Our government will create policy environment conducive to business and investment, says Manmohan

The 12th consecutive annual India-Russia summit saw the two sides taking more initiatives to boost economic ties, which have been an area of concern compared to the thriving cooperation in the nuclear, defence, science and space fields and international issues, both economic and political.

Although trade has doubled in a few years due to concerted efforts by both governments to involve the private and public sectors, the absolute volume remains low — around $10 billion annually.

In order to double this figure in four years, business delegations from both countries met here on Friday and signalling the importance of this option, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev addressed the gathering.

“We would like to know from you what you feel needs to be done to promote the trade and investment aspect of our relationship. Our government is committed to creating a policy environment that is conducive for Russian companies to do business in India, and to invest in India,” Dr. Singh told the industrialists.

Mr. Medvedev responded, drawing attention to the need to “work actively” in promoting bilateral trade and investment because the world economy is in bad shape.

Customs union

In addition, with “90 per cent of the issues resolved” in hammering out a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Russia, India has set its sights on fitting this concept with the customs union Russia has struck with Kazakhstan, the largest Central Asian country, and Belarus located in the penumbra of Europe.

“The initiative taken by Russia to launch an extensive economic modernisation and privatisation programme has opened new avenues for Indian companies,” Dr. Singh told Indian businessmen.

Steel project in Orissa

Already, the National Minerals Development Corporation (NMDC) and Russian metallurgical giant Severstal are setting up a large joint venture in Orissa to produce steel, Indian companies are discussing long-term agreements for supply of diamonds from Russia, and the Steel Authority of India and NMDC are interested in procuring coking and thermal coal from Russia. Indian firms are keen on importing copper and nickel, and there have been Russian investments in the telecommunications sector in India, and Indian investments in Russia's oil and gas sector.

But, as Dr. Singh put it, “there are vast unexplored areas that await exploitation. I refer in particular to the areas of pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, financial services, power, health, chemicals and aviation.”

The sincerity of both sides in promoting closer economic ties was reflected in the roll call of corporate chiefs who attended the business meet. From the Russian side, they included CEOs from the diamond monopoly Alrosa, leading software company Abbyy, state nuclear giant Rosatom, telecom and hydrocarbon major Sistema, aircraft building corporation Oak, titanium giant Vsmpo-Avisma, petrochemical major Sibur and two infrastructure firms Stroitransgaz (gas pipeline builders) and Zagranstroi (roads and bridges construction company).

From the Indian side, representatives were in attendance from state majors ONGC, ONGC Videsh, IFFCO, Canara Bank, the State Bank of India, India Potash and NMDC. From the private sector, Tata Motors MD Ravi Kant, the Sun Group's Shiv Khemka, Sudhir Mehta of the Torrent Group, Nandan Unnikrishnan from the Observer Research Foundation and Sreekumar Nair from the Confederation of Indian Industry were at the meet.

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