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Meeting with representatives of the Russia-ASEAN Business Forum

May 20, 2016, Sochi

Vladimir Putin took part in a meeting of heads of delegations at the Russia-ASEAN summit with Business Forum representatives.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, friends, colleagues, heads of state and government, it is a pleasure to welcome you all.

The official part of the summit’s programme is beginning now and it is not by chance that the first event is this meeting with business community representatives from Russia and the ASEAN countries. This highlights yet further the priority we place on developing trade and economic cooperation between Russia and the ASEAN countries.

Our common task is to bring our economies closer together, strengthen trade and investment ties, and create the conditions needed for launching new projects. We are working in close dialogue with the business community on this and will continue to do so.

I note that trade between Russia and the ASEAN countries came to $13.7 billion last year. This is quite a modest figure compared to trade with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The ASEAN countries’ trade with China comes to $80 billion, for example, and Russia’s bilateral trade with China comes to a similar figure.

The current level of investment cooperation also falls short of our potential. We have total investment of around $11 billion. It is therefore important to reflect together on what we can do to improve this situation and outline a consistent road forward for developing our business cooperation.

We should not forget that we have accumulated considerable experience in carrying out bilateral joint projects. Thai companies are investing in Russia’s agricultural sector, for example, Vietnamese companies in oil and gas production, and companies from Singapore and Brunei have been investing in innovation.

Russian business has been investing in mining ventures in Indonesia and Myanmar. We are working in peaceful nuclear energy development in Vietnam and plan to do the same in Laos, and are investing in the high-tech sector in Malaysia, to name a few examples.

I am sure that we have all we need to give a new boost to our business ties. Russia has drawn up a roadmap that encompasses 57 concrete projects aimed at establishing joint technology and innovation alliances.

We can boost our fuel and energy cooperation to next level. ASEAN countries’ needs for hydrocarbon resources as well as electricity are growing. Russia can satisfy this growing demand by supplying energy on a long-term basis. We can offer our partners new-generation nuclear power plant projects. We are willing to cooperate in the sphere of power generation in the broad meaning of the word.

Our cooperation in transportation looks promising. Russian businesses are interested in participating in modern railway construction projects, which we are already doing in Indonesia, where a $1.9 billion railway project is currently being implemented in Kalimantan.

Modern satellite navigation systems are the call of the times. We suggest doing this on the basis of the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system.

Russia is also willing to join any development initiative in ASEAN. I am referring above all to our assistance in the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which stipulates the development of energy, transportation and information infrastructure in the region.

At the same time, we invite ASEAN businesses to take part in our priority development programmes in the Russian Far East. We have created 12 areas with a favourable business environment and the free port of Vladivostok. In addition, we are modernising the Trans-Siberian Railway, a large railway system connecting European Russia with the Far East and, by default, with Asia. We have launched a large-scale programme for the development of the Northern Sea Route, which is the shortest commercial route from Asia to Europe.

We have been working to create the most attractive conditions for doing business, cutting red tape, lowering the tax burden and monitoring the investment climate in Russia’s constituent entities. This helped us move up from 120th to 51st place on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index last year.

I would like to say that our economy has remained stable in an unfavourable external situation. In this connection, I want to say that the Government’s anti-crisis measures have helped stabilise the key sectors of our economy and our financial market.

We have also maintained a low unemployment level (less than 6 percent), moderate foreign debt, which is one of the lowest in the world, and a trade balance surplus of $160 billion in 2015.

The Bank of Russia’s decision to introduce a flexible ruble rate has allowed our economy to adjust to new conditions and to maintain a high level of gold and currency reserves, which totalled about $391.5 billion as of May 1. As a result, we reached the bottom of the crisis in 2015, something the experts agree on.

Colleagues, the role of regional integration associations in the global economy has been increasing. The Eurasian Economic Union, where Russia is a member, and ASEAN have created common rules for the free movement of goods, services, capital and manpower.

The Eurasian Economic Union’s regulations are based on the World Trade Organisation’s rules. The EAEU is a huge market with 180 million consumers, a market that has been duly assessed by our Vietnamese friends with whom we have signed a free trade area agreement. Interest in this cooperation has also been shown by Singapore, with whose Prime Minister we discussed this issue yesterday, as well as by other ASEAN countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

I believe we can eventually create a common free trade zone between the EAEU and ASEAN. This could be our contribution to the development of an Asia-Pacific free trade zone. Of course, we will discuss this idea with our EAEU colleagues, in particular Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.

Another promising sphere of regional economic integration could be the coordination of the EAEU, ASEAN, the SCO and China’s Silk Road Economic Belt project.

