President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear friends.
I would like to greet all of you at what has now become a traditional meeting between us.
I would first like to say a few words about several issues in particular, and then, as usual, we will have a free exchange of views on the current state of the Russian economy, its problems and prospects, and our work together.
As you know, we worked quite well overall last year. The country’s GDP rose by 7.1 percent and people’s real disposable incomes increased by 7.8 percent. These are not bad results.
But at the same time there are still problems. The growth rate has slowed down over the last two months and we still cannot be satisfied with our economy and the structure of our growth.
We have said many times, and I will repeat it again today, that both business and the state authorities are showing the same apathy, it seems to me, in their approach to resolving many problems, and are moving only slowly towards each other.
The government was just recently instructed to draw up measures that will considerably simplify conditions for start-up businesses’ operations. It is also clear to us that the existing behind-the-scenes practices involved in issuing licenses and the unjustified delays in putting privatised companies up for bidding narrow the possibilities for Russian business to make full use of its efforts and capital.
I would like to note that there are several areas that could help fuel growth in the Russian economy.
I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but the number of small businesses has been on the rise of late. This is a good sign and it deserves not only our attention but also our most active support, and I would ask you to help provide this.
The second point I wish to note is the determined support for Russian businesses on markets abroad. I would like to hear your views – are you feeling this support or not? In any case, the government and myself are doing everything to encourage our officials abroad, all our services, to work constructively with Russian business abroad and provide the support you need, even providing concrete assistance to large Russian companies that are looking to expand and become trans-national groups.
It is clear that encouraging new and effective companies to enter the market depends on having genuinely free competition here. The government has already drafted a new law on protection of competition. This law aims at genuinely combating the ability of monopolists to lay down their rules and helping to open up markets, including regional markets, for the many thousands of new Russian companies.
But a healthy competitive environment also depends on the appropriate corporate standards and effective self-regulation mechanisms within the business community itself. We have taken part in joint activities on many occasions and Arkady Ivanovich [Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs] and Yevgeny Maximovich [Primakov, president of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry], as the heads of the relevant business organisations, have often spoken about this.
Another important way to encourage development is to have a competitive tax system. We know that the business community has quite a few justified complaints about the tax authorities. The government has recently begun paying attention to this issue and is now preparing proposals on regulating a whole number of tax procedures.
This concerns, above all, tax control and tax administration procedures. I think the business community should take part in discussions on and expert examinations of these proposals.
Finally, another issue that we also spoke about last time – training. As you know, education reform is actively being discussed at the moment.
I want to ask you to take an active part in this discussion. I would like you to have your influence on this process because it is precisely the business community who should have an active influence on the labour market.
Today we face a clear problem of shortages of needed personnel, inadequate professional training, low standards and insufficient training in the right areas. In other words, there is a discrepancy between what the labour market is looking for and what our education system provides. We must work together to correct these discrepancies.
The last thing I wanted to say is that in the interests of stabilising property relations and preventing any return to the subject of further property redistribution, I think we could support the proposal to lower the legal prescription on privatisation deals from 10 to three years.
This would apply to all privatisation deals transacted by legal entities and Russian citizens. I think this is particularly important for citizens because here we are talking about the millions of our people who privatised apartments during the 1990s.
I think this would help the business community look to the future with more confidence and give it an incentive to build promising business development and investment plans, and I hope it will give the business community the long-awaited assurance regarding guarantees for property rights that we have spoken so much about.
That is all I wanted to say for now. Dear colleagues, please begin the discussion.