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International Forum "Promoting the Eurasian Economic Integration: a Factor in Business Cooperation"

On May 15, 2020 the International Forum "Promoting the Eurasian Economic Integration: Factor of Business Cooperation" was held within the framework of Russian Business Weeks. The participants of the forum, which included high-ranking representatives of the authorities, business community and international institutions, discussed in the format of a videoconference the prospects and opportunities opening up in the next five-year cycle of the EAEC development, talked about how to combine the political priorities of the development of the Eurasian institutions with the economic ones and what business can do for positive changes in international economic relations against the background of the coronavirus pandemic.
 Opening the meeting, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) Alexander Shokhin noted that the Eurasian economies are suffering the consequences of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. "According to the latest forecast of the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), the GDP of the Bank's member countries in 2020 will decline by 2.2% (against growth in 2019 by 1.7%). And the economies of Belarus and Russia will shrink most of all. Among the main reasons for the negative growth are the complication of the foreign economic situation (up to 2% of GDP losses) and internal restrictive measures to counteract the pandemic (1.5-2% of GDP losses). Secondary effects are also possible, caused by the persistence of weak domestic demand due to worsening economic sentiment and financial condition of organizations," said Alexander Shokhin.
He stressed that already today one should think about how to develop relations after the crisis and use it as an opportunity for strengthening and reconfiguration.
"The existing mechanisms of cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) and the Eurasian business allow to ensure the reflection of the interests of the business community in crisis conditions. In promotion of business cooperation it is necessary to concentrate on practical projects, development of information exchange, reduction of transaction costs and further improvement (including digitalization) of B2B and B2G processes", - said Alexander Shokhin. He outlined a number of promising areas for inclusion in the agenda of the Eurasian business community. These are implementation of joint practical projects using the mechanisms of the project office; development of cooperation with the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) and the Eurasian Stabilization and Development Fund (EDF), national development institutions, as well as the most important external partners, preparation of a new edition of the White Book of barriers, exemptions and limitations of the Eurasian Economic Community, as well as building expertise and activity in the public space.
         Alexander Shokhin also drew the attention of the discussion participants to the ongoing work of the RSPP to raise awareness of business opportunities for Eurasian integration. "For our part, we are finalizing the RSPP's first practical handbook on cooperation within the EAEC, which, we hope, will help companies get the most out of Eurasian integration," said Alexander Shokhin.
         At the end of his speech, he made a proposal to Chairman of the Collegium (EEC) Mikhail Myasnikovich to hold in the near future the next meeting of the Advisory Council on Cooperation between the EEC and the EEC Business Council, the agenda of which will be based on the results of the meeting of the Presidium of the EEC Business Council held after the forum by video conference.
         Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Alexey Overchuk noted in his speech that today the EAEC has faced numerous challenges, including "closure of borders, drop in energy prices and depreciation of national currencies". "What is going on is a serious test of the Eurasian integration association. In these stressful conditions, the Union has shown its effectiveness, the member countries have shown the desire to intensify cooperation. There is a greater desire to find consensus, there have been adopted decisions that allow the Union members to act together," said Alexei Overchuk. In addition, during his speech he paid great attention to building effective interaction between the authorities and the Eurasian business, which can become an important factor in the deepening and development of the processes of Eurasian integration.
         Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Mikhail Myasnikovich said that the draft Strategic Directions for Development of the Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025 had passed the necessary procedures. It is expected that the document will be approved by the presidents of the EAEC countries on May 19. "The project has passed the necessary procedures in the prescribed manner," said Mikhail Miasnikovich. - It is on the agenda of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, scheduled for May 19. The document contains mainly the norms of direct action, as well as provisions that can be successfully implemented in the country. Why do I pay special attention to this? Because there are quite a few serious documents, which are aimed at strengthening integration processes, but there is a certain gap between the political will when decisions are made and directly national acts“. In his speech Mikhail Myasnikovich also noted the need to increase business cooperation in the Eurasian space and expressed readiness as Chairman of the Board of the EEC to assist in building an effective dialogue between authorities and businesses of the Union's member states using a wide range of established mechanisms of interaction.
