Estonian automotive parts maker Norma posted a 34% drop in 2003 net profit to €8.2 million on Wednesday due to a steep fall in Russian sales, in line with analysts’ expectations, Reuters said.

According to the news agency, Norma, which supplies safety belts and other car components, said in an unaudited results statement that sales to its main market Russia dropped 21.4% in 2003 from the year before, but added that sales to western customers grew by 18%.

Henno Viires, a broker with Lohmus, Haavel and Viisemann, told Reuters that the sharp drop in net profit was in line with forecasts, but added that the slim 1.4% slide in net sales was a positive sign ahead of Estonia’s EU entry in May.

“Estonia’s accession to the European Union will improve Norma’s competitive position on the Ruissian market considerably as the double tariffs imposed on Estonia by Russia will disappear,” he said, according to the report, adding: “Overall, I think the difficult times for Norma should be over.”

Reuters said Norma saw net sales of €63.9 million euros in 2003 for a pre-tax profit of €8.4 million euros, down from €12.6 million in 2002, while its 2003 earnings per share was €0.63 euros, down from €0.94 in the previous year.

Reuters noted that Norma is 51% owned by Swedish-based Autoliv, the world’s leading maker of car seat belts and airbags.