Contacts at SPIEF create fertile ground for productive dialogue between Russia and West
2 June 2018. PenzaNews. The XXII St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), which took place in the Russian northern capital from May 24 to 26 under the slogan: “Creating the Economy of Trust,” reached new heights, both in terms of scale and results and was marked by new achievements: according to organizers, 593 agreements had been signed at SPIEF, worth a total of 2.625 trillion rubles, which significantly exceeds last year's figures.
Photo: Sergey Bobylev/TASS
“In spite of the sanctions imposed by a number of countries, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum demonstrated that Russia is a land of opportunity. The 17,000-plus participants arriving from 143 countries is testament to that fact. Over the past few years, SPIEF has developed to become an international platform, with its main achievement being the creation of a space where the spirit of trust prevails. Trust is a key asset in the business world, and discussions at the Forum focused on this crucial aspect,” said Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation and Executive Secretary of the SPIEF Organizing Committee Anton Kobyakov at the event’s closing press conference.
The Forum’s honoured guests this year were President of France Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe.
Moreover, among the high-ranking foreign politicians attending the event was Wang Qishan, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China; Faustin Archange Touadera, President of the Central African Republic; Igor Dodon, President of Moldova; Anatoly Bibilov, President of South Ossetia; Wilmar Alfredo Castro Soteldo, Vice President for Economy of Venezuela; Étienne Schneider, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Economy, Minister of Internal Security, and Minister of Defence of Luxembourg; Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program; Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning of Cuba; and Nguyen Van Binh, Member of the Politburo, Secretary of the Central Committee, Head of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee’s Commission for Economic Affairs and others.
From the Russian side, the forum was attended by the head of state Vladimir Putin, all members of the new government and the heads of 75 regions.
Over 40 international investors managing a total capital of over 20% of global GDP took part in SPIEF-2018. As in the previous year, the largest delegation was from the US, Japan and France had the next largest delegations. There were also a number of major business missions from the UK, China, Germany, and Switzerland. More than 200 heads of major international corporations and 700 heads of Russian companies visited the forum.
At the same time, many participants noted a significant improvement in the business climate in Russia over the past few years. This opinion was shared, in particular, by Emmanuel Quidet, the president of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“I can tell you that the way we do business now is completely different from how we conducted business in Russia 25 years ago. First of all, now there is much more interchange between the foreign and Russian business communities. Therefore, people understand each other better. [...] So now business in Russia is no different from doing business in any other country in the world. And from the tax point of view – this is a good system. And this is one of the main reasons why France is such a large investor here. Investing is not difficult, although there is bureaucracy. And there is a special cooperation between France and Russia that takes place in the cultural sphere. We are very close. This is important,” Emmanuel Quidet told TASS.
Commenting SPIEF results, Stefano Maullu, member of the European Parliament from Italy, Group of the European People’s Party member, called the SPIEF a key forum for the economic sector, where Russian corporations and international investors can sign new contracts and discuss on potential joint projects in Russia and abroad.
“The SPIEF 2018 has shown that despite the Russophobia that keeps on spreading across Europe, there still are key actors that are keen to develop business relations with Moscow. In the framework of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, there have been signed 550 contracts worth $ 38 billion. This proves that Russia is anything but isolated and a widespread consensus has emerged on the fact that it is necessary to return to dialogue with Moscow,” the politician told PenzaNews.
Moreover, he positively assessed the overall state of the Russian economy.
“The unemployment rate has been substantially shrinking as in April it stood at 4.9% from 5.3% in the same month of the previous year. At the same time, the average wages have been rising. Other two important indicators that attest the Russian recovery are retail sales and capital investment that, on an annual basis, were up 2.4% and 3.6 % respectively. Despite the impact of Western sanctions, Russian economic development is recovering fast. By contrast, what has been proving of having a relevant influence on this latter is the evolution of oil prices – which is not surprising if one considers the dependence of Russia on the export of energy and raw materials,” Stefano Maullu explained.
He reminded that in 2017 the export of Italian technology products in Russia reached almost 3 billion Euro.
