President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, friends,
Let me welcome you all to Moscow. It is a great pleasure to meet the members of the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
France is without a doubt one of our longstanding and reliable partners and we are very pleased to see you here.
Let me start this meeting by noting that despite the various difficulties we face, problems of an economic nature and also politically motivated issues, none of the more than 500 French companies working on our market have left Russia. Everyone is still here and continues to work, and we are very happy to see this.
But unfortunately, the factors I just mentioned have led to a drop in our bilateral trade of more than 30 percent – 36 percent to be exact. But there are also some positive moments, and I will say more about this now.
We are reviving our cooperation mechanisms. After a long hiatus, our inter-agency council on economic cooperation has resumed its work, and the Intergovernmental Commission, which is headed by our two countries’ prime ministers, has agreed to hold its next meeting before the end of the year.
These purely administrative developments are good to see, but what really pleases us is that despite the current difficulties, we saw an increase in reciprocal investment last year. French investment in the Russian economy grew at a very fast pace with French companies investing more than one billion euros.
This is partly motivated by a desire to preserve positions on our market, including in the agriculture sector, where several million has been invested in cheese production in the Russian Federation. We most certainly welcome this and will do everything we can to put in place the conditions needed for further investment, reciprocal investment too, because over this same time, Russian businesspeople have increased their investment in the French economy.
As you know, we will soon be hosting the next [St Petersburg] International Economic Forum. We will be happy to see you all at this event, at which we will discuss in detail how to develop relations with our partners.
Of course, we will also continue active efforts to create a good environment for doing business in Russia, for Russian businesspeople and for our foreign partners and friends. I was discussing this very matter just before with members of the Russian Government, the business community, State Duma deputies, and regional heads. We are drawing up our future plans for developing these favourable conditions.
Our efforts in this area have already brought some positive changes of late. We have moved from 120th place to 51st place on the World Bank’s well-known Ease of Doing Business Index. True, we are not in first place, but it is nonetheless a big jump up and the progress is clear.
We have maintained Russia’s economic stability and I have no doubt that we can continue to do this. We also succeeded in stabilising state finances after the Central Bank introduced a floating exchange rate for the ruble.
We follow a very balanced budget policy, putting our primary focus on macroeconomic stability. We have succeeded in these efforts overall.
We have a good trade balance. Last year, we worked with a surplus of $168 billion, and we already have a surplus of $16 billion for the first quarter of this year. In other words, this trend has continued.
Let me note too that, as is known, we had some problems with a contraction of our gross domestic product, and this contraction continued over the first quarter of this year too, but it was twice less than over the same period in 2015.
In other words, there is a stable trend towards an improvement in our macroeconomic indicators, including GDP. Our task now is to maintain this over the coming period. At the same time, we have one of the lowest levels of state debt – it is around 10–12 percent, and our gold and foreign currency reserves are growing and as of May 1 this year came to $391.5 billion. Our goal is not to stuff the state coffers full though, but, as I said, to create good conditions for working on the Russian market.
I am happy to see you and it is with pleasure that I will listen to your views on what more we should do to ensure that you have a comfortable environment on the Russian market.
Thank you very much for your attention.