Vladimir Putin: Dear ladies and gentlemen!
First of all I wish to thank warmly Her Majesty the Queen, both for the invitation and the opportunity to meet today, the city of Amsterdam's authorities, and Mr Burgomaster for the very warm words of welcome he gave to our delegation and to Russia.
Unfortunately, my colleagues and I are politicians of today and not as thorough as those of the past; therefore I cannot go to a ship-building yard like Peter the Great did and start mastering different trades there. But I am glad to have the opportunity to meet with people who are actively and successfully working in the Russian Federation. They make an essential contribution to the development of Europe's economy, to your country's economy and to that of the Russian Federation.
The Netherlands are definitely one of the major investors in Russia. And I would especially like to greet industrialists and businessmen who already work in the Russian market.
I expect that our meeting will further encourage your interest in the Russian economy. Both facts and figures point to this. It is known that since the 12 th century Dutch merchants have occupied dominant positions in our country's foreign trade balance.
Mr Burgomaster already mentioned that at the time of Peter the Great's trip Dutch merchants counted on special relations with Russia and on special trade preferences, including in the flow of goods. And we must say that they received these trade preferences. Over centuries our relations developed successfully. We always admired how Dutch entrepreneurs did business; we admired their prudence, honesty, diligence and openness.
Today our economic cooperation is also developing successfully. Already in the first seven months of this year bilateral trade is approaching 15 billion dollars. We have reason to believe that we will attain around 20 billion dollars. Most likely the trade volume will attain 25 billion dollars. Let me remind that last year it was only 16 and a half billion. Each year the growth attains record numbers: in the past five years the volume of Dutch capital investments in the Russian economy increased not by 20, 30 or 40 percent, but by 20 times. This is an absolute record. It is especially important that more than two thirds of these investments are direct investments into the Russian economy.
It is true that the main portion of these investments is presently in the fuel and energy sectors. But Dutch capital has actively begun to diversify into other sectors of the economy and to successfully cooperate with Russian regions. Bashkortostan and the Arkhangelsk, Kaluga, Murmansk, Novgorod, Penza, Samara, Saratov, Sverdlovsk regions are the most appealing ones. Both the Governor of the Sverdlovsk Region and the Governor of the Kaluga Region are members of our delegation.
For example, just between the Netherlands and the Sverdlovsk Region the volume of trade in the last year was more than 675 million dollars. I know that it was around 400 million with Petersburg. All in all these are quite good indicators.
Today there are favourable opportunities to implement joint projects in the field of high-tech. Both Dutch and Russian sides are interested in this. We are interested in creating venture funds, and in closely cooperating with the high-tech branches when we do so.
During this visit we will the sign the Joint Action Programme between Russia and the Netherlands for 2006–2007. One of its goals is further developing mutual investments. Work on a new agreement on the encouragement and mutual protection of investments will also continue.
I know that our experts are engaged in quite a difficult dialogue. I hope that it will arrive at a positive conclusion and produce good results for both sides.
I am convinced that the investment climate in Russia itself is of utmost importance to you. I have no doubt that you are closely following the development of our country's economic situation. Nevertheless, I would like to very briefly point out some figures and tendencies that, in my opinion, are the most important ones.
In 2004 Russia's gross domestic product grew by 7.2 percent. This year it is expected to grow by 6 percent. Let me point out that over the past few years Russia's economy has grown by an average of no less than 6.1 percent per year.
The internal demand is increasing every year, which is proof of the growth of citizens' real incomes and the volume of consumer credits.
In 2005 Russia easily surpassed the peak regarding payments of external debts. In January the remainder of a debt to the International Monetary Fund was paid ahead of schedule. In July and August of this year another part of a debt was repaid ahead of schedule to the Paris Club creditors. The gold and currency reserves of Russia's Central Bank considerably exceed the volume of the country's external debt and are worth more than 150 billion dollars. Regarding the ratio of external debt to GDP, Russia's indicators are similar to those of European countries with developed economies and Russia is even significantly overtaking some of them.
Thereby financial stability has been achieved and the surplus is guaranteed both by the federal budget and the balance of payments.
We give great value to the protection of property rights, improving tax and customs administration, the development of small businesses and reducing bureaucracy in the economy. When I say that we attach a great deal of significance to reducing bureaucracy in the economy it means that we recognize that we really must solve these problems which, unfortunately, still exist.
Let me emphasize that all these steps are intended to construct a market that is transparent, supported by legal guarantees and as open as possible for international cooperation and foreign investments.
Dear ladies and gentlemen!
This is what I wanted to say at the beginning. I think that we are gathered here to talk freely about all the issues which are most interesting to you.
I would like to point out that both myself and my colleagues within the delegation – the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Science and Education, the head of one of our leading banks, Sberbank, which already has concrete plans to work with Dutch partners, the head of one of the largest private banks, Alfa Bank – certainly, we are all at your disposal and hope that the dialogue will be both useful and interesting.
Thank you for your attention and I invite you to join our discussion.