I am convinced that our business communities will continue to contribute to the development of multifaceted Russia-ASEAN economic cooperation. In this connection I would like to invite everyone here to the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held on June 16–18, and also to the Eastern Economic Forum, which Vladivostok will host on September 2–3.

Colleagues, thank you for your attention. I hope you establish interesting contacts, ones that will be beneficial and useful for the development of your businesses.

Thank you for your attention. I am happy to pass the floor to Prime Minister of Laos Mr Sisoulith, current chair of ASEAN and coordinator of the Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership.

Thank you for your attention.

Prime Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic Thongloun Sisoulith (retranslated): Your Excellency, President Putin, leaders of ASEAN, distinguished representatives of the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum.

It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to meet with business representatives from ASEAN Member States and the Russian Federation.

I would like to congratulate the Russian Federation on the successful convening of the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum as the third largest economy in Asia and the seventh largest economy in the world with a population exceeding 146 million.

I believe we have great opportunities to promote trade and investment with our dialogue partners, particularly Russia.

ASEAN is now moving towards building the ASEAN Economic Community. We have the will to keep moving forward and turn ASEAN into a common platform for production. That is why it is so important now to develop economic and investment links between ASEAN and Russia.

All representatives of the Business Forum can contribute to this process, as they are a driving force that can improve the quality of this cooperation. Therefore, I hope that this Business Forum will help to further promote and implement these ideas, and strengthen the economic community between ASEAN and Russia, as well as between Russia and other countries on a bilateral basis by tapping the existing potential.

Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen (retranslated): Your Excellency, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. Your Excellency, Prime Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mr Sisoulith. Your Highness, distinguished leaders of ASEAN countries, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great honour for me to attend this remarkable event. Let me briefly share with you my impressions. First of all, congratulations to the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum on convening this event that allows investors from Russia and ASEAN to find and explore new opportunities for economic cooperation and investment.

Second, I would like to express my appreciation for the recommendations developed by representatives of the business community. In my opinion, these recommendations are quite important and timely. In the current circumstances, they will be conducive to fostering competitiveness, integration and trade between the two regions.

Third, taking into account the importance of the recommendations and requests from the business community, I would like to ask ASEAN and Russian ministers of economy to work together with the ASEAN Secretariat in order to take these requests and recommendations into consideration, and to develop necessary measures that would be an appropriate response to them.

Fourth, with regard to this meeting, I would like to suggest that we hold events like this one on a regular basis along with the ASEAN-Russia Summit, in order to improve our understanding of the situation and explore the opportunities for further developing our community.

Fifth, Russia may play a key role in restoring and upgrading infrastructure in Cambodia. This happened before, in the 1980s, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, and Cambodia would like Russia to take charge of this again. Specifically, we welcome participation of Russia's private sector in new areas of economic development in Cambodia.

Cambodia is proud to have achieved much in the field of social and economic development over the past two decades. These achievements, as well as the Cambodian Government's commitment to support economic stability, economic development, a favourable economic climate and ease of doing business — all of this opens up enormous opportunities for the business community, investors from all countries, including Russia.

Sixth, Cambodia and other ASEAN Member States, which are now building the ASEAN Economic Community, starting in 2016, have to understand that this community offers incredible opportunities for all members. In this context, investing in Cambodia would give one access not only to its market of 15 million people, but also to the more than 600 million consumers in the Asian markets, as well as to over one billion consumers in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Moreover, Cambodia has so many industries they could potentially invest in. I am referring, in particular, to agriculture, processing industry, engineering, assembly facilities, consumer goods, and the services sector, and other manufacturing sectors. There are special investment support tools in Cambodia, particularly its openness, easy access, skilled workforce, favourable economic conditions, and natural resources. All these elements add up to the potential of Cambodia.

The Royal Government of Cambodia is always ready to negotiate and discuss how it can best assure the success of your investment. Thank you!

Vladimir Putin: I'd like to give the floor to President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sergei Katyrin and Chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Oudet Souvannavong to present the final document of the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum.

President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sergei Katyrin: Thank you. Mr President, heads of ASEAN states and governments, colleagues,

Yesterday we held the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum. The high level of the organisation and the forum participants' activity have reaffirmed the importance of our agenda, primarily the goal of consistent and comprehensive development of Russia's trade and economic relations with ASEAN countries.

The forum was preceded by a number of functions during which we discussed with our partners the most promising spheres of cooperation and ways to enhance its effectiveness. In particular, in April of this year, Russian business missions went to Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam and Vietnam. On May 16 to 18, Moscow and St Petersburg hosted bilateral business forums and roundtable discussions with business leaders from Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand. I would like to thank bilateral business councils, partner countries' chambers of commerce and industry, the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Russian Export Centre for the assistance they provided to these events.

