Last year’s cereal production was the lowest in five years

According to the preliminary data of Statistics Estonia, cereal production was 934,100 tonnes in 2016, which is the lowest yield of the previous five years.

Total cereal production included 455,500 tonnes of wheat, 357,400 tonnes of barley and 32,400 tonnes of rye. The average yield per hectare was 2,658 kilograms of cereals, whereas the average yield for wheat was 2,769 kilograms, for barley 2,641 kilograms and for rye 2,616 kilograms.

In 2016, the sown area of cereals was very close to that of the previous year. Cereals were grown on a total of 351,400 hectares, which is 0.3% more than in the previous year. The sown area of wheat was 164,500 hectares, which is 3% less than in the previous year. The sown area of barley increased by 3% and amounted to 135,300 hectares in 2016. The sown area of rye decreased by 13% and amounted to 12,400 hectares.

The production of legumes was 109,500 tonnes, which is 27% more than in 2015. The average yield was 1,975 kilograms of legumes per hectare. Legumes were sown on 55,400 hectares, which is 77% more than the year before and also the largest sown area of legumes ever.

The yield of rape and turnip rape seed was 102,500 tonnes. In 2016, rape and turnip rape were sown on 70,100 hectares. The average yield was 1,462 kilograms of rape and turnip rape seed per hectare.

The production of potatoes amounted to 89,800 tonnes, which is 23% less than the year before. The sown area of potatoes was 5,600 hectares in 2016. The average yield of potatoes was 15,920 kilograms per hectare.

Source: Statistics Estonia

The construction price index fell in 2016

According to Statistics Estonia, in 2016, the construction price index fell 0.8% compared with the average of 2015.

Compared to 2015, labour costs increased by 1.2%, the cost of machines decreased by 1.1% and the cost of materials decreased by 1.8%.

In the 4th quarter of 2016 compared to the 3rd quarter, the change of the construction price index was 0.2%, and compared to the 4th quarter of 2015 the change was -0.5%. Compared to the 3rd quarter of 2016, the index was mainly influenced by an increase in labour costs, which contributed more than half of the quarterly change. Compared to the 4th quarter of 2015, the construction price index was mainly influenced by the depreciation of building materials, which accounted for more than 75% of the total decrease.

The repair and reconstruction work price index decreased by 0.9% in 2016 compared to the average of 2015. Labour costs increased by 0.8%, the cost of machines decreased by 1.6% and the cost of building materials decreased by 2.1%.

The change of the repair and reconstruction work price index in the 4th quarter of 2016 was 0.3% compared to the 3rd quarter and -0.4% compared to the 4th quarter of 2015.

The calculation of the construction price index covers four groups of buildings: detached houses, apartment buildings, industrial buildings and office buildings. The repair and reconstruction work price index covers office buildings. The construction price index expresses the change in the cost of construction at the level of direct costs at a construction site. The resources taken into account in direct costs are divided into three main groups: labour force, building machines and building materials.

Change in the construction price index, 4th quarter 2016
3rd quarter 2016 – 4th quarter 2016, % 4th quarter 2015 – 4th quarter 2016, %
TOTAL 0.2 -0.5
labour force 0.3 0.3
building machines 0.4 0.0
building materials 0.1 -1.0
Index of detached houses 0.2 -0.1
Index of apartment buildings 0.2 -0.2
Index of industrial buildings 0.2 -0.5
Index of office buildings 0.1 -0.6
Change in the repair and reconstruction work price index, 4th quarter 2016
3rd quarter 2016 – 4th quarter 2016, % 4th quarter 2015 – 4th quarter 2016, %
TOTAL 0.3 -0.4
labour force 0.3 0.2
building machines 0.1 0.1
building materials 0.3 -0.9

For the statistical activity “Construction price index”, the main representative of public interest is the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, commissioned by whom Statistics Estonia collects and analyses the data necessary for conducting this statistical activity.

Source: Statistics Estonia

The population of Estonia increased in 2016

According to the initial estimates of Statistics Estonia, the population number of Estonia as at 1 January 2017 was 1,317,800, which is 1,850 persons more than at the same time a year ago.

The population decreased by 1,370 due to negative natural increase (the number of deaths exceeded the number of births) and increased by 3,220 due to positive net migration (more persons immigrated to Estonia than emigrated). In total, the population of Estonia increased by 0.14% in 2016. The population of Estonia has increased for two years already, because immigration has been higher than emigration and negative natural increase.

