President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I am happy to welcome all participants in the Congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. First, I would like to congratulate the RSPP on the anniversary. This year your highly respected organisation which united the country’s biggest, leading companies and enterprises, celebrates its 30th anniversary.
During these years – and this was a complicated, difficult period in the development of new social relations, a period of “moving into adulthood” of the domestic market economy – the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs has earned a reputation of a reliable partner of all branches of government and all civil society institutions.
Constructive relations between the state and business are growing stronger with your direct participation in the interests of the development of Russia and our regions. We are working together to ensure economic growth and resolution of priority social tasks, including the renewal of the labour market, professional education and strengthening of such important institutions as charity and volunteering.
I am grateful to you for such active participation in and major contribution to the implementation of our national agenda and to the increasing of Russia’s personnel, investment, industrial and export potential.
I know that shortly before out meeting – Mr Shokhin has just told me this – Alexander Shokhin was reelected as President of the RSPP. I congratulate you and wish you all the best and future success.
I highly appreciate our format of communication and regular meetings, which, as a rule, take place at the end of the year. Before the pandemic, they took place in an informal setting as well, but, unfortunately, there are restrictions now, which I will talk about a little later.
Traditionally, at this time, both businesses and government bodies sum up the results, analyse what they have managed to accomplish or are just planning to do; in a word, they are balancing the books. I will allow myself to outline certain results and trends as well.
The objective figures – I will not list them now, as you already know everything about them, in general – are still saying that by the middle of this year the Russian economy had recovered from the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and reached the pre-crisis level. The employment figures are also back to where they were in 2019.
This relatively quick recovery of economic dynamics is a tangible and visible result of the work done by the entire business community, including large, small and medium-sized Russian companies. The absolute majority of our entrepreneurs has acted and continues to act responsibly with regard to their teams. They do not think only about how to overcome the current challenges, but about how to move forward as well.
I am sure that thanks to precisely this approach by the business community, large-scale measures to support the economy, employment, and system-forming industries that have been implemented by the state have been effective.
Of course, we all need to strengthen this experience of partnership which we need if we want to respond to unconventional, sometimes even extraordinary, challenges and, no less important, to properly address the country’s long-term development goals.
We are now entering precisely this phase. After a quick recovery, we need to achieve fast and high-quality growth. A large-scale transformation of the economic life is lying ahead, including digitalisation, environmental agenda, the creation of novel industries, and frontal development of infrastructure. We will address these tasks as a team, because it is impossible to imagine it done otherwise.
I digress, but all the key economic decisions during the pandemic were taken as a result of a dialogue, and we discussed specific steps with the participation of business associations and trade unions. This, by the way, largely made it possible for us to strike a balance between forced restrictions associated with the pandemic, protecting public health and ensuring stability of the economy and preserving jobs, employees and teams, and individual incomes.
It is important to maintain this balance. This task requires flexible, well thought out decisions. Nothing should be done in the midst of some frontal attack.
In this context, I would like to talk about the issue that concerns all branches of the economy and, most importantly, all citizens of our country. I am referring to vaccination certificates.
As you know, the discussion of the draft law that was supposed to establish a mandatory requirement for this certificate on transport – on a plane or in a train – was removed from the Duma’s agenda.
As for a law on mandatory certificates to enter public places – shopping centres, cafes, restaurants and cultural institutions, the State Duma adopted it yesterday in the first reading.
Of course, this draft law requires adjustments because in drafting such sensitive norms and regulations it is necessary to consider the nuances and real-life situations.
In this context, I am instructing the Government to complete the work on vaccination certificates in public places in cooperation with the State Duma, the Federation Council, employer associations and civil society representatives. We need to consider all the issues that worry our people. The law must be clear-cut, explicit and understandable.
I would like to add that prior to the adoption of any changes, our Government colleagues must be completely prepared, technically, for the use of a system of certificates. This system must work reliably to protect the health of our people rather than create more difficulties for them.
But I cannot just end this at a point that is expected so much by some public organisations and figures. I cannot do this for moral considerations or by virtue of my official duties, because the situation on countering the coronavirus remains very serious and tense.
Look, just recently we had 41,000 new cases a day. Now we have 26,000–28,000 cases. It appears the incidence rate has been almost cut in half. Still, this is also way too much for us. The mortality rate has increased and COVID is largely to blame for this in different ways. This is not happening because people are hiding anything; it is simply impossible to predict all the consequences. Look at what is happening in relatively well-off countries. I am talking about the spread of the new omicron strain. The consequences of this are still unknown. Some researchers say this is a lighter version whereas others talk about potential serious consequences after recovery. There is a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases among children and they have serious consequences. We need to be aware of this.
What is happening in the countries with a relatively favourable situation in public health? From what I have seen, and oddly enough, Germany has fairly low vaccination rates compared with other European countries. Now, word is that there are not enough vaccines for booster jabs. By the way, according to preliminary estimates, our Sputnik V is working well, perhaps, even better than other vaccines in combating the omicron variant. We will have a definite answer within a week when the researchers give a final assessment.
