Chairman of the Board of Directors of Renova Group Viktor Vekselberg: Mr President, allow me on behalf of all participants in the Russia-US Business Dialogue to thank you for taking part in this meeting and to brief you on our discussions.
First, I would like to say that the US delegation at this year’s St Petersburg Forum is the largest ever, which probably came as a surprise for many of us. More than 300 people represent various US companies and businesses at this Forum.
In terms of the discussions we had and the conclusions we came to, I do not think you will be surprised since participants in this discussion from both sides were adamant in calling for stepping up business ties, saying that they all firmly believe in the lasting benefits of cooperation and the complementarity of Russian and US businesses. They also supported various cooperation and collaboration frameworks, especially in areas dealing with new challenges for the global economy alongside traditional ones. I am referring to IT-related challenges. Russia and the USA have extensive expertise, making it extremely important to promote cooperation in this area, as was pointed out during today’s meeting.
To conclude, the business community spoke out in single voice in the hope that solutions at the political level will pave the way for improving and further promoting our economic relations.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to begin by thanking both the Russian and American organisers of this event. It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all.
I would like to thank our American friends for coming to this event. Mr Vekselberg has already mentioned the unfortunate state of US-Russian and Russian-US relations.
Of course, as influential world powers, Russia and the US have been keeping the dialogue alive in various multilateral formats, including the UN, the Group of Twenty, which will soon meet in Germany, as well as within APEC and other frameworks, and have continued to cooperate on key global and regional matters. There is no getting away from it, and it is so much better that this process carries on.
However, it has to be recognised that it took decades to lay the groundwork for cooperation that was all but annihilated over the past few years. Our bilateral relations deteriorated to their lowest point since the Cold War.
This could not fail to affect the economy and our business ties. Bilateral trade was modest to begin with, but in 2014–2016 it decreased by 30 percent.
From a realistic, pragmatic perspective, neither Russian, nor American businesses can be satisfied with a situation where mutually beneficial projects are being curtailed. Of course, taking into account the modest trade volumes, this could be viewed as having little importance. However, once we factor in the missed opportunities, it turns out that this was harmful for everyone. In this regard, let me stress that only solid trade and investment ties can ensure a reliable safety net from political oscillations.
Even in the most challenging periods of history, when our two countries represented different political and ideological systems, the United Stated always remained an important trade partner for us. This was case in the early days of the Soviet state, when US businesses contributed to the industrialisation effort. This was also the case with the lend-lease programme during the Second World War. By the way, modern Russia completely paid off its debt under this programme.
Americans are good businesspeople. When they saw big money in Russia with the rise of oil and gas prices, they asked for lend-lease debts to be paid back. We did not want to be greedy, and paid them back. We all have to keep this in mind. Incidentally, we also paid back all of the debts contracted by the Soviet Union, including those of all the former Soviet republics. Russia assumed all these debts and paid them off.
Still, even in the 1970s and 1980s, during the Cold War, we cooperated with the United States.
Today major US companies continue to operate in Russia and to maintain a notable presence on the Russian market. There are about 3,000 firms with American capital in Russia. The total assets of these enterprises amount to about $75 billion, and they employ over 180,000 people.
Interestingly, the delegation of US business representatives is one of the most representative at this forum. Mr Vekselberg mentioned this, and I would even go further and say that almost a quarter of all foreign companies registered with the forum come from the United States, 144 out of 511. This, by the way, is a record number.
To reiterate, our economic interaction with the United States is balanced and diversified, and focuses on technology-intensive projects. The ongoing projects are in good shape, in general. Thus, from 2014 to 2016, the share of innovative products in Russia’s total exports to the United States fluctuated between 9.7 and 14 percent.
Exports of high-tech services, such as space transport, information technologies, engineering and scientific designs, amounted to about $900 million in 2015, or about one-third of our total exports of services to the US market.
We intend to promote in every possible way bilateral business projects based on equal and constructive partnership and cooperation. We are interested in technology transfers and bringing in international firms to help us expand our domestic industry and infrastructure.
We operate on the premise that such mutually beneficial joint initiatives will contribute to the success of the work we are doing in Russia to step up socioeconomic development, and help us establish on our territory the production of competitive world-class products with a view to exporting them to third countries. Of course, we will do our best to make this business in Russia lucrative for our American partners.
It is good to know that the business communities of the two countries continue to maintain close contacts. Today’s meeting is a good example of this. Last year as well, Russian and US business associations organised several events and roundtable discussions, including those at the St Petersburg Economic Forum.
I believe that improved bilateral relations will benefit both countries. We will continue the dialogue on this with the new US President, Mr Trump, and the new Administration.
However, success requires serious efforts on both sides. It also takes political will and a willingness to solve problems of mutual practical interest.
I hope that today’s discussion, your initiatives and specific considerations contribute to forming a favourable environment for expanding this complicated task in order to restore trust and constructive dialogue.
Mr Vekselberg said that many things in business, cooperation and the economy depend on political dialogue. I want to pass this puck to you. Help us restore a good political dialogue. I am asking you on behalf of Russia. I am addressing our American counterparts. Help the newly elected President and the new administration of the United States.
We agreed that I will not participate in your discussion now because there will be a large panel session later. There will be similar questions and similar answers. I would not like to repeat myself and undercut interest in the main event.
I would like to thank all of you for being here today and for thinking, in this direct discussion, about how we can move forward.
Thank you very much and good luck.