Following the congress, Mr Putin met with RSPP Board members.
The congress is being held as part of the X Russian Business Week (RBW) on March 13–17, hosted by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. The RBW participants coordinate proposals on key areas of interaction between the state and business, discuss key economic issues, in particular taxes and finance, the investment climate, ways to remove bureaucratic obstacles, as well as the labour market and social investments.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues. I am very glad to welcome you to the Congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which represents the interests of the leading Russian companies and enterprises.
I would like to stress that we certainly view all of you, all representatives of Russia’s business community, as important, efficient and reliable partners in dealing with the key aspects of national development. You are actively contributing to the implementation of important projects and social programmes, improvement of Russian legislation, coordination of economic reforms, and all other spheres of life in the country.
As usual, I would like to use the RSPP platform to discuss our economic agenda. I would like to say that for the past three years we have been working persistently to adjust our economy to the new external conditions. As you know, these include a 50 percent plunge in oil and petrochemical prices and restricted access to money on international financial markets. Let me remind you that Urals crude cost an average of $107.90 per barrel in 2013 and only $41.70 in 2016.
We have put particular effort into ensuring macroeconomic stability. We have implemented special anti-crisis measures to support a number of sectors. We have launched import substitution programmes and export support programmes, with the aim of diversifying our economic structure and developing Russian industry.
Economic growth rates are now returning to positive values. Industrial production is increasing, particularly in the processing sectors, and we know that the agricultural sector, too, is posting growth. By way of reference, GDP growth was estimated at 0.8 percent in January. Roskomstat [national statistics agency] figures show that industrial output increased by 2.3 percent in January, and the processing industry grew by 2 percent.
We are on a steady track of inflation reduction, which I think is very important indeed. Annual inflation was 4.4 percent as of March 13. We have succeeded in keeping the budget deficit and the ruble exchange rate at acceptable levels. What is important is that we have not only maintained but have increased the Government gold and foreign currency reserves. They came to $368 billion as of January 1, 2016, but were at $377 billion on January 1, 2017, and at $397.3 billion on March 1.
I note that we did not lose sight of our long-term development plans during the period of economic instability. Now, when the economy has largely adapted to the new circumstances, these long-term plans are becoming key tasks.
The Government is completing work on a plan to increase the country’s economic growth rate. As was noted in the [annual Presidential] Address, it is set for the period through 2025, but growth rates should exceed global growth rates by 2019–2020.
Looking at the most important tasks as I see them, we need to carry out serious structural transformation, substantially increase labour productivity and ensure qualified human resources in industry, speed up the development and application of latest technologies, and make use of tax system adjustments and quality improvements to the business climate to attract investment and create new jobs. I stress that these efforts are needed at all levels, federal, regional and municipal.
I know that the RSPP, working with other business associations, has presented its own proposals for the action plan. We value greatly the readiness of any business association to share the responsibility for achieving our common goals and taking part in Russia’s development. We see this as a valuable contribution to the country’s development.
What is important now is to find balanced and carefully considered decisions to these various complex issues that directly concern business interests and are of importance for our country’s people. The path we choose will be a decisive factor in our future success, our economy’s effectiveness and competitiveness, and ultimately, our citizens’ prosperity. I hope that, as before, we will work as partners, hear, understand each other, and help each other in Russia’s interests.
Colleagues, I propose that we concentrate today on perfecting the tax system. Its purpose is clearly not just to bring in budget revenue, but to act as a powerful instrument for encouraging economic growth and development in the social sector, the regions, and municipalities.
Like all aspects of doing business in Russia, the tax system should be competitive, comprehensible, and as transparent and predictable as possible. This is not an easy task, of course, but we must work towards this goal, because it is a key condition for carrying out economically effective and successful projects. It is important at the same time to maintain the budget system’s sustainability and ensure it can cover the state’s social commitments.
I know that the RSPP has its own views on further enhancing the tax system. Mr Shokhin [RSPP President] and I do not meet very often, but regularly enough, and he passes on the business community’s views. This concerns the property tax system as well. These are all matters that we can discuss.
Next week, the Council for Priority Projects will meet to discuss specific decisions on increasing labour productivity. This is essential for the competitiveness and efficiency of every company here in Russia. I would like certainly like to hear your views on the problems, barriers and restrictions that business encounters in implementing the programmes for increasing labour productivity, and which legal amendments and adjustments you think are necessary and expedient.
Let me say once again that the task of business and the state authorities is to establish good conditions for creating quality jobs with decent pay in modern high-tech sectors in small and medium business, and help people to learn new skills or bolster their existing professional skills. Of course, it also would be good to hear your views on how the professional qualifications system is working, and the contribution the RSPP could make to improving professional and vocational training and to developing national championships in the trades, engineering fields, and among young professionals.
I would like to thank you all and wish you success. Thank you very much.