More than 13,900 children were born in Estonia in 2016. The number of births has remained at approximately the same level for five years. Considering that the number of women in childbearing age has decreased, it could be seen as good news, but there is still a long way to go before really good news in births statistics.

There were 15,300 deaths in 2016. The number of deaths has remained at this level for six years in a row, varying by just +/-150. As the population is ageing and the number of older people increases year after year, it is expected that life expectancy will continue to increase.

In 2016, there were 9,100 persons who immigrated to Estonia and 5,800 persons who emigrated. Migration statistics are most difficult to estimate based on preliminary data, as Statistics Estonia supplements migration figures with data from additional registers and later also adds unregistered migration according to the methodology of calculating population based on residency index: if a person changes from resident to non-resident, it is emigration, and in the contrary case, it is immigration (if it is not births or deaths). Reaching the final result is more complicated compared to other events, both technically and methodologically, and can significantly increase migration flows. Emigration increases mainly due to unregistered leaving of European Union and Estonian citizens. Immigration increases mainly due to return migration of Estonian citizens, which is also not registered, as the prior leaving was not registered. Compared to immigration, emigration is less registered knowingly or unknowingly, and therefore, emigration increases presumably more than immigration in the revised population number.

Population change, 2000–2016

The current outcome is based on changes of residence in the population register in 2016 – persons whose residence was not Estonia at the previous year-end but was so at this year-end are considered immigrants, and the persons whose residence was Estonia at the previous year-end but not at this year-end are considered emigrants.

Source: Statistics Estonia

Prices increased by 0.1 pct in 2016

Consumer price index increased by 0.1% in 2016. Higher excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuels contributed positively, while cheaper energy had the biggest negative impact on prices. The prices of alcoholic beverages and tobacco were around 6% higher than in 2015.

Heat energy were 9%, pipeline gas 20%, and motor fuels 4% cheaper than in 2015. Nevertheless, due to a gradual rise in oil prices since January 2016, and a hike in excise taxes in February 2016, the prices of motor fuels have started to rise. In December 2016, gasoline and diesel prices were already 16% higher than one year before.

In 2017, inflation in Estonia is expected to accelerate to around 3%, due to more expensive commodities, and new rounds of excise tax hikes on alcohol, tobacco, and fuels. In 2014-2016 average price level remained flat in Estonia, prices increased last time in 2013 (+2.8%).

Source: Swedbank

EIB provides EUR 400m to support strategic investments in Estonia

The European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Estonian Ministry of Finance have signed the second tranche – worth EUR 400 million – of the co-financing facility for Estonia to support investments in research and innovation, sustainable transport infrastructure, and promoting the development of SMEs. This loan from the Bank will help Estonia in the successful absorption of the EU structural funds over 2014 – 2020, the first EUR 200 million tranche of the facility was signed in December 2014.

Sven Sester, Minister of Finance of Estonia, said: „The Estonian government has decided to increase investments in order to improve the competitiveness of the Estonian economy. There is no doubt that EU structural funds have a positive impact on the Estonian economy. In order to support investments that improve competitiveness and bring long-term benefits, we are prepared to use external financing. Loans will not be used to cover running costs, such as paying wages or allowances. The government is firm in our determination to adhere to European budget rules that rule out unsustainable deficits.”

Jan Vapaavuori, EIB Vice-President responsible for lending in Estonia, said: “The EIB has always been a reliable partner for Estonia. We are pleased to now be able to continue our close cooperation with the Estonian authorities with this second and last tranche of the co-financing facility. The combined use of EIB loan and EU grant money supports sustainable economic growth and helps further improve the quality of life for the people of Estonia.”

The EUR 400 million loan will be available as a co-financing for selected projects under the Estonian operational programme for the Cohesion Policy Funds and the Rural Development Programme for 2014 – 2020. The EU structural funds will meet a fixed percentage of the costs of eligible projects, with the remaining part being covered from the State Budget or by drawing on this facility from the EIB. It will primarily support projects in the following sectors: research, technological development and innovations; transport, water and environmental protection, as well as infrastructure development in rural areas.

