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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Zubkov, let us review two issues.
The first has to do with wildfires in our country. Some time ago I issued instructions to the Government and would like to hear your report on what has been done.
The second subject is the lifting on the grain export embargo.It is an event that has been expected for a long time and means that we have weighed all the possibilities and made the relevant decisions. Although I have noticed that it has been accompanied by all sorts of discussions: will we have enough grain, and on the other hand, how it will affect the inflation, and so on. Could you please briefly report on this as well.
First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov: Indeed, this year the situation with wildfires is not easy but it is under control. We have fully taken stock and analysed last year’s negative experience, when there was a shortage of equipment and human and financial resources, and the wildfires spread over very extensive areas; We received your instructions to address the problem and take institutional, legal and financial measures. I can report that all of your instructions have been executed in full, a number of important laws and regulations have been adopted, including amendments to legislation, to the Forest Code, and substantial financial resources have been allocated to purchase equipment and improve the situation with foresters’ wage payments in the regions.
This year we have allocated 36 billion rubles [$1.3 billion] for the forestry complex compared with 20 billion rubles last year; of this about 10 billion rubles will go solely towards fire prevention measures (against 2.2 billion rubles last year), which is a substantial increase. Across Russia, from Kaliningrad to Khabarovsk, the regions are receiving new fire departments and about 2,000 units of equipment, including fire engines, tractors, bulldozers and other equipment. In 2012 and 2013 we will supply 1,500 units of equipment per year to the regions, that is, this programme will continue. In addition, much has been done in terms of regulating relations between the regions, legislation amendments have been adopted on procedures for declaring state of emergency, so now the regions can do it independently, and all the resources of the Emergencies Ministry, the Federal Agency for Forestry and other organisations will automatically be involved in this effort.
I must say that all this has contributed to the fact that we have been able to halve the number of wildfires, for example, in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), which has been gravely affected. In addition, the situation has returned to normal in the Irkutsk Region, the Trans-Baikal Territory, the Republic of Buryatia and the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Only yesterday 4,897 people, 602 pieces of equipment and 70 aircraft were involved in the firefighting effort. Per my directive, the head of the Federal Agency for Forestry is presently in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the Agency’s deputy heads are in other regions, resources and funding are being transferred there from other regions in order to ensure that the more powerful pockets of fire can be dealt with quickly. This work is underway, and we are keeping the situation with wildfires under control.
”Most important thing in fighting fires is never to relax, because as soon as local authorities calm down, for whatever reason, and start to believe that the fire has retreated, you can expect trouble.“
I think the measures and actions taken by the Government pursuant to your instructions will enable us to normalise the situation. Already today we have reached last year’s level in terms of the number of widfires, or the number was slightly higher last year, 10,200, while this year it is 10,000. Nevertheless, we believe that our efforts must be more specific, more result-oriented to minimise the losses caused by wildfires today.
Dmitry Medvedev: True, this year significantly more resources and funds have been allocated than in the past, a wide range of units and formations have been mobilised and legal acts have been amended in line with my instructions. But what is most important thing in fighting fires? It is never to relax, because as soon as local authorities calm down, for whatever reason, and start to believe that the fire has retreated, you can expect trouble. So I hope that the Government, jointly with the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoys, will closely monitor the situation in the regions and issue instructions as required. The regions will take the necessary actions because firefighting efforts must be conducted in the regions themselves and not in Moscow, the Kremlin or the Government: organisational decisions will be made here and the effort itself should be focused there.
Good, now let us turn to the second issue.
Viktor Zubkov: This year, despite the fact that the weather in spring was worse than last year and the sowing campaign was 10 to 12 days behind, the work is now proceeding at a faster pace than last year. So far, about 27 million hectares have been sown, which is 8.5% more than last year. The situation with winter crops is satisfactory. The Government’s measures on supplying seeds, fertilisers, petroleum products and financial resources have proved to be effective and the spring sowing campaign has been completed in a number of regions while in others it is coming to an end. It is already possible to calculate this year’s harvest in our most important crop, the grain.
We have made calculations and cross-checked them with the data from different sources – the regions, ministries, agencies, experts and businesses: this year Russia may get a harvest of 85 million tonnes of grain. We have good reserves left over from last year, the intervention fund (crop year for grain is from July 1, 2011 to July 1, 2012). Our calculations show that considering the factors I have named (the spring sowing campaign, the state of winter crops, grain reserves), we could have about 18.5 million tonnes of grain reserves by July 1, 2012. This is a good, solid reserve. In this regard, we believe that the grain export can reach around 15 million tonnes.
The Government has decided that the embargo should not be extended and the export of grain will be allowed from July 1, thus Russia will be back on the global grain market. Why is this announcement made today? Because in June, farmers and exporters will have the opportunity to review contracts, conclude new ones, to prepare and begin organised grain shipments from July 1. Such work has been carried out by the Government.
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, the decision to ban grain exports came under harsh criticism from many parties, including the business community, but I would like to say that the Government had done the right thing and the events of the past year have proved that. First, and most importantly, we maintained the stability of the Russian grain market and did not allow a substantial increase in bread and baked products prices, I mean in the affordable goods segment. On the contrary, the prices have stabilised in many regions, which is especially important because of the crop failure which affected many countries, not only Russia; in fact, the trend in the whole global food market is toward rising prices, and we must bear this in mind. Unfortunately, it is true and this decision helped to prevent the situation in the domestic food market from deteriorating.
And one more point. We have not lost our export positions. Russia is potentially one of the biggest grain-exporting countries, and if the harvest forecast is correct, our positions will become even stronger.
Viktor Zubkov: I fully agree with you.