         In addition, in the course of the discussion on promising areas of Eurasian cooperation in the current environment, he stressed the special importance of cooperation between the EAEC countries in the pharmaceutical field, including the joint creation of a vaccine against COVID-19. "As far as I am informed, the parties are now consulting on many issues and have good positions of scientists and practitioners," Mikhail Myasnikovich said. - „I will once again elaborate on this issue, which specific institutions are involved in joint programs. We had an approach on the first biotechnology program, I think we will return to this topic. Vaccination issues are very topical“.
         Also e the Chairman of the EEC Board drew attention to the lack of supply of the EEC market with medicines of own production. "Today we have a very poor market for medicines in general. Both Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan buy in huge volumes both pharmaceutical substances and ready-made medicines for the needs of their own market - for hospitals and directly for the population".
         "Of course, it is necessary to enter into a powerful program, perhaps, even with the participation of companies from third countries producing drugs and relevant pharmaceutical substations. There is a scientific reserve in Russia, a very good reserve and pilot production in Belarus. We see our task to raise this topic and enter a powerful, joint program on the production of medicines," summed up Mikhail Myasnikovich.
         Member of the EEC Board (Minister) on Trade Andrei Slepnev noted that the Commission, despite the situation with the coronavirus, continues to work actively on building an effective trade policy. In particular, negotiations on the creation of free trade zones between the EAEC and foreign partners are under way. "Active negotiations are underway, despite the coronavirus, work continues on Egypt - the gateway to Africa, with Israel, where our diaspora is large enough, and we are already approaching the active phase of negotiations with India,“ - said Andrei Slepnev. - „Of course, India - it is very serious and difficult, here we will rely on business, we have talked to almost all representatives on this subject, but we see serious potential here“.
         He also said that the discussion has already begun on the possibility of concluding in the future agreements on the establishment of free trade zones with other states of the African continent and South-East Asia, as well as with the EEC neighbors. "But we need to seriously review the approaches to these negotiations," said the EEC Minister. - "We have now fallen, if I may say so, to the simple delivery of goods across the border. But I have serious concerns that we will not win so much if we do not act actively in the field of investment, services, including digital. Services of health care, education, transport, housing and utilities are goods, products that we can sell. Thus, the terms of these negotiations should be expanded.
         EEC decisions on the reduction of duty-free thresholds for Internet commerce have been temporarily removed from the agenda, it is planned to return to this issue not earlier than the second half of the year. "The issue of reducing the duty-free import thresholds is not on the agenda today, we do not touch this issue," said Andrei Slepnev. According to him, the commission plans to return to the consideration of these issues not earlier than the second half of this year. "Here we stand on the position of preserving the balance of interests and convenience for consumers," said Andrei Slepnev.
         Member of the Board (Minister) on integration and macroeconomics of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Sergei Glazyev in his speech focused on the implementation of strategic directions of the Eurasian economic integration for the period up to 2025. He noted that the draft document contains a list of measures and mechanisms consisting of 330 items, which in fact is a road map for further development of integration. The strategic directions provide for further development and signing of 13 international treaties.
         Director General of the UN Office in Geneva Tatyana Valovaya spoke about cooperation between the EAEC and UN bodies and organizations in the light of increasing international influence of Eurasian integration. Cooperation between the EAEC and the UN has been and continues to be one of the priorities of the Union's policy on the outer perimeter. She drew attention to the positive dynamics of strengthening the position of the EAEC in the international arena. Increased interaction with international organizations of the UN system has contributed to this in many ways. Tatiana Valovaya stressed: "The EAEC was and still is the only regional association that presented its own report on achieving the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the EAEC region at a high-level political forum in New York, which makes many people surprised. And this is a major achievement of the EAEC".