The facility will furthermore focus on investments in education, and health-care, as well as in improving training and access to employment. These investments will contribute to the further development of a knowledge-intensive and internationally competitive economy, a clean environment and a sustainable transport infrastructure, which in turn will help to create the conditions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

This loan is a continuation of the long-standing partnership between the EIB and Estonia, with the Bank of the European Union having already lent EUR 550m within a similar EU funds co-financing facility covering the period from 2007 up to 2013. To obtain an EU grant for an eligible project, the (Estonian) government must provide the co-funding. While in a large part the co-funding will be provided from budget funds, the EIB facility will be available to supplement these funds and to ensure that Estonia uses as much of the available EU funding as it can.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals. In 2011-2015, the EIB provided loans in Estonia totalling nearly EUR 740 million.

Source: Estonian Ministry of Finance

Standard and Poor’s affirms AA- rating on Estonia

The international ratings agency Standard and Poor’s has affirmed its AA- long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit rating on the Republic of Estonia. The outlook of the rating is stable.

The short-term rating was affirmed at A-1+ with a stable outlook.

The S&P ratings are the highest granted to Estonia. Fitch and Moody’s rate Estonia at A+ and A1 respectively. A credit rating reflects the agency’s assessment on the government’s ability to honour debt obligations in the future.

S&P does not expect the recent change of government to undermine Estonia’s key credit strengths, including strong public finances and effective policymaking.

The agency expects prudent fiscal policy to remain in place following the change of government, and further expects the government to continue the focus on EU commitments, regional security, and energy supply diversification.

S&P understands that the new coalition will continue the ongoing government reform to consolidate local and regional governments by reducing the number of entities and increasing economic development focus and initiatives for the regions.

Economic growth in Estonia is expected by S&P to accelerate to 2.4 per cent in 2017 and to an average of 2.3% over 2016-2019. Growth in 2016 is estimated at 1.4 per cent.

For further information, see the press release by Standard and Poor’s (registration required).

Source: Estonian Ministry of Finance

Important legal amendments entering into force in 2017

Changes in taxes. People on low income can apply for income tax rebate. The application for a rebate must be submitted with the personal income tax return to the Tax and Customs Board and the rebate will be paid by 30 June. The Tax and Customs Board will pay the rebate on the basis of the income earned in 2016 to the people on low income who comply with the conditions.

Approximately 100,000 adults whose annual income was less than 7,818 euros, i.e. up to 651 euros per month, and who worked full time for at least six months in 2016 meet the conditions. The full-time work requirement does not apply to people whose capacity for work is reduced. The amount of the rebate is up to 709 euros, but not more than the income tax paid in 2016.

Employers will be given the opportunity to also pay employees compensation free of social tax on the basis of a sick leave certificate for the second and third day of sick leave to the extent of 100 per cent of the employee’s average salary. At present, the compensation is free of social tax from the fourth day onwards. The basic exemption rate will increase to 180 euros in 2017 from the present 170 euros. The general income tax rate will remain at 20 per cent.

The additional tax free income of pensions will be increased to 2,832 euros per year or 236 euros per month. Alongside the general increase in basic exemption to 180 euros, this takes the tax-free pension to 416 euros, also guaranteeing the exemption of the average old-age pension from tax in 2017.

Exemption from income tax is extended to the benefits and allowances paid in the case of the death or reduction of the capacity for work of an ordinary official, assistant police officer, rescuer or person engaged in emergency situation work.

Rules of income taxation in 2018 (i.e. upon declaration until 31 March 2019).

  • The general basic exemption of people earning low and average wages will increase to 500 euros per month in 2018. This amount will decrease from a certain level of income. The basic exemption is 500 euros in the case of a taxable monthly income of up to 1,200 euros. There is no basic exemption in the case of income that is 2,100 euros or more.
  • The additional threshold of deducting home loan interest in the amount of 300 euros will be established within the threshold of 1,200 euros that has been applied until now and will also be applied in the future. The threshold of 1,200 euros will apply to training expenses, gifts, donations and loan interest.
  • The joint income tax return of spouses will only be maintained in respect of the most common deductions. If there is no income or the income is insufficient, spouses can declare jointly their home loan interest, training expenses and additional tax free income for children.

The VAT of accommodation establishments will remain at 9 per cent in 2017.

The social tax rate will remain at 33 per cent.

Reverse taxation of the metal products mainly used in construction and the machine industry will be implemented as of 1 January 2017 in order to reduce VAT fraud. The risk of tax fraud is high in the sector and it has therefore been difficult for companies who conduct their business honestly to remain competitive. The use of buffer companies that note add VAT to their invoices, which is not paid to the state, is common. The acquirer of the goods declares the VAT indicated on the invoice as input VAT and reduces the VAT calculated on its taxable turnover by the same amount.

