Eleventh Joint Session of the Russian-Arab Business Council

Eleventh Joint Session of the Russian-Arab Business Council

The Russian-Arab Business Council held its Eleventh Joint Session in St.Petersburg during May 30 – June 1, 2013. The session, and the Arabia-EXPO exhibition held within its framework were attended by delegations from most Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Palestine, Oman, Egypt, Sudan, Mauritania and Bahrain. The exhibition included national pavilions of the UAE (ranked first as the expo’s best pavilion), Lebanon, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Palestine, Sudan, and Mauritania.

The session was sponsored by the Joint-Stock Financial Corporation “SISTEMA” (platinum sponsor), EXPO 2020 Russian Bid Committee (general sponsor), Joint-Stock Oil Company “Bashneft” (official sponsor). Emirates Airline became the official carrier of the event.

Plenary Session

A number of prominent speakers, as well as representatives of Russian and Arab business circles, official institutions, and media took part in the Plenary Session that was chaired by Tatiana Gvilava, Director of RABC.

Sergey Katyrin, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Russia opened the Session by delivering a welcoming address sent to the participants in the event by Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia. Mr. Katyrin took the opportunity to personally welcome the participants and guests of the forum. He said that Russia places strategic value in the development of the economic relations with the Arab world, praising the region for “not only being famous for its vast resources, but for having promising markets for Russian products, services, and investments”. The President of CCI also mentioned that the growth of trade exchange between Russia and Arab countries had been stable, noting that the potential for this growth was not being fully used. At present, Russian exports constitute around 90% of the trade structure, and the Arab side is interested in smoothing this imbalance by increasing the share of Arab exports. Mr. Katyrin also expressed his hope that the Session would help Russian and Arab participants find new business partners, indicating that the most promising sectors of cooperation are fuel and energy complex (including nuclear power and renewable energy), industry, construction, transport and agriculture.

In his turn, Adnan Kassar, President of the General Union of Arab Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, Chairman of the Arab Part of RABC said that he felt great joy at the opening of the 11th Session of the Russian-Arab Business Council in St.Petersburg. He expressed gratitude to Vladimir Evtushenkov, the Chairman of the Russian side of RABC for organizing the event in Russia’s northern capital. In his speech, Mr. Kassar noted that during the last years Russia and Arab world faced a slowdown in the development of trade and economic relations, which was primarily a result of a number of geopolitical factors connected to the changes that a number of the Arab states witnessed during the “Arab Spring”. However the private sector in the region is hopeful of its possible role in financing, investment, construction and other sectors of economy. The Chairman of the General Union of Arab Chambers said that Arab states and Russia must activate the existing potential of economic cooperation, increase their mutual trade and joint share in the international financial system. Mr. Kassar praised Russia for having a wide experience in various sectors including electric power production, construction of dams, and agriculture, adding that a number of Arab countries had benefited from this experiences in modernizing their national economies. He confirmed that the Russian-Arab Business Council is ready for cooperation in order to promote development and well being of our countries and peoples.

Vladimir Evtushenkov, Chairman of the Russian part of the Russian-Arab Business Council, Chairman of SISTEMA Corporation said in his speech that he was glad to welcome many of his old friends as participants in the Eleventh Session of RABC. He acknowledged that when the Russian-Arab Business Council had been created 10 years before following an initiative of the then-President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Russia Evgeny Primakov, he did not expect the organization to exist for such a long time and achieve such a great success. Mr. Evtushenkov noted that difficult times came, with changes sweeping through both the Arab world and Russia. However both parties manage to find solutions to issues in their relations, implement mutually beneficial projects and raise the volume of trade exchange – an indicator that has increased tenfold in the last ten years. The Chairman of the Russian side of RABC expressed confidence that the Council’s work was a factor in this achievement. He praised the efforts of Adnan Kassar, the President of the General Union of Arab Chambers who had been actively contributing to the development of cooperation and friendship between the Arab world and Russia for more than 40 years. Mr. Evtushenkov said that his company, JSFC SISTEMA was ready for cooperation and for discussion of joint realization of investment projects in a wide range of sectors of business activity both in Russia and the Arab world.