“It is about 38% of the total value of exports towards Russia which, last year, reached almost 8 billion Euro. Therefore, I firmly consider the SPIEF as a fundamental economic pivot, and consequentially a useful tool to improve the actual state of the international relations,” he stressed.
In turn, Oleg Prozorov, Director General, the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in the Russian Federation, also paid special attention to the restoration of the Russian economy.
“Undoubtedly, sanctions are damaging, because restrictive measures were calculated in the conditions of free trade and Russia's openness to WTO rules. But the situation has adapted, and the economy continues to adapt,” the expert stressed.
According to him, the SPIEF is an important platform for Russia and its partners to conclude significant agreements between the parties.
“The forum is the central annual business event of the Eurasian continent and traditionally attracts a large number of participants from all over the world. One of the significant events for the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, in particular, was the conclusion of a memorandum on cooperation with the Penza region, which we signed with Governor Ivan Belozertsev,”Oleg Prozorov said.
In the meantime, Pasquale Terracciano, Italian Ambassador to Russia, noted that “the results of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum are encouraging.”
“The leaders of the largest Italian companies took part in the forum, and there were more of them than in previous years. This is another confirmation of the increased interest of Italian entrepreneurs to the Russian market, in particular, to the energy sector. Five bilateral agreements with our companies were signed at the forum,” the diplomat said.
“If we look at the market in general, we have returned to a good pre-crisis level: the trade turnover between Italy and Russia is increasing, and in January, Italian exports amounted to more than 19%. Italy views sanctions as an abnormal period, and we are working to overcome the current stagnation situation. Every time at meetings in Brussels we oppose the bureaucratic and automatic extension of the sanctions regime,” Pasquale Terracciano added.
In his opinion, the SPIEF could create necessary conditions for establishing relations between Russia and Western countries.
“Undoubtedly, enhanced economic cooperation and multilateral ties are instruments for improving political relations. This was also announced by President Putin, who stressed that the trade world, subject to the common rules, can launch a favorable dynamic that will positively affect political relations” the ambassador recalled.
In his opinion, economic interaction can open new prospects for the countries.
“The fifth paragraph of the guidelines developed by the European Union for the current crisis period in relations with Russia, says there is the need to promote the development of civil society in Russia. With the assistance of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), it would be possible to launch financing mechanisms that would facilitate the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. This would be a prerequisite for the development of civil society, the social layer that supports the values of democracy and an open society,” Pasquale Terracciano explained his view of the situation.
In turn, Anton Friesen, Member of the foreign affairs committee and the committee on humanitarian assistance and human rights of the German Parliament, also supported the idea of expanding cooperation between Russia and the European Union.
“The economy of Russia largely depends on its resources, especially oil and natural gas. The price has been recovering in the last two years and also the economy in Russia. I personally welcome the attempts of the Russian Government do diversify the economy. And in my opinion Germany and the European Union should intensify their cooperation with Russia on the fields of economics, politics and society,” the German politician said.
The Western sanctions on Russia are not so hurtful than many people think they are, he believes.
“The decrease of the oil price was much more hurtful for Russia than all western sanctions combined. Nevertheless, my party wants to abolish the sanctions, because they also hurt European countries like Germany. They are counterproductive and damage the good relationship between the German and Russian people,” Anton Friesen said.
According to him, the SPIEF is always an important platform to debate economic issues, so it is “not surprisingly that it’s often referred as Russia's Davos.”
“You only have to look on the high-profile guests this year. Especially the presence of Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan was interesting: it's not a secret that both countries are closely cooperating on many political and economic issues. China fills the gap which is caused by western sanctions. That's why it's important to improve the economic ties between Europe and Russia,” the Bundestag deputy said.
In his opinion, the forum in St. Petersburg can also contribute to the establishment of political relations between Russia and its Western partners.
“The SPIEF is always a great opportunity to discuss problems, challenges and barriers and most importantly how to fix these issues. At the current situation it is already helpful to normalize the relationship between the West and Russia. The SPIEF could be a tool how to achieve that,” the politician stressed.
“The seemingly good talks between President Putin and his French counterpart Marcon are positive signs for a further step to normalization. And that is what Russia, Europe and the world need at the moment. We can only profit, if we work together,” Anton Friesen concluded.