C o m m e n t a r y Month of Economic Diplomacy in Moscow

For a second week running Moscow has been hosting conferences on the foreign economic theme. Although their composition and participants somewhat vary, the problem they discuss is one - how to combine business and diplomacy. This week, it may be recalled, the State Council met to discuss foreign economic activity of Russian regions. This Wednesday the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs will meet. The themes in principle are similar, only this time the focus will be not on the regions but on Russian companies.

Both meetings highlight the key role of the Foreign Ministry - a speech by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the general idea of the need to coordinate efforts. In the first case between diplomacy and the regions, and in the second between diplomacy and business unions. But in both cases the talk is about protecting and promoting the interests of Russian business on external markets.

A veritable month of economic diplomacy if one may say so. And that is right, because bad is the diplomacy that only reacts to critical situations and good the one that has time to earn money for the country.

Sources close to the Union's leadership say that questions that need to be examined at the meeting are as follows. First, the country without proper diplomacy will not have sound international business and vice verse. The second and main question - how to coordinate the work of the state foreign policy department and private business quarters. This is the purpose of the Union's session.

The crux of the matter is that efforts of diplomacy and business should be coordinated in advance, and even on a planned basis. As is done in the rest of the world. But the rest of the world apart, it is not yet clear how such a task can be accomplished in our conditions. What do power-business relations look like in this country in general? Where are our priorities - protecting the national producer /for example, the ill-fated cars/, or protecting the national consumer? When will it be clear that in the struggle for external markets the priority of Russian technological exports, not only raw materials exports, is a reality, rather than a dream?

In short, the matter concerns forming an economic and industrial policy of the country as a whole, not just relations between the Foreign Ministry and Russian businessmen. After all, elaboration of such a policy is a matter not only for a few officials, but a process being carried out "on the run".

In principle, not only in the 1990s but even now Russia pursues its external policy in expectation of Russian business growth, in hope that while all bargained agreements come into effect, business "on the whole" - and the government - will have framed an articulate foreign economic strategy. It is with that aim in view that Moscow has become a full-scale member of the Group of Eight, is negotiating its WTO entry, working out the concept of a common European economic space with the EU and so on.

It may be remarked that now is the time to win back the markets lost in the 1990s both for objective reasons /collapse of managerial structures and lack of a private sector/ and for subjective reasons /voluntary abandonment of markets without any grounds/.

Indeed, let us calculate the losses following losing, sometimes for a time, positions in countries that were our traditional partners. There were losses that seem inevitable. Eastern Europe, for example, or the Baltic countries. But how can one justify curtailment of work in Africa or Mongolia, the crisis of the early 1990s in relations with India, or surrender of the power market in North Korea to the Americans in 1994, or slumps in trade with China and the neighboring region - South East Asia, with Syria, with Cuba, and so on?

So let us repeat that now is the time for foreign economic expansion following several years of retreat. Up to and including Russian business participation in privatization in Georgia and Ukraine, Mongolia and Belarus, Lithuania and Poland and in many other countries /a purely political job where inter-state diplomacy is indispensable/. Even five years ago it was difficult to imagine that something like this would be happening.

Although, it is true, even today it is noticeable that Russian business still has not discovered dozens of small Latin American, Asian and African countries, which afford a lot of business opportunities - and businessmen from other countries can use them. These are countries and regions where diplomacy continues to build castles in the air like "permanent negotiating mechanisms", or "economic cooperation structures" in expectation of Russian businessmen filling them and followed by materialization of ideas.

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