President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Today we will be analysing the situation in the Trans-Baikal Region and talking about the social and economic development of this new region of the Russian Federation. We created it specifically in order to develop the economy of the area more effectively and improve the lives of its residents. The governor of the region Ravil Faritovich [Geniatulin] has just told me that in the very near future all the documents – I mean the Region’s Charter – will be approved and in effect this new Region of the Federation will have successfully negotiated all the stages involved in its creation. Once again I congratulate its inhabitants on this event.
The Trans-Baikal Region has a number of economic and geographical advantages. Of course the governor can talk about this in more detail, but certain numbers stand out. I would say that the uranium reserves that exist here – almost all of Russia’s uranium is here, 94 percent – constitute the resource base of the nuclear industry.
The region also occupies a leading position in certain types of minerals, which are strategically important for our country; I mean molybdenum, copper, tungsten and others. The region’s capacities and advantages, even taking into account the crisis-related problems faced by our country, will enable us to count on finding a successful solution for the region’s social and economic challenges.
This won’t happen all by itself. This can happen only if we all work intensively, if we choose our priorities correctly and if the activities of the regional government are organised properly and coordinated with the federal centre and the existing federal agencies.
What are the challenges? There are quite a number of them, and they are in part the same problems faced by the whole country, in part problems peculiar to the Far East and Trans-Baikal, and then there are of course the normal teething troubles that exist only in the Trans-Baikal. The problem of migration outflow continues to be acute, and unfortunately the outflow of able-bodied and economically active people continues. Of course they are not doing this simply because they want to change their place of residence, but because they do not completely like the living conditions that obtain here.
On the other hand, there are positive signs, like the high birth rate that has been achieved recently. This is a sign that young people want to secure a foothold, to work, and to raise a family here in the Trans-Baikal Region. It is clear that the economy is in a difficult situation, but there are plenty of growth opportunities. Not all these opportunities have been properly taken advantage of.
I think that here we have what is called the ‘problems of the past’ and lopsided industrial structures, and in general the whole structure of economy. Of course today reducing the region’s potential to being merely a transit facility would be manifestly inadequate. With only transit trade the Trans-Baikal Region will never rise to the required level.
A number of economic sectors are in trouble: in particular timber trade has been very slow to develop. Its share of the economy is just over one and a half percent, despite very decent stocks of wood, even by the standards of our country.
Without any doubt limited infrastructure is holding up the development of the region. We have begun to work on this and today we will be sure to talk about the development of infrastructure. Of course in today’s difficult circumstances it is hard to carry out large infrastructure projects, but we should not slow down this work given our current realistic capacities and limitations. There are also problems concerning the worn out state of fixed assets, which reduce return on investment.
I think we will be hearing statements by our colleagues who are responsible for the development of the region and for the development of certain sectors of the economy. First and foremost of course I think that we should concentrate on developing the real sector of the economy in the Trans-Baikal Region.
We'll be talking about some fairly large, important projects that are currently in the works. We have just spoken with the governor on this subject, including the prospects of building the Amazarsky pulp and paper mill. We will talk about other projects that are of interest at this time.
More than a quarter of GRP [gross regional product] is made up of revenues of the developing transport and communications sectors. This territory is responsible for 70 percent of export-import operations between Russia and China. Of course we must make full and prudent use of these opportunities. I think that we will be discussing this topic, although once again I should emphasise that the Trans-Baikal Region can in no way be limited to transit trade.
What are ultimately the main growth areas and what should be the focus during this conversation? Firstly, the development of transport infrastructure through the creation of transport corridors and the improvement of logistical capabilities, as well as the establishment of logistical centres.
Second, comprehensive development of the region’s mineral deposits is obviously important. Here too, of course, there are a number of major projects, and not all of them are easy to get off the ground; nevertheless, we need to think about the future.
Third, the development of the construction industry and housing. In recent years a lot has been done in this regard. Now the main thing is not to bog down the industry, not to create problems with the provision of housing already foreseen in the contracts between people and developers, and of course to think about the future and about the backlog that will have to be dealt with in the future.
Fourth, something that is quite relevant in times of crisis in every region, is the development of small and medium businesses. Here I don’t need to explain anything, since everything is generally clear.
And the fifth and last thing is the development of social infrastructure, something which is also a major priority for every regional authority, including the Trans-Baikal Region.
I will focus in particular on solving housing problems, for they are directly linked to the problems associated with emigration. Unfortunately at this point there are a lot of such problems: in the area of the Baikal-Amur highway alone a significant portion of the population lives in makeshift shelters. And, of course, we must do everything possible in the very near future, within the next three to five years, to rid ourselves completely of this dilapidated housing. I think that the Ministry of Regional Development will have proposals to make. We understand that this is obviously a dangerous situation in all respects and the series of sad events that took place recently could not be a clearer illustration of this.
Also of particular concern is the unsatisfactory condition of a large number of our educational institutions. Basically this is linked to a shortfall in municipal budgets. In 117 schools in the region there are no automatic fire alarms or public address systems to facilitate evacuation. This is absolutely unacceptable. Here we must proceed apace, this simply has to be done in the shortest possible time: either repair the current system or install something where there isn’t one.
Of course the situation is getting worse and most school buildings have seen a significant deterioration. Especially in rural areas the buildings are old and dilapidated, sometime 50, 60, 70 years old, sometimes even more. More than two thirds of the schools that are located in the municipalities are in need of major repairs and are in a bad condition. Once again let me reiterate: this is a real threat and we have to deal with it, even if the school itself is not classified as unsafe. We have agreed that if a school is classified as unsafe, it has to be closed immediately.
And finally, an important aspect of the development of the region’s social infrastructure involves the provision of gas supply in the Trans-Baikal Region because so far very little has been done in this area, almost nothing. We must think about what could be done as soon as possible. And, of course, all this should become an integral part of the development strategy for the Far East and a number of Siberian regions, which is now being prepared. The particular features of the Trans-Baikal region should be fully taken into account.