Khalil Al-Khonji, Chairman of the Federation of GCC Chambers, Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Oman thanked in his address the organizers of the event and the Vice-Governor of St.Petersburg for the work done in order to prepare and hold the session and the accompanying exhibition. He also noted that he had taken part in the previous Arabia-EXPO exhibition that took place in June 2010 in Moscow as the Chairman of the Omani Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and at the moment he was also representing the Federation of GCC Chambers. Mr. Al-Khonji noted that there is a strategic dialogue between Russia and the GCC countries, and active contacts take place between representatives of official and business circles, hoping that the volume of mutual trade would increase. He said the problem of food security existed in the GCC region, therefore the regional countries were ready to welcome Russian agricultural producers entering their markets. The Chairman of the Federation of GCC Chambers named a number of sectors where cooperation between Russian and Arab companies would yield maximum results, including rubber, glass, and iron processing, development of telecommunications, hoping that the cooperation between our countries would increase following the present Session and Exhibition.

Vladimir Lavrentsev, Vice-Governor of St.Petersburg read a welcoming address of George Poltavchenko, the city’s Governor to the participants and guests of the Session and Exhibition. He noted that the Russian-Arab relations have a long history, expressing satisfaction at the fact that the events were being held in the Northern capital of Russia. Mr. Lavrentsev also noted that “Arabia-EXPO” exhibition was considered as a unique platform for direct dialogue between Russian and Arab businessmen and wished the participants of the event fruitful and successful work.

Jawad ben Naji, Minister of National Economy of Palestine said in his speech that the Russian-Arab Business Council was one of the main means of promoting the growth of the Russian-Arab trade, however the trade volume was limited and did not correspond to the high level of political dialogue between our states. Mr. Ben Naji praised the successful work of the Council during its ten years of existence and asked the participants to contribute more effort to the development of all spheres of cooperation. According to Mr. Ben Naji, despite difficult conditions, the Palestinian people have managed to save the functioning of the national economy and private sector which has become the main player on the local market. He added that the Palestinian Government was working hard in order to create a favorable environment for private business and investment, therefore he invited Russian investors to fund projects in Palestine, offering all the necessary assistance and exemptions on behalf of his Ministry. Mr. Ben Naji said that the Palestinian business circles were looking forward to cooperating with their colleagues in Russia and were ready to become a reliable partner for them.

Juma Mohammed Al Kait, Assistant Undersecretary for Foreign Trade Affairs at the Ministry of Economy of the UAE, said in a keynote speech at the Session that the UAE highly appreciates its relations with Russia and is aware of huge economic contribution of both sides. He noted that the UAE was ranked the second Arab country in attracting foreign direct investment at value of $7.7 billion in 2011. Al Kait said the volume of trade exchange between Russian and Arab sides stood at about $10.6 billion last year, of which the UAE alone possessed 17 per cent. He said that there are opportunities for increasing mutual cooperation in economic, financial, and technical spheres. Mr. Al-Kait noted that the UAE is ranked the fourth Arab state in turns of trade exchange with Russia, while the investment exchange between the two countries has reached $22 billion. He added that after the 10 years of its existence, the Russian-Arab Business Council “is another evidence for Arab region harmony with the Russian vision for future”.

Kazem Al-Husni, Advisor to the Ministry of Trade of Iraq noted in his speech that his country was represented by a big delegation with 26 businessmen and a number of officials. He said that the Iraqi side was ready to actively develop economic cooperation with Russia. At present, the cooperation between the two countries, according to Mr. Al-Husni, is already moving forward, with large oil companies from Russia entering the oil, energy and electric power generation sectors in Iraq, and political high level talks regularly taking place.

