Our reporter talked to the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Minsk, Alexander Surikov, about the major topics of the forum

Necessity of single economic base and unified social standards

Our reporter talked to the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Minsk, Alexander Surikov, about the major topics of the forum

Photo: Paul Chuyko

Mr. Surikov, what is the role of Belarus and Russia, and is it necessary to further develop regional ties? What is their importance and what are the results?

As you know, the current forum is the third in a row and its organizers are the Council of the Federation and the Upper Chamber of the Belarusian Parliament. The first forum, held in Minsk, was ‘trial’ while the second forum — in Sochi — was wider and more representative. Its significance is underlined by the fact that the presidents of the two states have taken part in the work of the forum. We expect even greater Russian regional representation in the third forum of regions and, naturally, all regions of Belarus will be represented. The preparation is very serious. I believe that alongside interesting discussion of many escalated issues a range of agreements may be signed between Belarusian regions and Russian federal subjects.

If we speak about the efficiency of regional cooperation, both Belarus and Russia have a very serious attitude towards this. I had to take part in one of such forums back in late 1990s when I headed one of the Russian Federation’s territories. It was already clear at that time that alongside interstate economic and social aspects of interaction, Belarusian authorities also ‘shape’ regional ties, between regions of Belarus and Russia. Therefore, there’re two levels of collaboration. This is quite unusual; some kind of such interaction exists between Russian regions and Kazakhstan, but not so widely.

As a result, we see that 80 subjects of the Russian Federation out of 85 (with two of these — the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol — becoming such subjects only recently) have some agreements on economic, social and cultural cooperation with the Belarusian Government or regions. Many working groups have been set up between overwhelming majority of the Russian regions and the Belarusian Government or the Belarusian regions; these groups work and determine the development of the signed agreement.

Let’s see how all this is being promoted from the point of view of inter-state economic collaboration — successfully or not successfully. It’s easier to me to compare this, since I have worked here for quite a long period of time. In 2006, the trade turnover between Russia and Belarus totalled $15bln, with hydrocarbons accounting for $9bln and regional ties between enterprises making the remaining $6bln. This is what can be called ‘pure business’ with high value added.

We’ve focused our efforts on production cooperation and integration of concrete Belarusian and Russian enterprises. The result of our interaction is $44bln of trade turnover in 2012, with hydrocarbons accounting for $15bln of this amount while the remaining being primarily reached via regional cooperation, i.e. we’ve received a growth from $6bln to $29bln. Interregional and co-operative ties between enterprises have increased 5-fold: this is live economy.

Over recent years, around 30 joint ventures have been set up in Russia, which use Belarusian spare parts. For example, the Saransk Tractor Plant produces up to 5,000 tractors in cooperation with MTZ (Minsk Tractor Works) while Bryansk Plant of Agricultural Machinery manufactures up to 3,000 harves-ters in co-operation with Gomselmash. Moreover, Nizhny Novgorod Elevator Assembly Plant and Mogilevliftmash are jointly producing a thousand lifts. The Technical Hydrocarbon Plant from Omsk finishes the construction of technical hydrocarbon facility in Mogilev. These are the examples of cooperation and economic integration.

These ties have formed a colossal number of new jobs which bring re­venues to corresponding budgets: family, district, city, state, pension funds, etc.

Regional ties have also produced 2,500 joint enterprises with Russian capital in Belarus and more than 1,000 companies with Belarusian capital in Russia. All these have helped increase trade turnover between our states from $6bln to almost $30bln, without taking into account hydrocarbons.

At present, prices for hydrocarbons have fallen on world markets, as have prices for metal, timber and food. The trade turnover between Russia and Belarus is slightly falling yet working places remain. These enterprises work and production facilities don’t stop, thus preserving basic economic backgrounds in both states.

Saransk Tractor Plant works in cooperation with MTZ

Nevertheless, a task was formulated at the forum to view interaction on mitigating negative consequences in economy, thus underlining certain concern…

Probably, we do have certain concerns. Undoubtedly. We should understand that prices for hydrocarbons and the remaining types of raw materials have fallen and we’re unable to de-stimulate consumer’s demand worldwide. However, there’re our internal issues which can be discussed at the forum, including through representatives of regions of Russia and Belarus.

We’re rather actively working to restore and improve the industrial image of Russia and Belarus. The countries of the Eurasian Economic Union should be also involved in this project, so there’s what to think about. It’s necessary to restore in Russia and to raise the existing industrial level in Belarus; otherwise, we won’t get into new technological mode. Meanwhile, basic branches do remain. I don’t know, probably, they will soon begin printing socks; however, tractors, load-carrying machines, rye or grain can’t be printed, so industrialisation and agro-complex are high on the agenda. We’ve changed our industrial image compared to the Soviet period, including by using regional cooperation but the world doesn’t stand on one and the same place.

We see what’s going on in the global economy. The largest transnational companies prevail on the global economic arena and in recent years this domination has been geopolitically shaped, e.g., the transatlantic trade agreement, which is being discussed by the USA and the EU. The Transpacific Economic Partnership Agreement has been already signed. It follows that we, Russia and Belarus, as well as our Eurasian partners, would be ‘compressed’ by transnational giants from the two sides. However, let’s not forget that Russia is a WTO member and Belarus will soon join it, and our EAEU partners are also members of this organization. We can’t ignore the WTO rules and, probably, we may start losing the markets on our territories to these giants. Of course, they have greater ‘run-up’: related to innovation, investment and resources.

