Sochi Forum the Place To Ink Regional Deals

It might not have had the global resonance of the World Economic Forum at Davos, but last weekend's Sochiinvestment forum did prove useful for the signing of major regional deals or at least for announcing them.

"So far, there have been 114 deals signed at the forum, worth a total of 14.4 billion euros ($21.1 billion)," Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina told reporters on Saturday in Sochi.

Organizers of the forum which drew a spate of complaints over poor planning, traffic jams and high hotel prices were unable immediately to provide a list of deals.

A search of various news sources, however, did turn up a wide range of contracts, from a sale of Soyuz boosterrockets worth $300 million to $400 million to the European Space Agency to a 1 billion ruble ($40,000,000) agreement between Sberbank and the Development-Yug corporation for the construction of a residential complex in the Krasnodar region.

Experts said that while the number of deals might sound impressive, many had been all but concluded long before the start of the forum.

"This is very serious money and these are some very serious projects," said James Brooke, the external affairs director and Sochi specialist atinternational real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

"It's unlikely they were cooked up and signed in the course of a single weekend," he said.

Instead, Brooke said, forums such as the one in Sochi are often used as deadlines for signing and announcing deals.

"There's always plenty of media and government people there, so it's a great place to announce your projects," he said.

Other deals included an $850 million investment by state-owned Development Bank in a Tatarstan fertilizer plant and a 3 billion ruble agreement for the development of an agrcultural-industrial complex in the Ulyanovsk region. The republic of North Ossetia announced that it had signed 15 separate deals, worth a total of 48 billion rubles.

According to Brooke, the regional emphasis illustrates a growing trend toward major investment outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg to areas like Sochi, which is the planned site of the2014 Winter Games, as well as other, less glamorous parts of the country.

"The area from Anapa to Sochi is being planned as Russia's Gold Coast," he said.

"There's also a huge hotel boom happening right now across the entire country. Soon you'll be able to hopscotch across Sakhalin and Kamchatka and stay in 3-star hotels the entire way."