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21 May, 2014 22:10

Sneak peek: St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

Thousands of businessmen, policymakers, and economic experts will descend upon Russia's northern capital on May 22-24 for the 18th annual investment forum. Less foreigners will attend this year, as CEOs have bowed to political pressure to cancel.

This year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is themed “Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation” and will focus on pursuing macroeconomic stability globally.

“Russia is willing to develop relations with all of its partners across a range of areas, based on genuine equality and respect for each others interests,” Russian President Putin said in a letter addressing the participants.

The Forum will kick off Thursday with the “Global CEO Summit” a panel of Russian and foreign economic and finance experts that will focus on international trade, investment, infrastructure, and financial regulation.

Big names in energy, finance, banking, retail, pharmaceuticals, and construction will be present.

Royal Dutch Shell’s Ben van Beurden, Total SA’s Christophe de Margerie, Statoil’s Helge Lund, E.ON Russia’s Maksim Shirokov, The Boston Consulting Group’s Hans-Paul Burkner, Deloitte’s David Owen, Deutsche Bank’s Pavel Teplukhin, Metro AG’s Olaf Koch, Glencore Xstrata’s Ivan Glasenberg, and Caterpillar’s Donald James Umpleby III all plan to be in St. Petersburg for the Russian Davos.

Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, will attend, but will not appear at the “Global CEO Summit” as previously scheduled, according to the newly updated program. On May 15 his name still appeared in the Global CEO Summit plan.

BP owns 19.75 percent of Russia’s state-owned Rosneft oil company. Previously Dudley told shareholders he remains positive about doing business with Russia.

Foreign attendance lower

Other foreign multinational CEOs have chosen not to make the trek to Putin’s hometown over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Foreign attendance is sharply down compared to last year.

Only 45 percent of the participants represent foreign companies, and 55 percent hail from Russian companies, according to a participant list published on the forum's website on May 19, 2014.

There is some logic to the lower-than-usual foreign participation this year, Konstantin Nemnov, a manager at TKB BNP Paribas Investment Partners in St. Petersburg, told Bloomberg News on Tuesday.

And of course “the Russian business elite will be interested in being represented,” Nemnov told Bloomberg.

The total number of foreigners at SPIEF this year will be 40 percent lower compared to last year’s forum, Kommersant reported.

‘Unprecedented’ pressure on American CEOs

Many US companies were pressured not to attend over the divisive issue of Ukraine. The pressure, according to Russian officials, is “unprecedented”.

The push on business heads to cancel their Forum plans came after the US imposed sanctions against Russsia, which blacklists politicians and businessmen from accessing any foreign assets. Russia understands why the US has chosen to ask delegates to skip the event in political solidarity.

"This is an attempt of the American government to influence the economy by its own convictions,” Prime Minister Medvedev told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday.

Who is coming?

Still, more than 200 representatives from the US will attend, according to the most up to date participant list.

Representatives from American companies such as, Boeing, IBM, Nike, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Citibank, Merrill Lynch, MasterCard, and Visa are listed as attending. However, some of the top CEOs and company presidents have backed out, and will instead send other representatives.

Most recently, Visa Inc.’s Charlie Scharf and PepsiCo Inc’s Indra K. Nooyi have both decided not to attend.

Citigroup’s CEO Michael Corbato won’t be present, nor will Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman. Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein will also bow out, Bloomberg reported, citing a source. Four other Goldman Sachs executives will attend.

US CEOs are instead sending lower level representatives to the forum, as President Barack Obama and White House staff personally pleaded they not attend.

Over 150 participants from the UK will be present, and more than 300 from the US.

Mark Weinberg, an Ernst & Young panelist from last year, will not be in attendance this year. Nine other representatives from the UK-based company will go to the Forum.

Even though many western forum-goers have bowed out, attendance among eastern partners is in general low. Only 32 participants from China are expected.

Following President Putin’s trip to Shanghai, China and Russia have strengthened bilateral economic and political ties, signing over 40 deals.

Hu Bing, the President of the Russia-China Investment Fund, will be present. The fund was set up in 2012 and in 2013 China's non-financial direct investment into Russia’s economy was $4.1 billion.

Over 4,000 participants traveled from 81 countries to the northern capital. Nearly $300 billion in contracts were struck at last year’s forum.

The Forum’s general partners are Sberbank, Gazprom, Rosneft, and Vnesheconombank.

Rosseti, Russia’s largest energy holding company, is a strategic partner and MegaFon is the official telecommunications partner.

Other partners are VTB Capital, Gazprombank, Ernst & Young, Novatek, Ulmart, Russian Railways, Fesco Transportation Group, En+ Group, Lukoil, Russian Agricultural Bank, Russez, Rusnano, Rusal, Inter Rao Ues, Tuva Energy Industrial Corporation, and Bank of Moscow.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is listed as the intellectual partner.

Mercedes Benz is the Forum’s official car sponsor.