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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Controls Debt Payments

In an apparent policy reversal, the Foreign Trade Ministry has decided to retain control over which companies are allowed to import goods in payment of other nations' debt to Russia.

The ministry, which formerly planned to have developing nations' debts to Russia sold at a stock exchange to local businessmen, has now set up a commission to award tenders for the collection of goods from debtor nations in lieu of payment.

The debts of countries such as India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Pakistan to Russia are for the most part calculated in clearing currencies, which can only be used to purchase goods in those countries.

According to the Foreign Trade Ministry, hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Indian, Vietnamese and Indonesian debt was handed over to private companies at the first session of the new commission Friday.

Foreign Trade Minister Oleg Davydov said last month that selling debts on the stock exchange to the highest bidder was a way to provide the budget with quick revenues and Russian businessmen with the opportunity to market goods from India and other developing countries in Russia.

Davydov expected the debts to sell at 80 percent of their nominal value.

But Alexander Kurkin, an official at the Foreign Trade Ministry's export and import department, said the ministry now favored putting the debts up for tender because that way the government retained more control over the operations of companies that will own the debt.

"Ultimately, we need to control the way the goods are purchased and sold," he said. "A company should not have the chance to sell the goods in third countries in violation of bilateral agreements."

Russia's agreement with India stipulates that goods used in the repayment of debts can only be sold in Russia. Similar conditions exist in treaties exist with other debtor nations.

Kurkin said, however, that the Finance Ministry has not abandoned the idea of selling developing nations' debts on the stock exchange and that the government would have to work out a combination of both methods of dealing with the debts.

Finance Ministry officials were not available for comment.

According to Kurkin, stock exchange auctions have the advantage that they are a faster way of raising cash for the budget, since companies that are awarded a tender by the commission only pay the government after they have collected the goods from the debtor nation.

From the state's point of view, however, debt tenders are more profitable in the long run since companies have to pay for the whole value of the debt they purchase, rather than the 80 percent that Davydov suggested debts would fetch on the stock exchange.

Russian businessmen have worked for months to set up the stock exchange auction system. Almost a year ago, Moscow Central Stock Exchange officials submitted to the government a plan to have the debts traded at that venue.

Andrei Serazhetdinov, head of the brokerage firm Iskona-Biz, who initially proposed the plan, said earlier that officials should not be allowed to hand-pick companies which will use the debts to purchase imports.

Sergei Karpov, vice president of the Moscow Central Stock Exchange, said Monday that the Foreign Trade Ministry's new system deprived his exchange of a large potential profit.

But he said he also opposed the system as a matter of principle.

"We are against officials distributing the debts," he said. "We are for free trading."