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Ambassadors tour Langley, meet community leaders

Lithuanian ambassador Ginte Damusis (centre) and Biljana Gutic-Bjelica (left), the ambassador for Bosnia and Herzegovina, were at the Fort Lanlgey Historis Site last week through a visit arranged by the Christian Embassy of Canada.  - Frank Bucholtz/Langley Times
Lithuanian ambassador Ginte Damusis (centre) and Biljana Gutic-Bjelica (left), the ambassador for Bosnia and Herzegovina, were at the Fort Lanlgey Historis Site last week through a visit arranged by the Christian Embassy of Canada.
— image credit: Frank Bucholtz/Langley Times

Two European ambassadors visited Langley on Thursday.

Ambassador Ginte Damusis of Lithuania and ambassador Biljana Gutic-Bjelica of Bosnia and Herzegovina came in a visit arranged by the Christian Embassy of Canada, an Ottawa-based organization that is part of Power To Change, which has its Canadian office in Langley.

Christian Embassy of Canada serves as a focal point for ambassadors who come to Ottawa, particularly from smaller countries.

It helps them to meet people they need to meet and expand their networks of contacts. It also arranges business tours for them, with the help of leaders in various parts of the country. The visit to Langley was one of those.

MP Mark Warawa set up the Langley events, which included a tour of Fort Langley National Historic Park and a lunch, where they had discussions with a number of community leaders. Among those taking part were Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce president Denni Bonetti, Tourism Langley board chair John Aldag, Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender and Times publisher Dwayne Weidendorf.

The two countries are similar in size, with Lithuania having 3.2 million people and Bosnia and Herzegovina about 3.8 million, down about 600,000 from before the destructive 1992-95 civil war.

The ambassadors learned about Langley’s pivotal role in B.C. history during the tour of Fort Langley and how the Hudson’s Bay Company and the gold rush shaped B.C. as a colony and later a province. They discussed the role of small business in their countries, the current economic situation in Europe and their hope for expanding trade relations with Canada.

Gutic-Bjelica represents a country that was torn apart in a brutal civil war in the 1990s, as part of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Canadian troops were stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina for 19 years as part of the peace process, and “Canada helped a lot (in restoring peace),” she said.

“We have a saying that ‘a bad thing is for something good’ and that has led us to a vision of being a regional distribution centre and promoting small and medium-sized businesses,” she said.

Trade with Canada is minimal at present, but she has hopes it can expand. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not yet a member of the European Union but hopes to become one. Gutic-Bjelica was very interested to hear about the Langley chamber and hopes to establish regular contact with it, to build business connections between the two countries.

She would like to see Canada reopen its embassy in Sarajevo, which closed in 2009, and both ambassadors are very hopeful about the possibility of free trade between Canada and the EU.

Damusis represents a country with a 1,000-year history, which was independent between the two world wars but then taken over, first by Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union. It regained independence in 1990.

“We have lots of small and medium businesses,” she said. “We are looking for partnerships, and our businesses are very excited about the possibility of free trade with Canada.”

Lithuania is part of the EU but does not yet use the Euro currency.

She said her country is watching the European financial situation closely, and is hopeful it will be resolved, as the Lithuanian economy is now on an upswing after a decline in 2008.

“(The financial situation) is a challenge for smaller countries in the EU,” she said.

She noted that her government had put in strict austerity measures, including salary cuts, and “is now feeling the benefits of this.”

Damusis read from a press release issued the day of the tour, noting the arrival of a container train which came to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, after a 10-day overland trip from China.

This represents a much faster link between Europe and China.

She also pointed out that her country has a major year-round port on the Baltic Sea. It hopes to become a more important link in the worldwide supply chain, and she was very interested in B.C.’s trade links to Asia.

Fassbender, Warawa and Aldag presented gifts to the ambassadors, with the City mayor stating that their visit is a way to strengthen both human and business relations between Canada and their countries.

Both ambassadors expressed great interest in Langley, its setting and variety of activities, and said they hoped to return.

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