These meetings created the right conditions for productive and frank discussions at yesterday's forum and covered a wide range of practical issues to promote our cooperation. During our themed discussions, we outlined the most promising areas of our cooperation — energy, transportation, infrastructure, agriculture and research and technology cooperation. We also highlighted cooperation in high technologies and held constructive discussions on cooperation in banking, finance and investment.

The economic development of the Russian Far East is yet another promising area for cooperation, as we see it, and a strategic goal for Russia. The appropriate involvement of the ASEAN countries could serve as a driver of economic growth for national economies and promote sustainable development of the Asian continent as a whole. We hope the relevant discussion will continue at the Eastern Economic Forum, which will be held in Vladivostok in early September.

The day's reports, as well as discussions on the sidelines of the Business Forum, focused on changes in the international trade system triggered by the actively unfolding integration processes in the Asia-Pacific region: the start-up of the ASEAN Economic Community; the newly-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement; and the negotiations on the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership based on the ASEAN framework.

During discussions, special attention was paid to the Eurasian Economic Union — a joint integration project involving Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — and the opportunities for establishing multi-faceted contacts between the EAEU and ASEAN.

Discussions at the forum have shown that our ASEAN partners and we agree on the need to strengthen the coordination of regional integration processes. Last year, we signed a free trade agreement between the EAEU and Vietnam, as has already been mentioned today. We have submitted to our ASEAN partners a recent initiative on creating an economic partnership for coordinating the efforts of Russia and ASEAN countries in trade policies, investment cooperation, trade in services, and interaction in infrastructure, transportation and logistics.

On the whole, all forum participants demonstrated their resolve to work towards practical results and their interest in the further promotion of integration processes in the region and agreed on the need for coordinating the existing and new integration structures for the purposes of sustainable and balanced development of our trade and economic cooperation. We believe that one fine day we may witness the creation of economic partnership between the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Eurasian Economic Union and ASEAN.

In light of the above, we have prepared and unanimously approved a final document, a declaration, which comprises the initiatives of our business communities on strengthening cooperation between Russia and ASEAN countries. A number of events will be held in Russia and in our partner countries jointly with business leaders from each ASEAN country. Our business communities are resolved to actively develop trade and economic ties between our countries.

Thank you for your attention.

Chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Oudet Souvannavong (retranslated): Your Excellency, Your Highness,

I would like to say on behalf of business delegations from ASEAN countries that we are pleased to be here. I am also grateful to our colleagues from the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

We have come here for the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum. During the forum and on its sidelines we held discussions with our partners, including with the Russia-ASEAN Business Council. We talked about the need to implement our roadmap. We believe that private companies should lead the implementation of this roadmap. Moreover, we also discussed the possibility of expanding cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and ASEAN countries. The idea is being considered, and we are glad at this opportunity to analyse it too, including in light of the [EAEU free trade] agreement that has been signed with Vietnam.

One more issue on our agenda concerned joint investments, in particular in infrastructure and new technologies, as well as in the coordination of our policies in the area of information technologies. All of this is very important.

In addition, we should promote ties between the business communities of Russia and ASEAN countries. We are supporting this process and hope that the events we plan to hold will help us strengthen ties between our businesses. The first such event will be held in Moscow. We also support the recommendations made by the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Thank you, Your Excellency.

Vladimir Putin: Friends, colleagues,

We have gathered here today to mark the 20th anniversary of the Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership. We have 20 years of cooperation behind us. Still, we all remember that Russia and many ASEAN countries have much deeper ties that go back to the more distant past. This is a very good framework for developing relations on a modern footing.

We are also very enthusiastic about our partnership with other member states, with which neither the Soviet Union nor Russia perhaps has ever had close relations before.

Let me assure you that we have an interest in improving our relations and will do whatever is necessary – I am now mainly addressing the business community – to create conditions for our cooperation both in Russian and ASEAN markets.

I cannot but support the representatives of businesses who spoke before me in saying that (and I mentioned it in my opening remarks), certainly, we must think about expanding our partnership and must not limit ourselves to the state borders of Russia and ASEAN. We must consider global events and what is happening in the Asia-Pacific. All the positive aspects of integration that are capable of expanding your business opportunities – which, in turn, means the expansion of opportunities for us as representatives of the state – will be employed to benefit economic development and, therefore, the citizens of our governments.

I wish you success and thank you for your cooperation at this meeting. Thank you very much.

May 20, 2016, Sochi