Cabinet's decision. Opposition MPs say they have information that the Cabinet endorsed the deal despite the commission's recommendation not to.
The opposition politicians say the decision may strengthen “the influence of the Belarusian authoritarian regime in the port of Klaipėda”.
Udovickij is the majority shareholder of both BKT and Nemuno Terminalas. The two companies are located next to each other in the port.
Last year, BKT handled 10.098 million tons of fertilizers [21.6 percent more than in 2017], of which 98 percent came from Belaruskali. The Belarusian manufacturer produced over 12 million tons of potassium chloride in 2018, 0.5 million tons more than a year earlier.
Belarus exports potash fertilizers to over 100 countries worldwide, covering around one-fifth of the global demand.