The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Minsk, Alexander Surikov, pays special attention to this issue in preparing and organising the 3rd Forum of Regions of Belarus and Russia. The goal of strengthening regional interaction and production co-operation remains topical.
Mr. Surikov, on what does Belarusian-Russian regional liaison rely?
Speaking of the efficiency of regional co-operation, Russia and Belarus take this aspect seriously. In the late 1990s, I took part in such liaisons regularly, and headed a Russian territory. It was clear even then that, apart from international economic and social aspects of interaction, the Belarusian authorities were focusing on regional ties between Belarus and Russia. There are two levels of co-operation. At the moment, 80 Russian Federation subjects (out of 85) — including the two which have recently become subjects (the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol) — have agreements on economic, social and cultural co-operation with the Government of Belarus, or its regions. Working groups have been established, uniting the overwhelming majority of Russian regions, the Belarusian Government or Belarusian regions, which work and determine the development of signed agreements.
Is this system a success?
Let’s investigate it from the point of view of interstate economic co-operation. In 2006, turnover between Russia and Belarus stood at $15bln: $9bln from hydrocarbons and $6bn from regional links between enterprises. This is an example of excellent business, with high added value.
We focused on industrial co-operation and integration of certain Belarusian and Russian companies and, as a result, turnover in 2012 (which was the ‘peak’ for our economy) reached $44bln: $15bln from hydrocarbons and the remainder mainly from regional co-operation. In short, growth from $6 to $29bn was registered. Inter-regional and co-operative ties of companies rose five-fold, showing dynamism.
In Russia, around 30 joint ventures using Belarusian components have been established in this period. Among them are Saransk Tractor Works (in co-operation with MTZ, it produces up to 5,000 tractors), Bryansk Agricultural Machinery Plant (in co-operation with Gomselmash, it manufactures 3,000 harvesters) and Nizhny Novgorod’s Lift Plant (which makes up to a thousand lifts jointly with Mogilevliftmash). In turn, the Russian Plant of Technical Carbon, from Omsk, is completing construction of a technical carbon plant in Mogilev. All are examples of co-operation and economic integration.
Social aspect also in place…
These ties have created a tremendous number of jobs: hundreds of thousands. They generate profit for families, district, city and state budgets, as well as the pension fund. Owing to these regional ties, 2,500 joint ventures with Russian capital have been established in Belarus and over a thousand with Belarusian capital operate in Russia. All this has helped increase turnover between our countries from $6bln to almost $30bln (excluding hydrocarbons).
At present, world prices for hydrocarbons, raw materials, metal, timber and food are falling. Trade turnover between Russia and Belarus has slightly reduced. However, jobs remain. These businesses operate and production processes continue, as do both of our basic economic fundamentals.
Belarus and Russia have agreed to strengthen co-operation to overcome negative economic effects.
Certainly, this is true. We must understand that prices for hydrocarbons and all other raw materials have fallen. We can’t raise global consumer demand, and we do have our own internal problems. We’re working hard to restore and improve the industrial image of Russia and Belarus. It’s important to involve Eurasian Economic Union countries in this process, so we have much to consider. In Russia, it’s necessary to restore the existing industrial level and, in Belarus, we need to raise this level. If we fail, we won’t keep up with modern technological trends. The basic industries remain. While items like socks may soon be printed, it’s impossible to print a tractor, a power machine, rye or corn. With this in mind, industrialisation and the agro-complex are vital. We’ve changed our industrial image since Soviet times, making the most of regional co-operation. However, the world is progressing, with major transnational companies dominating the global economic arena. In recent years, this has gained a geopolitical aspect. Moreover, we shouldn’t forget that Russia is a WTO member and Belarus will soon join. Our Eurasian Union partners are already members of this organisation and we cannot ignore WTO rules.
Our task is to integrate our businesses. Belarus and Russia are yet to unite MAZ and KAMAZ. We need to carefully investigate our integration and unite efforts to compete with transnational companies. We should discuss how to make our strategy beneficial to both countries. We need to further enhance our integration ties.
Why do Russians often say ‘Belarusian’ or even ‘Belarusian foreign product’, when there should be no difference between us?
Competition is probably at the heart of this, especially regarding agricultural products. It’s impossible to set up a common Belarusian-Russian collective farm. Small enterprises will compete and this is necessary to enhance quality. Internal competition is important to enter foreign markets where Western companies compete with us.
We need to agree that all Union State products, and those of the Eurasian Union very soon, are ‘common’ — as in the European Union. Saying this, it’s not easy for products made in the Baltic States to reach France, within the EU. Economic issues remain under discussion. We need to fill the market with our own products — including meat, milk and grain. We need to prepare balance sheets and forecast output.
How far do we have a single industrial and agricultural policy?
Key issues have been discussed and Union State officials and governments are involved in wording these documents. Our common industrial policy, in my opinion, is a single system of balanced privileges, preferences and technological standards.
To produce common products, we need to unite efforts. We should think of how to unite, develop and put into practice our scientific potential. Later, this practice (in the form of products) will enter the markets of third countries. This is the task of academies of science, governments and businesses. Why am I speaking about the need to achieve a major transnational business? This is because the latter would deal with innovations more seriously.
Is it possible to develop some projects exclusively within the Union State?
Some are best developed in the Union State, as it’s a union of potential, joint efforts and thoughts. Political will is already observed; now, we should focus on practical action.
Thank you for the interview!
By Nina Romanova