President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues, friends!
I say this because people who come here are our colleagues, our good, reliable friends. Many have been in our country for a long time, for many years. And this is not the first time you are attending the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Perhaps there are also colleagues who are here for the first time – I hope that you will enjoy being in Russia in general and in St Petersburg and at the forum in particular. It is a good venue for sharing opinions, sharing experience and talking about the prospects of working on the Russian market or from the Russian market, on other markets from the Russian platform.
We are trying to create the most favourable conditions for our joint work. We are doing a great deal to create a favourable business climate and above all to provide macroeconomic conditions for sustainable economic growth and a stable social system – so that working in Russia is beneficial and pleasant.
As you may know, and if somebody does not know I will say it, and I said this earlier today at the plenary session: we are seeing very modest economic growth, but the economy has begun to grow nonetheless. During the last several months of the past year, we recorded GDP growth of 0.4 percent; in the first quarter of this year, it was 0.5 percent, and in April, 1.4 percent.
Industrial production is growing at a rate of 2.7–2.9 percent. Judging by the volume of rail shipments and judging by the amount of electricity consumed, this figure may in fact be a little higher. We are fulfilling our inflation control and inflation targeting plans.
As you know, the Central Bank has set itself the target of 4 percent. At the moment, it is 4.1 percent. As a matter of fact, we are running on schedule. I believe that this year we will achieve a result that will be unique for Russia’s new economy: Inflation will be less than 4 percent. We will see what the results will be, but the way things are going, this will be roughly the level.
All of this comes against the backdrop of, thank God, a stable social situation. Unemployment is very low, a little over 5 percent. And we continue to work on this problem. As you know, and I believe I also said this today, our current account is quite good, well balanced and is improving.
We are selling a large amount of goods and our reserve funds are growing. Yesterday, I spoke to the world’s biggest investment funds. I recalled that at the beginning of the year we had, I think, 370 billion in gold and foreign-exchange reserves. At the moment it is already 470 billion – and that with very low foreign debt, at around 12–13 percent.
In short, all of this creates favourable conditions for successfully working and growing businesses here. Of course, like any other country, we still have a lot to do. In general, we are not being idle; we are trying to do this. As I also mentioned earlier today, we went up 80 spots in the Doing Business rankings. This is something.
As you have seen, we are introducing ratings and monitoring the business climate not only in the country as a whole but also paying close attention to the Russian regions, directing regional teams accordingly, and we are achieving some results, to put it modestly.
Today, I have enumerated the regions that we consider as leaders. As a matter of fact, this also reflects on our cooperation: Last year, the inflow of direct foreign investment in the Russian economy increased by a factor of five, from $6.8 billion to $33 billion. On the whole, we are seeing an upturn.
Needless to say, that is not enough and this is precisely why we invite you to such events – to discuss with you what else needs to be done to make your work more effective and profitable and to ensure that this also contributes to Russia’s economic development.
Perhaps at this point I should end my lengthy monologue. I hope that you enjoy your tea and coffee and I invite you to share your opinions and join the discussion.
Thank you very much for your attention.