Jan Peter Balkenende (as translated from Russian): Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to welcome our honoured guests, President Medvedev and his delegation. It is wonderful that you have come.
We had an excellent evening yesterday at the Hermitage. Our delegations had a productive meeting this morning, and we have this meeting now with the heads of Dutch companies.
I want to welcome the heads of eleven big Dutch companies. I am very grateful to President Medvedev for this opportunity for Dutch businesspeople to meet with you and discuss business activity in Russia.
I recall past bilateral meetings, the meeting with President Putin, for example, in 2005, at the residence of Amsterdam’s mayor. I also recall the meeting in 2007, in Moscow, and the meeting with Mr Zubkov in April 2008, and it is a great pleasure to see Mr Zubkov here again today too.
I think these meetings are all helping to form a very useful tradition, and we can benefit from our contacts. This meeting with company heads shows the importance we place on economic ties between the Russian Federation and the Netherlands. I would like now to invite President Medvedev to say a few opening words.
Mr Medvedev, you have the floor.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister.
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,
I give my full support to my colleague, Prime Minister Balkenende, in what he says concerning the need for business contacts.
As someone who worked in business for quite a while, I think that business has the right to receive direct answers to its questions from the authorities in its own country and abroad. This is the way things work in business: direct questions usually get answers, and negotiations take place. The success of this or that business idea depends on the ability to establish a climate of trust between the partners.
Our economic relations have developed rapidly over these last years. In 1999, our bilateral trade came to 3.5 billion USD, a paltry sum, but last year, it reached a figure of 62 billion USD – quite an impressive result, I would say.
This year of course has brought its share of difficulties, but I am confident that we will not end up falling back to where we were ten years ago, and the Netherlands will remain one of Russia’s biggest trading partners along with Germany and China. Our efforts to develop business relations with the Netherlands are comparable in scale to the cooperation we undertake with these countries.
We have had success in developing our relations in the past. Now our ties are expanding to cover the fuel and energy sector, finance, insurance, metallurgy, agriculture, transport, construction, and IT.
These ties lay the foundations for long-term cooperation over the years to come. One good example is the Sakhalin-2 project that we launched just recently together with our esteemed colleagues (Mr Jeroen van der Veer was directly involved in this).
At the news conference with the Prime Minister just now we also mentioned energy sector projects such as Nord Stream. We have big projects underway with Campina, Heineken and a good number of the other partners present here today.
We have some good examples of cooperation in the finance sector such as ING Bank’s establishment of a private pension fund, and cooperation in other areas of finances.
Overall, I want to stress that all of you here today are our longstanding and reliable partners.
Of course, we also have a lot of serious development ahead. I would like to see the high technology component of our cooperation grow with every passing year. I would like to see European technology help us to develop our technology and vice versa.
This is why we place such priority on sectors such as biotechnology, information and telecommunications, nanotechnology, and various IT sector venture projects and development of new scientific approaches. But at the same time, we will also continue to build up our relations in the areas in which the Russian Federation has traditionally been strong.
I am also very pleased with the way relations are developing with the regions, that is, with the way individual companies and regions in our countries are working together. Arkhangelsk, Kaluga, Murmansk, Novgorod, Penza, Samara, Saratov and Sverdlovsk Regions, and the Republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan all provide examples of the strong ties we have built up. That is not to mention the oil and gas regions of Yamal, Sakhalin and so on.
There is a Dutch honorary consulate in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and a Dutch business support centre in Yekaterinburg, which I visited just recently. In Kazan, there is a Dutch-Tatarstan business contacts exchange, and there is a Dutch visa centre in Rostov-on-Don.
All of this illustrates the depth of our business ties. This does not mean that all problems have been solved. There are always things to improve, and the crisis too has brought its difficulties and is having an effect on financing, guarantees and insurance issues. But what distinguishes close partners is that they can find ways out of even the most difficult situations.
This morning, and yesterday evening, the Prime Minister and I discussed the way the financial crisis is developing and looked at the global economic situation. We came to the conclusion that there are some signs of improvement.
It is important now not to get wildly optimistic and take action not in keeping with what the economic situation demands. But at the same time, we have to look to the future too. We should not over dramatise the situation, and we have to work out where we are going to go from here.
In this respect, the deep-reaching business relations and strong economic ties between our countries are the best guarantee for the post-crisis period, the best hope that we will overcome together the economic problems confronting the world, confronting our countries, and move on to produce even better results.
I am pleased to be at this meeting and I wish you all a warm welcome.