In his turn, Chairman of the International Business and Investment Association of Egypt Ahmed Galaletdin praised the Russian-Arab Business Council on behalf of his organization for its work to prepare and hold the Session. He said that the historic meeting between the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Mursi brought hope for many that the relations of strategic partnership between the two countries would return. He asked the Russian side to make an additional effort in order to increase the trade and investment exchange between Russia and Egypt. Mr. Galaletdin added that investors from more than 60 countries are working in Egypt, and Russian businessmen should consider the country a promising market for their projects.

Sergey Voronkov, Executive Director of ExpoForum Ltd, welcomed the participants of the Session and Exhibition and noted that the event was unexpectedly timed to a period of excellent weather in St.Petersburg. Speaking about the opportunities available for international business in the city, he said that St. Petersburg has a large number of Arabic language students, a representative Muslim community and is highly tolerant towards the Arab culture in general, therefore offering comfortable atmosphere for Arab companies willing to work in local markets.

As Mauritania became an active participant in the Joint Session of RABC for the first time, the President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture of the country Mohammad Ould Mohammad Mahmoud voiced his acceptance of ideas and proposals expressed by President of the General Union of Arab Chambers Adnan Kassar. In his speech, Mr. Mahmoud made a brief presentation of various economic possibilities available in Mauritania – a country reach in natural resources including iron, copper, phosphates, gypsum, gold, oil, gas, etc. Mr. Mahmoud added that despite favorable conditions for the development of agricultural production in Mauritania (notably, abundance of rain, ground, and river water), the sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP remains low, and the country has to rely on imports of rice, wheat, fruit, vegetables and other agricultural products. However the government of Mauritania has implemented a favorable taxation and customs policy and in general created favorable working conditions for the development of local and foreign business activities.

The Plenary Session was concluded by the signing of an agreement between the Russian-Arab Business Council and the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture of Mauritania. Tatiana Gvilava, Director of RABC, and Mohammad Mahmoud, Chairman of the Chamber, signed the document aimed at boosting the economic cooperation between the two countries.

After the Session, its speakers and guests took part in the Official Inauguration of the Third International Exhibition “Arabia-Expo 2013”.

Forums and Meetings

The business program of the event included a number of Forums, round-table discussions, and meetings of bilateral business councils, including the following events that took place with participation from Russian and Arab businessmen, representatives of ministries, official institutions, and media:

  • Forum “Tourism as one of the key vectors of the Russian-Arab cooperation. Business tourism”
  • Russian-Emirati Business Forum
  • Meeting of the Russian-Jordanian Business Council
  • Meeting of the Russian-Sudanese Business Council
  • Presentation of “Neutron Technologies” (Russia)
  • Forum “Development of infrastructure, construction, design, real estate, construction materials and transportation”
  • Presentation of “Gazprom Neft” (Russia)
  • Forum “Russia is a promising market for Arab agricultural products, and Arab countries are looking for supplies of Russian grain, food, technology, equipment and fertilizers. Halal products”
  • Forum “Cooperation in the field of energy, oil, and gas, mineral resources, and related services (under the auspices of the official sponsor – “Bashneft”)
  • Meeting of the Russian-Omani Business Council
  • Meeting of the Russian-Iraqi Business Council (under the auspices of the official sponsor – “Bashneft”)
  • Joint Session of the Russian-Mauritanian Workgroup on Business Cooperation
  • Meeting of the Russian-Moroccan Business Council
  • Forum “High Technologies and Innovations”
  • “Russia-Algeria” Business Dialogue

The official Closing Ceremony of the Third International Exhibition “Arabia-EXPO” took place on June, 1. Representatives of Russian and Arab business circles were given a chance to describe their experiences as participants of the event and received memorable diplomas and certificates of gratitude for participating in the development of Russian-Arab business relations. During the ceremony it was announced that the exhibition stand of the United Arab Emirates took first place as the largest and most beautiful national pavilion present at “Arabia-EXPO 2013”.