Our task is to integrate our enterpri-ses. Unfortunately, activities of Russia and Belarus are not very successful in uniting MAZ and KAMAZ. We just need to sit down, attentively figure out what is an integration process and unite our efforts in order to be able to compete with transnational corporations. This is what should be done. All discussions should be built in such a way that it was beneficial to both states. It’s necessary to further expand integration ties which we’ve launched.

Why do Russians often say ‘Belarusian’ or even ‘foreign’ Belarusian product? Where’s our commonality?

Probably, competition regarding some varieties of goods is necessary, e.g., in agriculture. We can’t create a single Belarusian-Russian kolkhoz. Small enterprises will be competing with each other; this is necessary to improve the necessary quality of produce. Such internal competitive work is vital to enter external markets where we compete with western enterprises.

We need to promote the idea that all goods manufactured within the Belarus-Russia Union State, as well as within the Eurasian Economic Union are ‘common’, as in the EU. It’s not all plain sailing in the EU either mind you, for instance, when a product is made in the Baltic States and needs to find a market in France.

In one word, there’re many economic topics for discussions here. We should fill the market with our own products, including meat, milk, grain… We should make-out balances and forecast the manufacture of produce.

Bryanskselmash — in cooperation with Gomselmash

The previous forum was dedicated to the formation of the single industrial and agro-industrial policy. Do we have it or not?

Major issues have been discussed and now the Union State, its apparatus, and the governments of the two states are involved in preparation of these documents.

Where is the major trouble here?

The most important is that there’re opponents to these issues. Until recently, the understanding of industrial policy in Russia was absent. We didn’t understand this: what for do we need this if the market would regulate everything itself. However, the world market is being regulated by transnational corporations which have their own corresponding policies…

What is single industrial policy in your understanding?

This is a single system of privileges, preferences, technological standards. This is balances.

This time, the forum of regions will pay attention to social and humanita-rian topics. Surely, because of the economic crisis, now isn’t the best time for such themes?

Social policy presupposes not only bonuses. Social policy is everything that is part of society’s life, starting from education, healthcare, culture, pensions, etc. The thing is not only in money but also in the efficiency of its use and, finally, in the efficiency of the social sphere. For example, together with you we’re trying to formulate a single educational standard. In Russia the Unified State Examination was approached primarily from the position of struggling against corruption. However, maybe, this isn’t the most important in education. Meanwhile, Belarus has introduced tests. Thus, Russia and Belarus have different approaches towards this issue. However, we need to create single ­educational standards and this means that we need to develop common approaches towards subject matters in schools. We need to sit down and discuss which basic knowledge a secondary school alumni should have. We should sit and discuss this issue from common positions rather than simply giving its solution to education ministries in Belarus and Russia.

The same refers to healthcare. We’ll soon have a single market of medical preparations. Recently two manufactu-rers of Arpetol — Russian and Belarusian — had a row. Two factories are produ-cing one and the same medication, so there’re issues in this respect. These include substitution of foreign medicines, issues on active pharmaceutical ingredients and approaches towards healthy lifestyle. The task here is the same: to bring standards closer. Since we’re in the Union State it would be nice to have common approaches towards pensions. In line with the Russian Constitution, authorities can’t worsen the quality of life when adopting a law. At present, men in Russia retire at 60 years old and this should be preserved.

The forum will also tackle upbringing of youth. What are major tasks here?

Last year, the education ministries of Russia and Belarus adopted a decision regarding youth policy. Meanwhile, recently Belarus has hosted a youth confe-rence which tackled common approaches in strengthening brotherly ties between Belarusian and Russian youngsters. At present, this is at the organizational level but we need to come to community of youth organizations. The Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) exists in Belarus while a youth branch of the All-Russia People’s Front functions in Russia. It’s necessary they liaised with each other.

The ‘Student Brigades’ Belarusian-Russian project was launched and it would be nice that student construction movement was expanded. This is live communication of youth and there’s also an opportunity to each some money for new academic year. All these need to be further expanded. However, the most important is to expand communication across pragmatic topics, as well as cultu-ral and military-historical. We’re a single nation. Russians and Belarusians have the same roots and the Kievan Rus was the basis, so we need to have a reaso­nable approach towards these issues and not to break under the pressure of our colleagues from the West because they are not interested in further strengthe-ning of the Slavonic unity. Ukraine is an example to this.

Science and scientific cooperation is another important theme at the forum. In Belarus, we’re proud to have the High-Tech Park, which sells software all over the world. Russia also has huge scientific potential. Which opportunities currently exist for Belarus and Russia to enter the markets of third countries with joint high-tech and science-intensive products?

We’re already liaising in nuclear sphere. Russia is known to sell innovation products in nuclear engineering all over the world. I’m convinced that the Belarusian nuclear power station, that is being currently jointly constricted, will provide access to new technologies and then space. Russia occupies one of the first space positions in the world and Belarus also begins to develop space technology.

In order to achieve the manufacture of joint product we need to unite our efforts. We need to think further because innovations are not only nuclear or space technology or software. They can be for example embodied in ordinary machine building. Innovations in housing-and-utility sphere and in public transport will also reduce to the fall of costs on services for people. We need to think how our joint scientific potentials can be developed and launched into practice. Then this practice, in the form of goods, will go to the markets of the third countries. This is the task of academies of scien-ces, governments and businesses. Why do I speak all the time about the necessity of large transnational business? Because it will be seriously involved in innovations. If I sew only two pairs of boots in the workshop monthly I won’t have money for innovations.

Such projects can be developed only in the Union State, can`t they?

They can be better developed in the Union State because this is a unity of potentials, efforts and thoughts. There’s a political will; it’s necessary to focus on practical actions.

Thank you!

Interviewed by Nina Romanova
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