Excise duties

Increasing the alcohol excise duty is planned for February and July 2017. The excise duty on one per cent of ethanol by volume per litre of beer will increase from the present 8.30 cents to 9.13 cents in February 2017 and to 15.52 cents in July. Example: if a 0.5-litre beer costs 1.09 euros at present, then its price after the excise duty increase in February only considering the excise duty part of the price will be 1.11 euros, and after the excise duty increase in July it will cost 1.29 euros. The excise duty on wine and fermented beverages with an ethanol content of up to 6 per cent by volume per litre will increase from the present 48.55 cents to 53.41 cents in February and to 77.44 cents in July. Example: if an apple cider with an alcohol content of 4.5% costs 1.29 euros at present, then its price after the excise duty increase in February would be 1.32 euros, and after the excise duty increase in July it would cost 1.46 euros.

The excise duty on a litre wine and fermented beverages with an ethanol content exceeding 6 per cent by volume per litre will increase from the present 111.98 cents to 123.18 cents in February. Example: if the price of a wine (75 cl) with an alcohol content of 12% is currently 5.79 euros, then after the increase in excise duty it would be 5.89 euros. The excise duty on strong alcohol will increase by 10% every year until 2020. Example: if a vodka (1 l) currently costs 20.90 euros, then after the increase in excise duty early in the year its price would be 21.94 euros. The reduced rate of independent small breweries will be increased. Instead of the present 3,000 hectolitres, the reduced rate (50% of the excise duty on beer) will be applied to production of volumes of up to 6,000 hectolitres. The production volume of an independent small brewery in the previous year will be considered instead of the volume of the current year. Paying the difference in excise duty retrospectively is not required if the threshold is exceeded. Entrepreneurs need this to make the transfer from an independent small brewery to an ordinary brewery smoother in terms of expenses.

The excise duty on cigarettes and smoking tobacco will increase by 8 per cent from 1 January 2017. Example: a packet of cigarettes that currently costs 3.26 euros will cost 3.53 after the increase in excise duty, i.e. the amount of excise duty will increase by 27 cents.

The increase in the rate of excise duty on fuel that was planned for 2017 will be postponed from the start of January until the start of February. The excise duty on a thousand cubic metres of natural gas will increase from 1 January from the current 33.77 euros to 40.52 euros and the excise duty on a thousand litres of diesel fuel will increase on 1 February from the current 448 euros to 493 euros. The planned increase in taxes on diesel fuel, diesel fuel for specific purposes and light heating oil in 2018 is abandoned. Examples: excise duty currently comprises 0.465 euros of the price of a litre of motor petrol, which will increase to 0.512 euros; and excise duty currently comprises 0.448 euros of the price of a litre of diesel fuel, which will increase to 0.493 euros; and excise duty currently comprises 0.03377 euros of the price of a cubic metre of natural gas, which will increase to 0.04052 euros.

Other legal amendments

Important amendments have been made to the Investment Funds Act, which simplify the establishment of investment funds in Estonia. For example, an entirely new type of fund that can be established in the future is a trust fund, which in other countries is primarily used to manage venture capital investments. The act also increases competition on the pension fund market. The act favours the addition of new pension fund management companies and makes switching pension funds considerably cheaper for people.

Provisions that require banks to open payment accounts (current accounts) for consumers on request and provide services related to the accounts will be added to the Law of Obligations Act. In addition to opening an account, the services also cover depositing money in one’s account, cash withdrawal and initiation of direct debits, credit orders and payment card transactions. Transferring an account from one bank to another will also become easier.

Amendments have also been made in the Securities Market Act and Financial Supervision Authority Act Amendment Act to update the competencies of the Financial Supervision Authority and the supervision measures for a more effective prevention of abuse of the securities market. The act is based on the EU regulation that establishes the rules for prevention of abuse on the securities market (incl. the stock exchange). Market abuse means unlawful activity upon trading in securities, which damages the transparency and reliability of the market and consequently the interests of investors.

