Russia and US steal show on first day of APEC summit
The political and economic heavyweights of the Pacific Rim are meeting under Hawaii's tropical sun for the annual APEC forum.
The summit gathers leaders of 21 economies whose shores are washed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean. It offers an opportunity to focus on new ways of boosting trade between their countries and improving the investment climate, thus strengthening economic ties.
The summit is to touch on everything from establishing a Pacific-wide free trade zone to, perhaps inevitably, the eurozone crisis.
And it has given the presidents of Russia and the US a chance to hold talks.
APEC rushes in to help euro
The Russian president stressed that his country supports the euro and the countries of the eurozone, and said he shared the view that the euro as a reserve currency plays a fundamental role in the global financial system.
“We [Russians] are big euro fans,” Dmitry Medvedev said, and predicted that the crisis in the eurozone would be successfully resolved.
At the same time, he said that creation of a sort of “inner circle” within the EU would definitely harm the currency.
“If the creation of the so-called Europe 2.0 process is initiated, it will cause irreparable damage to the very idea of the euro,” he explained, adding that paring down the number of eurozone member countries would “not mean the euro will become more reliable.”
Medvedev also welcomed the EU’s recently-elaborated strategy for saving the eurozone.
ABM in Europe – no consensus in sight
On the controversial issue of the NATO-US missile defense shield in Europe, Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama once again failed to find common ground. They agreed their positions were too far apart and planned to proceed to further consultations on the matter.
“Over recent years we have seen real progress on certain questions where we haven’t seen anything positive for decades, like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” President Medvedev noted. “If we apply the same effort to the problem posed by the European ABM and other burning issues, we will – I’m sure about this – get a result,” he stressed.
President Obama, for his party, made no mention of the European ABM system in his exchanges with journalists.
Russia and NATO agreed to co-operate on matters of anti-missile defence in Europe in November 2010 in Lisbon, but the talks got stuck after the American side refused to give legal guarantees that the system to be deployed in Europe would not target Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.
Russia to finally join WTO
In a speech at the Honolulu summit, President Medvedev announced that Russia had finally negotiated all obstacles and will officially join the WTO in a few weeks’ time. It has taken 18 years for Russia to surmount all the blocks to membership, making its accession the biggest event since China joined the WTO exactly 10 years ago in 2001.
“I’m glad this has finally happened. I do hope there will be no more surprises and Russia will join other WTO member states,” the Russian president confided. “It is long overdue and we are ready. Putting our efforts together, we will at last finalize the process in the nearest future.”
Dmitry Medvedev promised that Russia’s economy would get closer to international standards of free trade, encouraging its businesses to be more competitive.
Lifting of Jackson-Vanik amendment promised again
Following what has become a trend in Russia-American relations, President Barack Obama made a promise to take steps towards cancelling the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment which has poisoned bilateral trade relations since October 1974 – a full 37 years.
The amendment was introduced in 1974 to penalize countries with non-market economies which restricted emigration.
It was noted that the same promise had been made many times before by a succession of senior American politicians from Senators to presidents, yet things are not moving.
President Obama, too, promised to “start consultations with the Congress” to finally kill the amendment.
The American president positively evaluated the success of President Medvedev’s administration in ushering Russia into the WTO, and stressed that American business is interested in eliminating the Jackson-Vanik amendment “to guarantee that American companies and exporters can profit from Russia’s membership in the WTO.”
“The global economy and finance are experiencing trouble now, and the better we are co-ordinated, the fewer barriers there are to free trade, and the clearer the instructions to financial bodies – the sooner we’re going to beat the current recession and also joblessness, which has emerged into a serious problem,” the Russian president observed.
Protectionism is eradicable – at State level
Dmitry Medvedev spoke against protectionism as the main threat to the effectiveness of the world economy. Russia does not plan to impose over-protective sanctions and is already solving the problem of excessive state influence over the national economy.
He promised a new stage of privatization of the oil and infrastructure sectors of the economy.
“We welcome foreign investment, including into the extraction of natural resources,” he said, adding that “the list of restrictions has been shortened considerably.”
The Russian president also announced the creation of a Russian Fund of Direct Investment, where representatives of the leading global investment institutes will define further strategy in the area.
“Today, the global economy is far from being perfect, but I hope it is now far less vulnerable to a global crisis than it was back in 2008,” he concluded.
Russia’s gas supply to China will equal Europe’s
President Medvedev revealed his prognosis that the volumes of Russian gas delivered to China will soon equal those being piped to European customers.
“Evidently, China needs much more hydrocarbons [than Russia delivers now] and that’s exactly what we are talking about now with our Chinese partners,” Medvedev revealed.
He said that there are two pipeline projects to China, the final obstacle being, as usual, the price, but as soon as it is settled, the projects will be kicked into life.
“The potential gas supply to China will absolutely match that of western Europe,” the Russian president emphasized.
Japan to invest in Kuril Islands
Dmitry Medvedev met several of his counterparts on the sidelines of the APEC summit, among them Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Naturally, this spurred journalists to ask President Medvedev about the perspectives of Russia-Japan relations.
President Medvedev said he welcomed Japanese investment in the Russian economy, particularly its participation in business projects in Russia’s Far East.
“There are problems that burden our relations – the lack of a peace treaty and our territorial dispute,” Medvedev acknowledged, referring to the disputed Kuril Islands. He called for relations to be built “on historic facts and documents.”
He stressed that the Kuril Islands are a Russian territory and that therefore State officials are free to visit them whenever they need to. He admonished Japan for “getting hysterical” about the issue.
“We are not against Japanese investors and specialists coming to the islands to jointly develop them,” Medvedev pointed out.
“Politics must follow the economy because the economy defines our life, whereas politics happens to spoil it,” he said.
Russia’s stance on Iran and Syria unchanged
Presidents Medvedev and Obama discussed the Iranian nuclear program and agreed to shape a bilateral document urging Iran to meet its international obligations concerning its nuclear program.
Also discussed was the situation in Syria and the Middle East as a whole, together with the gradual withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
Only a united APEC will succeed in the 21st century
Russia intends to ensure the success of the APEC summit it will host in Vladivostok in 2012, when it takes its turn presiding over the organization.
“Our country is firmly set to maintain the success of the APEC forum, as well as free and open trade in the whole of the Pacific Rim,” President Medvedev stated in a special video message recorded by the leaders of the summit.
“We’re ready to demonstrate our technological, intellectual and resources potential to negotiate joint modernization projects and make visible the perspectives opened by the creation of the Common Economic Space of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus,” Dmitry Medvedev stressed, considering “effective integration to become a locomotive of economic development and a guarantee of stability of the global economic system.”
“Only by uniting economies can APEC countries become leaders of economic progress and civilization, and achieve success and prosperity,” the Russian president concluded, saying that the 21st century world is a complex one, therefore an alliance of technology, finance and human resources would guarantee the APEC countries its rightful place among the nations of the world.