St Petersburg investment showcase looks beyond crisis

St Petersburg’s annual economic forum brought together people from 83 countries. Against a background of global financial crisis, the event had a lower profile - but the debates were more timely than ever.

For years it's been a showcase for investment in Russia. But the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum – 2009 focused on global economic issues.

Day One showed the need for collective thinking to overcome the crisis – with round tables giving a voice to the Arab World, alongside Europe and the United States.

Talks ranged from the role of the state in driving growth, and forming an integrated economic space, to stripping politics out of business.

Friday saw the official opening of the forum – President Dmitry Medvedev, calling for reform of the western-dominated, international financial institutions.

"We are quite certain that we cannot limit our efforts just to cosmetic changes, no matter how strongly some countries and probably the international financial institutions themselves hope this will be the case."

"Economics Day" later included sessions on energy resources, anti-crisis programs, innovation, and protectionism.

According to Minister of Economic Development Elvira Nabiullina, several billion dollars worth of deals were struck at the forum. But this year most were penned by domestic players.

Saturday was "Financial Day", considering the world after the crisis – the institutions, market rules and the system of reserve currencies.

Russia’s finance minister Aleksey Kudrin brought the theoretical debate down to earth – saying the Rouble is unlikely to emerge as a regional reserve currency.

"The shortest way towards the creation of a world reserve currency would be for China to liberalize its economy and allow convertibility of the yuan."

Kudrin was also not shy in forecasting another tough year ahead: In the first quarter of 2009, Russia's GDP has experienced a 9.5% decline compared to growth last year of 8.5%.

During the course of the forum, Business RT asked participants for their predictions on how Russia's economy will perform over the next 12 months. More than half of those polled said they expect the country's GDP to grow by June 2010.

Though it's still "too early to open the champagne" – as Dmitry Medvedev said – the 13th International Economic Forum was a platform from which participants could look at the world beyond the crisis.