Photo credit: - Photo: 2019

Russia Keen to Boost Economic and Trade Relations with Africa

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW (IDN) – Chairman of the State Duma, Viacheslav Volodin, has urged African leaders to use the untapped enormous natural resources to vigorously pursue sustainable development goals as the best way through which to escape underdevelopment, economic dependency syndrome and neo-colonialism.

In order to achieve this, Russia, he said, was prepared with a new legislative supported comprehensive plan in the coming years to uplift, especially, its economic cooperation into a new stage with African countries.

In a speech delivered during Russia-Africa conference held early July, the Chairman of the State Duma stressed that “it is necessary to prevent the revival of neo-colonialism, the destructive attitude towards the African resources. To achieve this, the sovereign right of African states to build their own future must be protected”.

“Russia has always advocated and stands for the observance of international law on the basis of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states,” he assured.

The State Duma Chairman said both Russian and African parliamentarians would study, in detail, the issues concerning harmonization of legislations, so that business would be guided by legislative norms.

This, on the one hand, would create new opportunities, and on the other, not pose problems of compliance with the rules and regulations in the business community, Volodin explained.

According to him, it would be right, using the capability of parliaments for effective collaboration, to “facilitate the establishment of contacts between Russian and African businessmen and the exchange of information on possible cooperation projects”.

He reminded that a memorandum on cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union would be signed in the near future. This memorandum will bring Russian-African trade and economic cooperation to a higher level and will accelerate the growth of bilateral trade.

“In 2018, the volume of trade with the African continent increased by 17.2 percent in comparison with 2017 and amounted to US$20.4 billion. This is a good indicator but this, of course, is not enough,” said the Chairman of the State Duma.

While explaining that conditions for dynamic and sustainable development were being created within the framework of the implementation of the Agenda 2063, Volodin emphasized that “the Russian Federation is interested in a mutually beneficial partnership with African states for the benefit of the wellbeing of our peoples – the peoples of Russia and the African continent.”

Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Irina Abramova, spoke about the role of science in the development of cooperation between Russia and Africa.

She noted that “without a technological breakthrough in ecology, health and education, we are not able to break our relations free from the deadlock and solve the problems that both the Russian people and the people of Africa are facing.”

She emphasized the role of education and academic science and training specialists for Africa. Irina Abramova believes that by training specialists, Russia contributes to future of Russian citizens and the people of Africa.

In his contribution, the former Special Presidential Representative to Africa, Professor Alexey Vasileyev, pointed out that the level and scope of Russian economic cooperation with Africa has doubled recent years, “but unfortunately Russian-African cooperation is not in the top five”.

Speaking about joint investments, he urged to choose for cooperation large on-site objects (projects) in which both sides would be interested and noted further that possibilities investing in agriculture, manufacturing industry, the financial sector, assembly enterprises and information technologies in Africa. There are other areas cooperation could be facilitated.

For the past few years, Russian authorities have taken steady and strategic steps at the possibility of pushing huge investments in lucrative sectors as ways to strengthen bilateral relations and expand economic cooperation in a number of African countries, according to Vasileyev.

Alexey Vasileyev, however, noted that not all African countries have signed agreements with Russia, for example, on the abolition of double taxation.

He urged African countries to make trade choices that are in their best economic interests and Russia should consider the issue of removal of tariff and non-tariff restrictions on economic relations.

In order to increase trade, Russia has to improve its manufacturing base and Africa has to standardize its export products to compete in external markets. Unfortunately, Russia has few manufactured goods that could successfully compete with Western-made products in Africa, he informed.

The former Presidential Envoy believes that it is necessary to create free trade areas. “But before creating them, we need information. And here I am ready to reproach the Russian side, providing little information to Africans about their capabilities, and on the other hand, reproach the African side, because when our business comes to Africa, they should know where they go, why and what they will get as a result,” Vasileyev said.

Interestingly, there are few Russian traders in Africa and African exporters are not trading in Russia’s market due to multiple reasons including inadequate knowledge of trade procedures, rules and regulations as well as the existing market conditions, he pointed out.

“The task before us, especially before both parliaments, is to harmonize the norms of trade, contract and civil law. The parliamentarians of the two sides have the task to work together on a legislative framework that would be in the interests of both sides. This should be a matter of priority,” Vasileyev concluded.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has praised the legislators’ role in promoting the entire complex of Russian-African cooperation and welcomed steps towards intensifying contacts between the Russian Federal Assembly and African parliaments.

Overall, Africa is still important for Russia. Whether Moscow will move from mere intentions to practical actions, with commitment and consistency, largely remains to be seen in the subsequent years now that the talk-shop has ended, according to many experts and observers.

Certainly, the symbolism of the Africans has some geopolitical significance. There were 38 African delegations, 25 at the level of speakers and 10 at the level of deputy speakers, about 300 parliamentarians in total, and another 50 experts attended the Russia-Africa inter-parliamentary conference.

The Russia-Africa inter-parliamentary conference took place as landmark event in Russian-African relations. On October 24 this year, the Russia-Africa summit, first announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 10th BRICS summit, will take place in Sochi. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 July 2019]

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