We had the honour of interviewing Mr. Valery Shlyamin, who has headed the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in Finland, and asked him five questions regarding Finnish–Russian relations.
1. You have been heading the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in Finland for four years. During this period what kind of changes have you witnessed in Finland’s attitude towards Russia?
I find that interest in Russia has recently increased in Finland. It seems to be connected to the fact that Russia has now overcome the difficult period of reforms of the early 1990s.
Finland has been among Russia’s most important trade partners for as many as 30 years, and over the past four years, the volume of trade between our countries has increased by a factor of 2.5. According to our estimates, it will reach a record level of USD 17.5 billion in 2006.
We also estimate that Russian orders have helped create approximately 50,000 new jobs in Finland. It was good to see that our estimates were very close to figures presented in Simon-Erik Ollus and Heli Simola’s book Russia in the Finnish Economy, which was published in the Sitra Reports series.
However, it would be a mistake to ignore the problems that exist in the economic relations between Finland and Russia: long truck queues on the national border, double invoicing, etc. These matters have been extensively investigated, and we are currently waiting for decisions to be made by the relevant parties, including the EU. Delays in decision-making may be detrimental to the trading environment.
2. What kinds of thoughts does Finland’s EU Presidency, the results of the negotiations regarding Russia–EU relations or bilateral relations evoke in you?
Finland’s objective for the EU Presidency was to optimise co-operation on all levels. If we focus on the task of systematic and gradual development of Russia–EU relations, and not on achieving ground-breaking results, the outcome of Finland’s EU Presidency can be considered good.
At the informal meeting of Heads of State or Government, enhancing the strategic partnership between Russia and the EU was raised as the central theme. A steady trend has been to form long-term, mutually beneficial relations that are based on shared values and interests. One of the focuses in the meeting was collaboration between Russia and the EU in the field of energy. Russia and the EU are natural partners in this field. Our mutual dependency serves only to strengthen the energy security of the European continent while creating favourable conditions for rapprochement also in other fields.
Owing to Poland’s veto, Finland was not able to secure the mandate to start negotiations on the EU-Russia treaty during her EU Presidency. Co-operation in all fields will, however, continue as normal based on the existing Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. It is a great achievement that EU–Russia relations have improved in the way that they have since the Roadmap for Four Common Spaces was adopted in 2005. These questions were also on the agenda of Finland’s EU Presidency.
What was remarkable about the Helsinki Summit was the meeting between Russia, the EU, Norway and Iceland, marking a new milestone in the development of the EU’s Northern Dimension policy. The documents adopted at the meeting will enable an efficient development of these trends in partnership. It would seem to me that Russia, Finland and other countries in the Baltic and Barents regions have a lot of work ahead in order to create a competitive investment climate in the northernmost parts of Europe.
3. How do you see the Northern Dimension programme – has it got anything new to offer Finland and Russia?
The dialogue that Finland, the initiator of the Northern Dimension, and the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland have engaged in over the past three years has produced positive results. The Northern Dimension will form a foundation for genuine partnerships between all parties involved. Many very encouraging words and wishes were expressed at the Helsinki Summit.
I would, however, like to draw attention to the economic aspect of the Northern Dimension. As far as I can see, it is economic partnership, in particular, that will mainly determine whether the Northern Dimension will be a concept for success or not. Without diminishing the significance of partnerships in environmental and social issues, I find that economic partnership is the key sector in EU-Russia co-operation that has the best potential to improve the competitive edge of Northern Europe.
The EU–Russia Energy and Transport Dialogues, which were launched in October 2005, were major steps in the road towards large-scale co-operation. Russia’s imminent joining of the WTO will in my opinion give an impetus to an interlocking of economies. We hope that the Russian Federation will not be seen in the context of the Northern Dimension only in its traditional role as the supplier of raw materials. Our country is prepared to participate in future partnerships through the various international innovation programmes and projects.
The poor planning of the funding and credit-granting mechanisms in the Northern Dimension creates certain concern. This is an area in which we would expect the EU to come up with new initiatives and proposals. If Russia were to carry greater weight in European funding and credit institutions than today, it could significantly enhance the investment projects in Northern Europe that are beneficial to both parties and in this way give an added boost to the Northern Dimension.
It is also necessary to address the prolonged dialogue on removing customs barriers and to co-ordinate measures to abolish misconduct.
4. Which spheres of collaboration between our countries do you see holding new potential?
In the near future, Russia and Finland are sure to make further achievements in the field forest industry, for example, in co-operation projects involving wood processing and the renewal of Russian forests. Many Finnish companies already have advanced project plans to be implemented in Russia. Once the new forest legislation has been passed, conditions for the implementation of such projects will improve.
Equally promising is shipbuilding, specifically for arctic conditions. Finland and Russia could respond to the challenge posed by South Korean and Chinese shipbuilding industries merely by joining forces in research and production. Another field that I see as holding great promise is logistics and transport. Our countries could benefit greatly from the development of international transit traffic, provided we are able to co-ordinate our technology, investments and tariff policies.
Building technology and science parks in Russia in collaboration with Finnish companies has also shown great potential. The first projects in St Petersburg have already been launched. The main interest is currently in IT and bio and health-care technologies. I am also looking forward to successful co-operation in the field of energy.
5. What message would you like to send to the Finnish visitors to Sitra’s website?
First of all, I would like to wish all our Finnish friends and partners (current and future) the warmest wishes for a happy new year!
I hope that Russia will strengthen its position as the leading trade partner of Finland. Living and working in Russia will become an increasingly attractive and interesting option in the coming years. This view is supported by the surveys of major international organisations as well as by comments from entrepreneurs.
The Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in Finland will continue its work towards promoting the development of economic relations between Finland and Russia on all fronts.