         However, the opportunities provided by cooperation with the UN and the Regional Economic Commissions are not fully exploited in the EAEC. On the one hand, this is due to poor awareness of the international community about the work being done in the Union and its results. On the other hand, it is due to the fact that other regional associations, such as ASEAN, use the UN platform. Changes and challenges faced by the world in recent times have created serious opportunities for further strengthening of the Union's international position, which is in line with the international community's objective request to strengthen cooperation. At the end of her speech, Tatiana Valovaya expressed readiness to develop interaction between international organizations of the UN system and Russian business and the RSPP in particular.
         Yuriy Ambrazevich, President of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Permanent Representative of Belarus to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva, spoke about the possibilities of using the UNECE tools to improve the competitiveness of the economies of the EAEC member states. He noted that the UNECE mandate touches upon the issues of cooperation in the European region and at the interregional level in such areas as transport, trade, customs, energy, statistics, environment, demography, urban environment. "To date, it is more than 200 working groups and committees engaged in the development of norms and rules of technical regulation on these issues," - said Yuriy Ambrazevich. We are talking about the development of solutions based on careful analysis and processing of international experience for further application at the national level.
         He recalled that "in 2016 a major international conference on interaction between regional associations in Europe, organized by the Government of Belarus and the UNECE, was held in Minsk. This conference showed how significant is the potential for even deeper harmonization of legal, economic and technical regulation among existing economic integration associations in Europe". He stressed that "in a situation where the regional dialogue in Europe has been blocked for years for macroeconomic, political reasons, UNECE specialized bodies have often been working invisibly, often technically, in narrow segments of the economy and social sphere. And their activities serve precisely as those depoliticized cement and capillary systems that practically implement the idea of increased cooperation and integration of European economies for the benefit of peace, prosperity and welfare". "The UNECE is a unique platform where all partners are equal, where there is a consensus rule and where the benefit of each participant is an imperative. And so the activities of the UNECE affect a number of practical aspects in the work of economic operators," said Yuriy Ambrazevich.
         Yuriy Ambrazevich did not overlook the interaction between the UNECE and the UNECE, noting that in 2013 the parties concluded a memorandum of cooperation. ECE representatives participate as observers in the work of individual UNECE formats. Perhaps, in the future, in the work of the EAEC and UNECE countries the time will come to reach common positions, as well as to promote them in a coordinated manner already by the ECE experts on behalf of the whole five. At the same time, today representatives of EAEC countries participate in the work of all UNECE bodies as independent participants. "This morning we received information about the first official request of the UNECE for full member status in a number of UNECE working groups on standardization," said Yuriy Ambrazevich. - "To facilitate the Eurasian integration it is also possible to attract expertise from the UNECE secretariat. And for this purpose we need the ideas of regional projects that affect cooperation between the EAEC countries. Financing of such projects does not necessarily have to be governmental".
         Chairman of the Board of the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of the Republic of Kazakhstan "Atameken" Ablai Myrzakhmetov, Chairman of the Confederation of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Belarus Anatoly Kharlap, Chairman of the Confederation of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Belarus Anatoly Kharlap, President of the Kyrgyz Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of the Republic of Kazakhstan "Atameken" also took part in the discussion.
         In his speech Sergey Katyrin, in particular, noted the need to strengthen the Eurasian cooperation on micro, small and medium enterprises, as well as digitalization.
         Summing up the meeting, RSPP President Alexander Shokhin noted that the multilateral system of supranational global governance has been in a state of structural crisis for many years and needs rapid transformation, which has further exposed the coronavirus crisis. Under these circumstances, regional formats of cooperation are of particular importance. Their distinctive feature in most cases is their focus on developing pragmatic and concrete solutions that reflect the interests of their members.
         The forum participants expressed their support for the ECE activities in promoting and deepening cooperation with the business community through established mechanisms, which include advisory, consultative and other bodies on specific areas, as well as the Advisory Council on Interaction between ECE and the EAEC Business Council, which is attended by the key business associations of the Union's member countries. This, as well as other positions of the participants, were reflected in the Resolution prepared as a result of the Forum.