In this regard, we can even share the vaccines that we have, I mean, for booster jabs, for the European countries as well, provided, of course, they need and want it. It is necessary to work more energetically and more substantively with the WHO, to heed its recommendations and the recommendations provided by specialists.
To follow up on the European countries, Great Britain’s population is 67.2 million. We have 146 million people in our country. I already mentioned that 26,000–28,000 people are falling ill with COVID-19 every day in our country, whereas in Great Britain, according to their official figures, it’s more like 88,000. Their population is almost half of ours, but the number of cases is almost three times as high.
Why am I saying this now? The New Year’s holidays are fast approaching, and people will move around a lot. Some enterprises, your enterprises, in fact, are integrated non-stop works, and will remain operational during the holiday. I want to reach out to you and once again remind our people that, no doubt, the New Year’s holidays are a special period in the life of every person and every family where people want to see their loved ones and visit them. The New Year’s holidays always evoke some positive fairy-tale-like expectations for the future. This is good, and, of course, the holiday is a time for celebrations. But it is also important to heed the recommendations of the specialists if we want to have a really happy future. This is a serious matter.
You know how it works. After the first toast, people tend to forget about precautions. This should not be the case today. Everyone needs to take a careful look at these recommendations and do their best to follow them.
To reiterate, we are ready to provide Sputnik Light to the countries that would like to use it for booster jabs, since we have enough of it to share with other countries.
As you are aware, our specialists are now working in the Republic of South Africa, and I want to thank our colleagues from South Africa for hosting them. In conjunction with their colleagues from South Africa, they are studying this virus variant. By the way, 75 percent of the people in South Africa that are ill with COVID-19 have come down with the new omicron variant.
Let’s continue. I was just talking about one specific bill, but the requirements for high quality and clarity apply to all our legislative and law-making activities, to regulatory practice. This is important for every person, and this is the most important condition for business growth and investment activity in the country.
With your direct involvement, we have already done a lot to improve both legislation and regulatory enforcement practices. But many problems remain; I know you face them. But life is complex and diverse, as we say in such cases, and we will have time to talk a little more and exchange views on the practice of applying the legislation we have developed, and possibly on other issues that need to be regulated legislatively.
So, we will certainly continue to cooperate with you, and will apply and fine-tune the best international and domestic practices to support investment activity and private initiative.
This is fundamentally important now that, once again, the national economy has recovered; we need to transition back to long-term, high-quality growth immediately, without a pause. We have substantial state resources and great business potential for this, primarily when it comes to the flagships of our economy.
So, congratulations – most large companies’ financials have gone up of late. Companies have been reporting growing profits, especially in industries that are now benefiting from active foreign markets.
Each company reports its own statistics, so we have some generalised figures: from January through September 2021, total net profits came to 21.6 trillion rubles, or 63.7 percent more than in same period of 2019, the pre-pandemic year. And compared to last year, the increase is 79.6 percent.
Obviously, businesses primarily channel their growing revenue to financing current expenses, to repay loans and raise employee salaries, and so on. Average salaries are also increasing, not just in numerical terms, but in real terms, and this is very good. It is no secret that significant resources are being spent to pay higher dividends to shareholders.
By the way, the Federal Tax Service’s monitoring of Russia’s largest groups of companies’ performance confirms these trends. They monitor their profits, dividends paid and investment projects and of course, the tax benefits specific groups of companies enjoy are taken into account. The Government always analyses this carefully and reports back to me in a timely manner.
Let me emphasise the following: the steady revenue flow that our leading companies are now receiving cannot be simply scattered or used up. If we yield to temptation, it will, in the long run, lead to defeat and a decrease in domestic businesses’ competitiveness in global markets which are undergoing rapid change. We must think strategically and see the growth perspective.
To reiterate, the financial resource that we have is a powerful base for expanding production, increasing capital investment, and launching new promising business initiatives, basically, things that drive the national economy and improve the well-being of our people.
We met with many of the people in this audience in March. Back then, we agreed that the Government, along with the business community, would draft additional measures to support projects that are financed from the equity capital provided by the private sector.
Today, I propose exchanging views on the progress in this respect, the remaining problems that need to be solved, and the investment areas that you and your management teams consider the most attractive and promising.
Of course, when assessing capital investment, business looks carefully at return on investment numbers, economic and financial efficiency, as well as stability and predictability in the investment environment. But here is what I would like to add to this.
Over the past few years, sustainable development has taken a special place on the global business agenda. Business owners and shareholders now focus not only on expanding or upgrading production facilities, but also on the environmental well-being of cities and regions, entire countries and even continents, infrastructure development and improvement of territories.
Modern international terminology has an acronym for this approach: ESG; no doubt, you are aware of this better than anyone else. In fact, though, the issue is about something that has long been called in Russia the private sector’s social responsibility. There is nothing new or surprising in this for us.
I know each of you can share your own experiences in this area and the steps taken by your companies to implement sustainable development principles. I am prepared to discuss this today as well.
Before we move on to the discussion, I would like to once again wish the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs a happy 30th anniversary. I hope you are also aware that an executive order was signed on December 3 awarding the RSPP team with an honorary badge of the Russian Federation For Meritorious Service. Today, in this audience, I am pleased to present you with this well-deserved state award.