Two EU directives will be transposed into the Tax Information Exchange Act in 2017. The act will establish the obligation of annual country-by-country reporting for the large groups of companies operating in Estonia, whose annual revenues exceed 750 million euros. The deadline for transposition of the provisions of automatic information exchange in the area of country-by-country reporting of the European Union Administrative Cooperation Directive is 5 June 2017. Automatic information exchange will extend to the country-by-country reports of large groups from 2018. The amendments to the same directive pursuant to which the tax authorities of the European Union Member States will start to automatically exchange information about the binding preliminary decisions of tax authorities from 2017. Information exchange about preliminary decisions will not bring about additional obligations for entrepreneurs. However, the information exchange will also concern the preliminary decisions made earlier, since 2012. The deadline for transposition of the directive is 1 January 2017. The administrative cooperation between tax authorities in the European Union in the area of direct taxes is regulated by the directive on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation, on the basis of which Estonia automatically exchanges information about the salaries, remuneration of management board members, pensions and real property income of the persons of other Member States. Information about the various funds held in a foreign country will be automatically exchanged from autumn 2017.

The amendments to the Accounting Act that will enter into force as of 1 January simplify the requirements for accounting source documents and require the public sector to accept machine-readable e-invoices.

The draft act stipulates the possibility that a machine-readable e-invoice can be submitted to the public sector for goods or services as of 1 January 2017, and the act also stipulates the standard for e-invoices. An e-invoice is sent via an operator from one accounting software directly to another, and the recipient will no longer have to enter the data of the invoice manually. The state has created the e-Financials environment for small entrepreneurs where they can prepare and send e-invoices free of charge.

The amendments relax the requirements for accounting source documents such as waybills, receipts, certificates and contracts. In the future, the only mandatory information a source document must contain is the time, content and figures of the economic transaction. If the counterparty of an economic transaction of an accounting entity is an accounting entity, state accounting entity or foreign legal entity, the invoice submitted about the transfer of goods or the provision of the service must contain, in addition to the information specified above, the number of the invoice and the information that makes it possible to identify the parties to the transaction.

Also, the amendments release microentrepreneurs from the obligation to prepare accounting policies and procedures. A microenterprise is a public limited company belonging to the member of the management board whose assets amount to less than 175,000 euros and sales revenue is less than 50,000 euros, and whose liabilities do not exceed equity.

Budget and important figures

The minimum wage will increase to 470 euros per month and 2.78 euros per hour on 1 January compared with the earlier 430 euros per month and 2.54 euros per hour. According to the forecast of the Ministry of Finance,  the average wage will increase by 5.5 per cent or to ca 1,200 euros. The daily rate of the unemployment benefit will increase to 4.86 euros in comparison to the previous 4.41 euros. The minimum monthly social tax rate related to the minimum wage of the previous year will increase to 430 euros in comparison to the 390 euros applied in 2016.

The average old-age pension will increase by 5 per cent or to ca 416 euros according to the forecast. The average old-age pension will remain free of tax and the additional tax free income of pensions will increase from the present 225 euros to 236 euros for this purpose. The support scheme for pensioners living alone will give 115 euros of support per year to 92,300 pensioners. Payment of the support is planned for next October. In comparison to 2016 state budget expenditure will increase in 2017 by 7.6 per cent or by ca 734 million euros to 9.66 billion euros. The general government budget is in a structural surplus with 0.2 per cent of GDP.

According to the budget, the state plans to use European Union and other foreign support in the amount of 961 million euros, which amounts to more than a billion euros with the state’s co-financing in the amount of 81 million. The investments made with the support of EU funds boost the economic growth of Estonia.

Defence expenses will amount to ca 2.2 per cent of GDP in 2017, which is the highest level of all times. The expenses related to the presence of allies are incurred in addition to the 2 per cent of GDP that is meant for the development of independent defence capabilities. The new programme of defence investments will start in 2018.

The biggest share of budget expenditure – 34 per cent or 3.28 billion euros – is spent on social protection, incl. the 1.67 billion euros spent on state pension insurance. The health insurance budget will increase by 66 million euros to 1.090 billion euros on the account of the improved collection of social tax. In addition to this, an additional 10 million euros will be allocated to the Estonian Health Insurance Fund for health insurance from the state budget in the next year.

The state expects to earn revenue in the total amount of ca 9.48 billion euros next year, which is 8.9 per cent or 780 million euros more than forecast for 2016. Total tax revenue will comprise 6.71 billion euros, which is 470 million euros more than forecast for 2016. This includes 2.73 billion euros of social tax or 157 million euros more than forecast for 2016, 2.1 billion euros of VAT or 170 million euros more than forecast for 2016 and excise duties in the amount of 1.08 billion euros or 113 million euros more than forecast for 2016.

Source: Estonian Ministry of Finance