Lasting Legacy as an Honest Broker
- Jan. 13 2014 18:00
You are already very busy after less than two months in the job. What are the main issues?
I think the World Trade Organization is a major theme because WTO is a process and we're at the beginning of that process. It will affect businesses in Russia and developments will be coming at us.
Are companies seeing the benefits yet?
We tend to hear more about the teething problems than the successes. That's the way the world works. There is a slowing trend in economic growth that creates pressures and that will create issues.
There has been quite a lot of politics which, for business, is the background noise. Does that noise impact the willingness of executives to go ahead with investments?
I think the noise makes it seem worse than it is. From talking to member companies it seems that many of them are doing just fine and the relationship with the government is good and constructive. The work I've seen at Amcham in the month and a half I've been here is businesslike and intelligent. Russia faces problems and some of the draft laws have unintended collateral consequences. We're often dealing with ways to articulate those draft laws so they don't cause collateral damage. The response from the Russian side is they seem to welcome the experience that our member companies can offer.
How challenging is the economy at the moment?
The Russian economy is slowing but it is still growing and many business people here, when they go to global meetings, say that compared to Europe things look a lot better here, so Russia is still a bright spot and a very important market.
How does the Customs Union affect Russia's openness to global markets?
I think the Russian economy has been quite open for some time, for at least the past decade if not more. Russia is already part of a region, actually several regions given its size. Of course the most important region for Russia is Europe and Europe is going through its deepest recession for a generation. Russia's strength is that there are other regions in which it is active.
Do U.S. and global companies help diversify the Russian economy or encourage its focus on oil and gas?
If you were in Moscow 15 or 20 years ago you would see how companies have given a push to the service sector, the abundance of consumer goods and as a provider of technology in the major industries like mining, oil and gas.
Can U.S. companies give a boost to Russia's rather limited small and medium size business sector?
Definitely, and those companies will follow their big cousins into these markets. I have seen European companies doing it and U.S. companies are no different. They are the suppliers to the big companies. Russia is pushing companies to do more locally. I think you will see companies localizing and when they do, they have supply chain issues and the solution often involves SME companies.
How do you try to influence the Russian government?
One of the great accomplishments of my predecessor Andrew Somers, is that the chamber is considered an honest broker and is approached at the levels of the Russian government that makes the decisions and laws, and they seek our advice. I am very impressed by the respect the chamber has and will do everything I can to maintain and enhance it. It is important for us to ask the advice of our companies — we have a list of members that would make any organization proud — and they have a lot of expertise that they are willing to share.