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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Woos Canadian Business Leaders

TORONTO - Russian President Vladimir Putin appealed to Canadian business leaders to invest in his country, saying Russia has made great strides to make its economy safe and attractive.

Speaking at a luncheon Tuesday of 1,500 business people in Toronto, Canada's financial center, Putin said Russia had opened up its economy and expected "reciprocity from our partners."

"Our economy looks more attractive than it did just a few years ago,"Putin said. He said his country had reformed is federal structure to become more centralized, had slashed inflation, had made major improvements to its judicial system and domestic business climate to help "Russia integrate into the world economy."

A new tax law with the lowest rate in Europe will go into effect in January 2001, Putin said. "This is a practical testimony, evidence of political and economic stability in Russia,"he said. "Political stability and order is followed by economic order and stability."

Russia's gross domestic product, he said, is on track to grow 7 percent by the end of the year and average real incomes rose 9.4 percent in the first nine months of this year compared with last year. Russia next year will have its first federal budget surplus since the 1991 Soviet collapse, he said.

"The spirit of cooperation between Russia and Canada has predestined us to be close partners,"Putin said, adding that Canada is the 19th largest investor in Russia.

Putin arrived in Toronto on Tuesday from Ottawa where he held talks with Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Chretien said Monday that he plans to bring provincial premiers for a trade trip to Russia in 2002.

Chretien cancelled a Canadian trade mission to Moscow two years ago because of Russia's economic crisis at the time. Canada's International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew led a trade mission to Moscow in June. During the trip, $800 million in deals were signed.

Canada supports Russia's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization.

Since the Russian economic crisis of 1998, Canadian exports to Russia fell to dlrs 116 million last year from $227 million in 1997.

About 40 men holding banners and placards demonstrated silently under a steady snowfall outside the Empire Club where Putin spoke to business leaders. "Save the children of Chechnya,"the largest banner said. "Russia, the many faces of evil,"said another. One called on Canada to impose sanctions on Russia because of the war in Chechnya.

Seymour Mendelssohn of the Mendelssohn Freight Services said he was encouraged by Putin's speech.

"We hope that he follows it through,"Mendelssohn said, adding that he will wait three to four months before he increases his business in Russia. He said the most serious problem he faced in his business with Russia was the different regulations that were in place in the individual federations.

David Mosher, president of High River Gold, has been doing business in Siberia since 1995. His company is the largest shareholder in a Russian gold company. He invested $3 million in 1995 and since then has increased his investment to $9 million. When he got involved, the Russian company produced about 50,000 ounces of gold a year. Now, it produces over 100,000 ounces, Mosher said.

Putin, he said, "seems to me to be the man that Russia needs at this stage.

"Russia has to become transparent and show the world that you can make investment and you can be protected from a legal perspective, (that) you will be treated fairly from a tax base then I think the sky is the limit,"Mosher said.

Putin on Tuesday reiterated his worries about U.S. plans for a national missile defense. The Russian leader was unable to persuade Chretien to reject the U.S. plan.