President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I would not want the talks with my colleagues today to be remembered as being the day that we spent the whole time discussing Russia’s victory in getting the right to host the football World Cup, although all of the public events today have indeed begun with this. In any case, I want to thank our colleagues for all the kind words spoken in Russia’s address today, all the more so as I realise how hard it is for some of my colleagues to speak these words. But then again, politicians are brave people.
Colleagues, I want to say a few words about today’s summit. It was an excellent meeting and it has a direct bearing on the EU-Russia Industrialists’ Round Table’s work. We worked on the things that you have asked of us, the issues that you raise in your recommendations. Of course, I particularly want to note today’s successful step forward in the negotiations on our accession to the WTO. Indeed, here at this forum bringing together big business from the European Union and Russia, I want to say how grateful I am to my EU colleagues, to the Presidents of the European Union and the European Commission, for their active cooperation on this issue of late. This has produced very good results. We are also grateful to our American partners, to the President of the United States, for what has been achieved this year, and for keeping as agreed the promises that were made to me personally. Far from all international partners always behave this way.
Turning now to the tasks before us, of course we need to keep working on removing the barriers that are slowing down business development in our countries. One of these barriers is the visa system, which is something we discussed today. We have made the utmost effort to get this process moving, and I think that some progress has been made. Resolving this issue depends largely on the EU leadership’s political will and on the business community’s attitude too, because all of the steps we are doing to make it easier to get visas, work permits, and eventually abolish visas altogether will ultimately help you and other people in the European Union and the Russian Federation. I think this is therefore in our mutual interest, and I hope that you will encourage this process too.
Now for a few words on the situation in Russia. Overall, things are developing as forecast, and I briefed my partners on all of this today. Russia’s economy has been showing signs of picking up since June. We have stabilised the economic situation and now expect annual GDP growth of around 4 percent, perhaps a little more or a little less. We will see. In any case, this is not a bad result. Last year, of course, saw the economy take a substantial tumble, and this was also something we talked about today.
I think that we have built up a solid safety margin over the last decade, because we experienced difficulties over the crisis period and still do so now in the post-crisis period too, but these are not insurmountable problems. We exchanged views today on the situation in particular EU countries and what is being done to support the euro, because this is certainly in our interest too. We use the euro not only as a reserve currency but also as a currency in trade, and so I think this exchange of views was very useful and we will continue this practice, of course.
Another matter that we often discuss, related to the visa issue, is the change in legal status of those who come to work in the Russian Federation. This is also a question of barriers. I recently held a commission meeting on this matter and discovered, to my amazement, a whole series of essentially Soviet-era rules that must be abolished immediately. They concern foreign specialists’ work-related travel within the Russian Federation. You can rest assured that I have given the necessary instructions and these rules will be abolished very soon. We have taken some other steps too. We have changed the law on foreigners’ legal status. Foreign specialists are now exempted from the quota system and can receive a work permit for up to three years with possibility of subsequent renewal. According to the data up to November 1 this year, 814 permits have been issued so far to highly qualified specialists from the EU countries. This is a sizeable number when you consider how complicated this whole process was previously.
We are taking forward our partnership for modernisation. This was the subject of much discussion with my colleagues today. I think this really is a very important subject. We are creating special modernisation hubs, in particular the centre at Skolkovo, and a number of the companies represented here today have kindly agreed to take part in developing this centre. A law has been drafted introducing various breaks and incentives for the centre’s residents. I hope this will all have an effect. The main thing is that this establishes the system that will produce hotbeds of growth and develop new, modern technology in our country.
I want to thank you all for preparing such in-depth proposals for today’s roundtable. We are already working on these issues. I looked through the recommendations. As far as Russia’s joining the WTO goes, we already have the agreement we need. The new agreement regulating economic relations between Russia and the EU is certainly an important matter, as Mr Chubais said just before. We are ready to address it, as you said, ‘in more aggressive fashion’. The question, of course, is one of compatibility of particular approaches and the need to comply with a whole number of agreements currently in place.
Speaking with the journalists today, I said that Russia’s membership of the Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan poses no obstacles for the WTO and for Russia’s accession to this organisation. We belong to this Customs Union, and we will join the WTO individually, as my colleagues remarked on today. But of course, all of this also involves various obligations and commitments that we have made, and in just a few days I will meet with the colleagues representing the countries with which Russia will establish a common economic space, our new common market.
Of course we hope that this market will be attractive for the EU countries too. This would give them the opportunity to work not just in Russia, but in Kazakhstan and Belarus too, and under a common set of rules, which of course offers certain competitive advantages. At the same time, looking at the new agreement that will regulate Russia’s economic relations with the EU, of course we must also take into account this Customs Union’s existence, as well as that of the future Common Economic Space.
I think the practical initiatives you propose are useful. The initiative to expand cooperation on technical standards, for example, seems to me something that might look a simple thing, but is actually of vital importance, as we have just changed our legislation in this area. I oversaw this process myself, got our ministers and business representatives together. We agreed that EU standards would be applied in Russia in cases when we do not have regulations of our own in place, and this covers a broad range of cases. What’s more, all future regulations and standards will have to be in line with EU standards. But at the same time, all of you here have work to do, because a number of areas are over-regulated and some of these rules could be changed or even abolished, while other areas are under-regulated.
On the subject of intellectual property, we realise that this is an important matter for Russia’s innovative development and modernisation. We have overhauled a number of policies in this area of late. As I said not long ago, I was more inclined to take a conservative line when it came to regulating intellectual property in Russia, but I have changed my view somewhat since then. Why was I more of a conservative in this area, because I took part in my time on drafting the current Civil Code. I think that we need to open up more to the market, and the intellectual property provisions set out in our civil law should take greater account of modern business demands, including the various international rules in this area, such as the most frequently cited TRIPS [Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] agreement and several others.
I already spoke about giving our citizens greater freedom of movement, and this is something we will continue to work on. At the same time, I stress that our final goal is visa-free travel and simplified rules for European Union citizens working in Russia, and for Russian citizens working in the EU countries.
Once more, I thank you for all your hard work. I am sure that your efforts will help to bring our countries and peoples closer together and create a harmonious environment for business development.