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Latvia’s new envoy left film for foreign affairs

By Avinash Gavai      

Life may have turned out quite differently for Latvia's new ambassador to Canada if economic conditions had been different.

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Life may have turned out quite differently for Latvia's new ambassador to Canada if economic conditions had been different.

The graduate of the Soviet Union's Higher Courses of Scenarists and Film Directors originally had his mind set on a career in film direction and screenwriting, having already written for fictional drama productions back in the early '90s.

"I came back to my native country where suddenly there wasn't any money in terms of the film industry and there wasn't any chance to find a normal job for such people such as myself," says Juris Audarins, who had previously been employed as an engineer in a major movie studio in Riga, Latvia's capital.

Hard times in the country's movie business meant that he had to look elsewhere to make a living. A friend's suggestion that he apply for a position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seemed then the best course of action, leading him "to meet the challenge, and a full-time diplomatic career" he says.

Mr. Audarins, a graduate of the Riga Polytechnic Institute (1977), served abroad in Latvia's missions in Italy and Russia.

He acknowledges the large challenge and responsibility of being an ambassador posted abroad for the first time and in Canada.

The two countries share military ties underpinned by their common bond to NATO, but that's the only main bilateral link. Both have contributed military personnel to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade website states that "Training assistance has been a cornerstone of Canadian-Latvian defence relations."

Mr. Audarins hopes the next level of bilateral relations will go beyond the military, with both nations embracing a stronger economic partnership.

"We would like to eventually find Canada as a very good partner in economics and trade relations, because currently our economical exchange is not so great," he says.

The then-trade minister Stockwell Day went to Latvia in May 2009, where both nations signed a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.

But according to DFAIT's website, Canada's "trade relationship with Latvia is modest," with Canada only exporting $24.7 million in goods such as textile, machinery and electrical products in 2009 to the Baltic nation, and importing $17.2 million in goods such as wood- and glass-based products and construction materials.

The envoy says that this situation exists because Latvia is "almost an unknown region," in terms of investment and trade opportunities.

While citing examples of wood processing and pharmaceuticals as areas where co-operation could be expanded upon, Mr. Audarins believes that new transport networks within his country offer "exciting possible benefits to Canada" in terms of investment potential.

He says that the Northern Distribution Network commercial transport corridor—connecting Baltic and Black sea ports with Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia—is considered a priority in Latvia, with the export of Latvian transport services reaching close to $1 billion in 2009 according to him. Furthermore, the United States government is currently using the corridor to send non-military cargo to Afghanistan.

"The Americans are still using it, France is starting to use it, and now we would like to involve Canada in taking advantage of these transit and logistics routes," he says.

One of the ways he hopes to expand on trade and other issues is by using Canada's Latvian diaspora, which numbers at approximately 22,600 according to DFAIT. Having been his country's ambassador-at-large on diaspora matters from 2004 to before his Canadian appointment, Mr. Audarins is uniquely qualified for the task.

In that position, he regularly travelled across the globe to meet and pick the brains of prominent diaspora members, including the 100,000-strong community in the United States.

His crucial short-term goal is to appoint some qualified members of the Latvian-Canadian diaspora as Latvian government representatives. Latvia has two honorary consuls in Canada, in Montreal and Toronto, but Mr. Audarins wants to boost that presence.

"We would like to spread our activities to Alberta, to British Columbia, and to Halifax also," he says. He adds: "It's important to have our representatives as honorary consuls there to help build bilateral ties, and it is for this purpose that we want to use our diaspora."

In the meantime, the biking and skiing enthusiast has his hands busy with upcoming celebrations commemorating the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Baltic States (which also includes Estonia and Lithuania) and Canada.

Senate speaker Noël Kinsella and House speaker Andrew Scheer are jointly hosting a major event for incoming parliamentary delegations from these countries on Nov. 30.


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