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OPINION

Russia’s role in securing Asia’s prosperity

By VLADIMIR PUTIN | Special to Bloomberg View | Published: November 9, 2017

Russia values the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum — which begins this week in Danang, Vietnam — for the opportunities it affords all participants to engage in discussions and coordinate positions on a variety of economic, social, environmental and cultural issues. Member states strive to cooperate based on the principles of consensus and voluntary participation, mutual respect and willingness to compromise, regardless of the political situation. This is what APEC’s spirit of partnership is all about.

As a major Eurasian power with vast Far Eastern territories that boast significant potential, Russia has a stake in the successful future of the Asia-Pacific region, and in promoting sustainable and comprehensive growth throughout its territory. We believe that effective economic integration based on the principles of openness, mutual benefit and the universal rules of the World Trade Organization is the primary means of achieving this goal.

We support the idea of forming an Asia-Pacific free-trade area. We believe this is in our practical interest and represents an opportunity to strengthen our positions in the region’s rapidly growing markets. Indeed, over the past five years, the share of APEC economies in Russia’s foreign trade has increased from 23 percent to 31 percent, and from 17 percent to 24 percent in exports. We have no intention of stopping there.

Of course, in creating the APEC free-trade area, we can draw on the experience of other key integration agreements in the Asia-Pacific region and Eurasia, including the Eurasian Economic Union, in which Russia cooperates with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Our union has been developing dynamically, and we are eager to build relations with all countries and associations that are interested in doing so. Vietnam, the host of this year’s APEC meeting, was the first state to sign a free-trade agreement with the union. As a result, our trade grew significantly and became more diversified. Talks on a similar agreement with China concluded a short while ago. Talks with Singapore have begun, and we are working on the possibility of signing a free-trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

On a related note, I would like to mention our idea to create the Greater Eurasian Partnership. We suggested forming it on the basis of the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road initiative. To reiterate, this is a flexible, modern project open to other participants.

Comprehensive development of infrastructure, including transportation, telecommunications and energy, will serve as the basis for effective integration. Today, Russia is modernizing its sea and air ports in the Russian Far East, developing transcontinental rail routes, and building new gas and oil pipelines. We are committed to bilateral and multilateral infrastructure projects that will link our economies and markets — such as the Energy Super Ring that unites Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, and the Sakhalin-Hokkaido transport link.

We are particularly focused on integrating Russia’s Siberian and Far Eastern territories into this broader network. This includes a range of measures to enhance the investment appeal of our regions and to integrate Russian enterprises into international production chains.

For Russia, the development of our Far East is a national priority for the 21st century. We are talking about creating territories of advanced economic growth in that region, pursuing large-scale development of natural resources and supporting advanced high-tech industries, as well as investing in human capital, education and health care, and forming competitive research centers.

We hope that our foreign partners, primarily from APEC economies, will play an active role in these projects. All the more so, as foreign participants of the annual Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok already had a chance to gain confidence in the prospects and feasibility of our plans.

We have an equally serious approach to involving small and medium businesses in APEC economic integration processes, and supporting female entrepreneurship and startup companies run by young entrepreneurs. Of course, we attach special importance to strengthening our cultural ties and expanding our contacts in the spheres of science and education. Looking ahead, we will work to form a common education hub, perhaps through the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

We believe that establishing effective cooperation to support innovation is the most important task we face. As such, Russia has put forward a number of specific initiatives. These include unifying digital economy and trade rules, harmonizing technical standards, coordinating strategies for forming high-tech markets and creating a uniform conceptual framework for the digital space. We have also shared with our partners our experience in providing e-services to the public. In addition, we suggest starting consultations within APEC on international information security and protection of computer software.

Preventing and providing relief after natural disasters and man-made accidents, epidemics and pandemics is another challenge that requires a joint response. In addition, we need to tackle food security issues together. As one of the world’s exporters of grain, vegetable oils and fish, Russia expects to become the leading supplier of ecologically clean food to our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region. We are taking measures to increase agricultural output and improve productivity.

We intend to engage in substantive discussions on all these topics at the 25th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting this week. I am confident that, acting together, we will find solutions to the challenge of supporting the steady, balanced and harmonious growth of our shared region, and securing its prosperity. Russia is ready for such a collaborative effort.

Vladimir Putin is president of Russia.

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