President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, members of the Supreme State Council,
It is highly symbolic that we are meeting today in St Petersburg, which regularly plays host to big international forums. St Petersburg is also in a way the capital for inter-parliamentary cooperation between the CIS countries. The CIS, EurAsEC [Eurasian Economic Community], and CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organisation] inter-parliamentary bodies all work here.
Belarus sees St Petersburg not only as a dependable partner with good future prospects, but also as a city close to every Belarusian’s heart. Many of our well-known compatriots lived and worked here.
More than a year has passed now since the Supreme State Council last met. Much work has been accomplished at the head of state level and at the parliamentary level over this time. Our parliaments have been working closely together, held regular meetings of the Union State Council of Ministers, and considerably intensified the regional dimension in our relations.
The dynamic pace at which we are building our Union State is evidence that we remain committed to deeper integration. This is a conscious choice and indeed is the only possible choice in the globalised economy. The trade and economic cooperation results of these last two years, which we will review today, make this eminently clear. I will leave the figures to today’s speakers, but let me just note that our trade turnover increased by almost $16 billion over the last two years and now comes to $45 billion in total. Of course, this is only what we can actually calculate, given that our countries have no border between them and our people can move freely from one country to another. I think there is probably at least another billion we could count. I doubt that results like these would be possible without the cooperation opportunities that the integration has given us.
At the same time, the situation in the world today puts increasing pressure on us to set clear priorities for where we want our union project to go. We must not disperse our means and efforts, but must concentrate and focus them on the areas of greatest importance for our peoples. This will make our Union State work more effectively in the new conditions, and optimise the Union State budget spending by channelling it into programmes that will produce the most useful and needed results. This is something we will look at during today’s meeting.
All in all, there are ten items on the agenda our colleagues have drafted. A number of them, budget issues, are matters we always examine at our meetings.
I am sure that constructive discussion of today’s agenda will help us to come up with decisions we all agree on. This will strengthen the partnership between our countries, and it is this partnership that is the engine driving integration throughout the entire post-Soviet area.
Friends, you have received all the documents. In opening our meeting today, let me now give the floor to Mr Putin.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Mr Lukashenko, colleagues, members of the Supreme State Council,
Russia and Belarus have built up a unique experience of equal cooperation and partnership over the years of building the Union State. Cooperation within the Union State plays an important and piloting role in our work to pursue integration throughout the CIS.
Mr Lukashenko and I reiterated today the importance of working consistently towards our goal of establishing the Eurasian Economic Union by January 1, 2015. We discussed this matter in detail today at our meeting in narrow format with the two countries’ prime ministers taking part. As for the tasks before the Union State now, we need to continue putting its integration potential to use in order to raise our peoples’ well-being and ensure our countries’ stable socioeconomic development. This is the focus of our agenda today.
We will look particularly closely at opportunities for expanding our trade and investment ties. As Mr Lukashenko just mentioned, we reached the record bilateral trade figure of almost $45 billion last year. Our bilateral trade continues to grow despite the global economic difficulties, and it is growing even in today’s rather complicated conditions.
Russia is Belarus’ biggest foreign trade partner, and Belarus is in second place for Russia’s trade with CIS partners and in sixth place among all of Russia’s trading partners. If we keep up the good pace we have today, we can certainly hope to reach the next milestone of $50 billion in bilateral trade.
Developing investment ties are among our priority joint projects of course. Russia is the main investor in the Belarusian economy today. Our total investment there comes to more than $5 billion: $5.7 billion. More than 2,000 companies with Russian capital are working in Belarus. Belarusian businesspeople are also investing in the Russian economy.
The Russian-Belarusian Business Council will help to encourage reciprocal investment. The council could be more active of course in organising dialogue between interested companies and businesses on both sides, and we hope it will take an active position.
I note the Union State budget for 2013, which we are set to approve today, maintains solid parameters with nearly 5 billion Russian rubles. This money will be spent on financing 38 joint programmes in high-tech sectors, telecommunications, aerospace, and pharmaceuticals. This will account for 40 percent of budget spending.
Nearly 20 percent will go on funding work in education, culture, healthcare, and sports. We will be financing important social programmes such as health resort and sanatorium treatment for Great Patriotic War veterans and invalids and children from Belarusian and Russian regions affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
We will also examine the Union State Council of Ministers’ report on executing the 2010 budget and decide on how to redistribute the remaining funds from the 2011–2012 budgets.
Our agenda today also includes further coordination of our foreign policy approaches. I note that we are successfully implementing our 2012–2013 programme of coordinated foreign policy action. We will draft an analytical report for the last two-year period.
Security cooperation remains one of our priorities. We have established a regional force grouping, have a unified air defence system in place, and our law enforcement agencies are working closely together. Today, we will examine the question of appointing a new head of the Union State’s Border Committee.
These are the main areas we will be looking at today. I am sure the meeting will be constructive and business-like, as has been the case over these last years. As I said before, we have a piloting role in many areas of integration in the post-Soviet area, and this is producing results. We are not just preserving jobs in our countries but are really creating new jobs, and this helps us to get through the turbulent times in the global economy and maintain the pace of our economic development.
I am sure that today’s work will be a success.