Minister of Economic Development and Trade of the Russian Federation Mr. German Gref - Interview with Asean Affairs
Mr. German Gref was born on Feb. 8, 1964 in the Panfilovo Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan. He started his career in 1990 as a Lecturer in the Law Faculty of the Omsk State University. He currently is the Minister of Economic Development and Trade and has been since the start of the millennium. Mr. Gref was recently interviewed by Asean Affairs about the importance of ASEAN for the Russian Federation.
1. How important is ASEAN for the Russian Federation?
ASEAN holds a promise. It is the future. However, the action often lags behind the plans. Our trade with ASEAN countries is less than 1% of all the ASEAN trade with the rest of the world. Why is that? Because the region is too far away to be a buyer of Russian oil and gas. But then, our highest hopes have been pinned on trading in a wide range of hi-tech products, which we see as Russia’s best asset. We want to shift focus away from hydrocarbons in our economy to make it more balanced. And we see ASEAN as the region with the greatest potential for developing such trade. We still believe that. This is the focus of all our efforts in the region. But so far, I would repeat the word “promise” to assess the results.
2. If ASEAN is important, why has Russia focused all its attention on Indonesia, even after the end of the Cold War?
Well, I think you are exaggerating here. I would say that Malaysia was leading the way, effortwise. And don’t forget Vietnam, our very old friend. Singapore has the biggest trade, but this is partly due to overall trade growth of Russia and ASEAN.
3. The developing Asian economies are hungry for energy, and Russian oil and gas can meet some of those needs. How would you comment on that?
A great deal of work lies ahead of us in Sakhalin. We will discuss this in Singapore. But the Sakhalin project is about LNG, and the bulk of our exports is transported through pipelines. Southeast Asia is simply too far for that. That is the biggest problem. But experience shows that the high-tech component of the energy sector has the greatest potential for Russia and SEA. This includes technologies involved in oil and gas prospecting, laying down pipelines, equipment supplies, nuclear power stations and other areas, where we have a clear advantage.
4. What is the purpose of the Russia-Singapore forum to be held here in March?
It has several items on the agenda. Incidentally, this is the second such meeting. Among other issues, I think cooperation in the development of several Russian special economic zones is particularly important. Singapore has a lot of experience in this area. It was involved in the management of several special economic zones in China.
Several Russian regions will make presentations at the forum, like Tartarstan, Vladivostok, the Tver Region near Moscow, as well as Moscow itself. Developers from Singapore may be able to propose projects for the development of Russian cities. One interesting point: there will be a joint session of local, Russian, Indian and Chinese companies. We have close ties with them, and it’s high time to learn to work together in places like SEA.
5. Singapore is a loyal ally of the United States. How is Russia planning to build up cooperation with Singapore?
I sincerely hope that your question does not presume that we are reluctant to work with allies of the United States. I would be happy to see a joint Russian-American venture in Singapore or in any other place in the world, if it’s feasible. In banking, for example. And I would like to point out that our cooperation with Singapore is progressing very well. This is not my first visit here.
There was a 79% surge in bilateral trade in 2006. Of course, such growth is impossible when trade volumes are very big. In 2006, we only reached the $1.125 billion mark. But I can mention four icebreakers constructed on a Russian order in Singapore. I have already talked about our investment ideas related to special economic zones in Russia. And what I like most of all are several agreements and deals that concern hi-tech and education.
6. How would you comment on the security situation in South East Asia?
I would say that things here are much better than in many, many other areas of the world. This is very important for business. Many good ideas were discussed at the first Russia-ASEAN summit at the end of 2005, ideas that involved Russian technologies and various regional security systems, including prevention of natural disasters. ASEAN has been slow to accept these proposals, but I expect they will become a part of the overall development of Russia-ASEAN cooperation.
Interviewing on behalf of ASEAN Affairs by Mikhail Tsyganov(RIA Novosti - Jakarta) & S. Roy, Bangkok.