The talks were held before a plenary session of the third Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions.
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Beginning of Russian-Belarusian talks in expanded format
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, friends,
Mr Putin and I agreed that, since we have a big programme ahead, we will first hold an informal meeting, and if our delegation members have any questions later on, we will openly and frankly answer them but only briefly, without going into detail or engaging in polemics, after the heads of state deliver their remarks.
Mr Putin, friends, I am happy to welcome you to Minsk, a city dear to you all. We are meeting before the third Forum of Belarusian and Russian Regions. This year, its agenda includes social and cultural issues. It was to improve the living standards of our people that we launched the main Belarusian-Russian union project 20 years ago.
We are glad that these forum meetings have become regular. Interregional cooperation has huge potential, which we can used to more quickly restore the volume of Belarusian-Russian trade.
The discussions of these issues at the top level should provide an example of constructive and productive cooperation. In other words, we must set the trajectory at the top level.
We make no secret of the fact that, unfortunately, neither Russia nor Belarus has managed to reverse the negative trend in bilateral trade, even though there have been positive changes about which I will speak later.
Bilateral trade in January to April of this year totalled $7.6 billion, which is 12 percent less than in the same period of last year. Exports from Belarus were about $3 billion, a decrease of 6 percent over January-April. Imports from Russia exceeded $4.5 billion, but that’s still a 15 percent decline.
It is gratifying that the decline in trade has slowed substantially thanks to our coordinated efforts to overcome the consequences of global economic instability. In January-April 2014, bilateral trade fell by 30 percent, while the decline in the first four months of this year was about 12 percent.
I strongly hope that we will be able to combine our efforts and find the resources necessary to strengthen this positive trend.
The lifting of the remaining restrictions in bilateral trade will help stabilise our economies and improve the wellbeing of people in Belarus and Russia.
In general, the current economic crisis should rally all parties participating in integration and encourage them to develop cooperation and internal production chains. We must not compete but act together on foreign markets.
The attainment of these goals in relations between Belarus and Russia will also promote the development of other integration formats. We have always said that our relations are the most advanced in the post-Soviet space, and other integration associations draw from our experience.
We are open to discussing current issues of bilateral relations today. There are no issues that Belarus and Russia cannot discuss. I am confident that we can find solutions to any problem in the spirit of our allied relations.
Thank you for your attention.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
I do not have much to add. It is true that bilateral trade somewhat declined last year. However, this year it is recovering, with Belarusian exports to Russia growing faster than imports to Belarus from Russia. Overall, there is nothing extraordinary about it. Moreover, the physical volumes are increasing. Trade in value terms has slightly decreased, even though there are improvements even on that front with the decline slowing down, while physical volumes are increasing. This is a positive signal.
Today, we need to use the time allocated for our meeting to think together about ways to maintain and reinforce positive momentum.
Overall, I fully agree with the assessment by Mr Lukashenko regarding the nature of our relations: this is truly the most developed relationship in the post-Soviet space.
We pay a lot of attention to addressing social as well as economic issues. All in all, there is no doubt that these efforts benefit our citizens. Not only is Russia committed to continuing its work along these lines, but is also ready to step up its efforts so that we move together towards the objectives that we set for ourselves many years ago.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to have this meeting and work together.