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Lithuania country brief

Introduction

Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic States, covering an area of 65,300 square kilometres. It has a population of 3.2 million people (1 July 2011). The capital of Lithuania is Vilnius. Lithuania celebrates its national day on 16 February (Independence Day).

Political overview

Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Lithuania adopted its constitution in 1992 and is a stable, democratic state. It has a unicameral parliament (the Seimas) with 141 members elected for four years, and a presidential head of state elected directly for a five-year term.

On 17 May 2009, former European Union Budget Commissioner, Dalia Grybauskaite, was elected Lithuania's first female President. Grybauskaite, who stood as an independent, won over 69 per cent of the vote; her nearest challenger came in second with only 12 per cent of the vote. As participation in the election was over 50 per cent, there was no need for a second round. Grybauskaite succeeded former President Valdas Adamkus on 12 July 2009.

Executive power is vested in the Government of Lithuania, headed by a Prime Minister appointed by the President and approved by the Seimas.

Following mid-October elections, in December 2012, the Lithuanian Parliament approved a new centre-left Government led by Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius of the Social Democrat Party. The new Government is backed by a comfortable majority of 85 out of 141 seats in the Siesmas.

Lithuania was accepted as one of ten new members for accession to the EU at the Brussels summit in October 2002. In a referendum in May 2003, 91 per cent of Lithuanian voters supported EU accession. Lithuania became a full member of the EU on 1 May 2004.

Lithuania was invited to join NATO in November 2002, in NATO's single largest enlargement. Lithuania became a full member of the organisation on 2 April 2004. Lithuania joined the World Bank in 1992 and became a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 31 May 2001. Lithuania chaired the Community of Democracies process until 2011, and in 2012 chaired the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Economic overview

Lithuania's GDP contracted 14.8 per cent in 2009 following the global financial crisis, but recovered with a 1.4 per cent increase in 2010. Economic growth in 2011 was estimated at 5.9 per cent, and growth of around 3 per cent is forecast for 2012. Goods and services exports were estimated to account for 76.4 percent and 78.7 per cent of GDP in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Unemployment  was estimated at 15.4 per cent in 2012, and 13.2 per cent in 2012.
  
According to official Lithuanian government sources, foreign direct investment (FDI) has grown relatively consistently over the past decade. Lithuania's accession to the EU in 2002 is likely to have contributed to the growth in FDI, according to the OECD. In May 2006, Lithuania's application to join the Euro zone was rejected after narrowly missing an inflation target set by the European Commission. Lithuania is unlikely to be able to join the Euro zone before 2014.

Bilateral relationship

Australia recognised Lithuanian independence in August 1991.

According to the 2011 census, there are approximately 13,500 people in Australia who identify themselves as being of Lithuanian descent. The Lithuanian community in Australia has made an important contribution to strengthening bilateral ties, including through culture, academia and the arts.

There have been several high-level visits since Lithuania's independence. Then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, visited Vilnius in December 2011 to attend the OSCE Ministerial Meeting. The then-Foreign Minister, the Hon Gareth Evans, visited Lithuania in 1994 and also in 1999, and an Australian parliamentary delegation, led by the then-Speaker, the Hon Stephen Martin MP, visited in 1994. The then-Speaker of the NSW Parliament, the Hon John Murray, visited Lithuania in September-October 2002. Lithuania's then-President Adamkus, and his wife, Mrs Alma Adamkiene, visited Australia from 24–27 February 2006. The President also visited Australia for the Sydney Olympics in September 2000. A Lithuanian parliamentary delegation visited Australia in March 2008.

The relationship between Australia and Lithuania is underpinned by Agreements covering Trade and Economic Cooperation (1993) and Investment Promotion and Protection (2002).

The Australian Ambassador in Warsaw is accredited to Lithuania. Australia has an Honorary Consul in Vilnius. Lithuania has Consulates-General in Sydney and Melbourne, headed by Honorary Consuls-General. Since October 2008, the Lithuanian Ambassador in Tokyo has been accredited to Australia.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Lithuania in 2011-12 was A$59 million. Exports to Lithuania totalled A$6 million, mainly in wool. Imports from Lithuania amounted to A$53 million over the same period, mainly comprising fertilizers, rubber tyres, wood and furniture). Lithuania ranks as Australia's 88th largest trading partner.

Updated April 2013