The article originally published on plus.rbc.ru
The key topic for this year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is sustainable development.
This allows, on the one hand, to focus on the topic of priority projects, and on the other hand, to make the agenda more relevant for foreign participants, experts say.
The Forum agenda will be broken down into four main theme blocks: “The global economy in search of a balance”, “The Russian economy: achieving national development goals”, “Technologies shaping the future” and “People First”. “Judging by the main subject of the Forum: Shaping Sustainable Development Agenda, and the main theme blocks, the Forum is dedicated to the implementation of national projects”, says Alexey Kalachev, FINAM expert analyst. Moreover, he claims, the organizers are clearly trying to emphasize the connection between the Russian economy and the global processes and discuss bilateral relations, judging by the schedule of activities.
Key activities are concentrated around the global trends and their integration into various sectors of the Russian economy. “Meeting the modern global standards, while preserving our unique traits, is one of the key challenges of the day”, says Sergey Belyakov, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Russian Association of Retailing Companies (ACORT), former Chairman of the Board of SPIEF Foundation. He believes “it is indicative that sustainable development has become the main topic of the Forum, as it is key to economic prosperity of the country”, however “moving to sustainable development is impossible without progressing to smart industry regulation, taking into account the latest trends and their implementation within the established market processes”.
The Chinese President’s attendance of the Forum may be a sign that cooperation within SCO and Russia’s involvement in the New Silk Road project can be at the foreground of the event’s agenda, Alexey Kalachev adds. According to experts, Xi Jinping may be talking about the development of global trade, especially given China’s standoff with the US, in which the Russian government traditionally takes sides with China and stands for expansion of free trade, including within WTO. The Chinese leader’s visit is of particular importance since year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“We see trade development as a great opportunity for Russia. This means simultaneously food security, a major boost to economic development, territorial development, improved live quality and added social momentum”, says Sergey Belyakov. According to Alexandra Ovchinnikova, junior analyst Freedom Finance Investment Company, the key topic of the Forum is “search for stability given the geopolitical uncertainty and economic slowdown worldwide”. “Another point in the plan is to discuss the development drivers for Russia’s national economy, including technological infrastructure, and strengthening its position in the global arena”, she added.
Universa Blockchain founder Alexander Borodich believes that the Forum agenda and topics for discussion will also focus on the global economy: “The issues of global competitiveness of the Russian economy and its export capacity are very urgent and require discussion at all levels.” Besides, he says, “People First” is another item brought up for a wider discussion: this includes healthcare, social protection, environmental and the World Ocean issues. The business program includes several sections and round tables dedicated to implementation of national public health programs, interaction between the government and the business for achieving the national targets, and technology development.
One of the Forum’s objectives this year, according to experts, is to raise additional funds for implementation of national projects. “Feasibility of the goals set by the President in his decree of May 2018 and national projects formulated by the government is questionable. We expect to have these questions answered, among other things, during the SPIEF-2019 activities”, Alexey Kalachev says. It is not incidental that one of the activities will be dedicated to managers of the biggest foreign sovereign wealth funds, who will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the opportunity of joining Russia’s national projects, as Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russian Direct Investment Fund (RFPI) mentioned earlier. According to Mr. Dmitriev, RFPI invited investors managing more than $15 trillion US, or more than 20% of the world’s wealth, to attend the meeting.
Large foreign companies will attend the Forum via the top management of their Russian business units. “The Forum has proven to be a highly reputed platform for discussing global economic development issues, and the topics raised at the Forum are absolutely relevant to the demands of today’s society”, says Raisa Polyakova, General Manager KFC Russia & CIS. She explains the company has plans to conduct several presentations on public catering and meetings with business partners and industry associations: “KFC, together with its business partners, Russian vendors, is planning to discuss the topic of sustainable development and new approaches to the catering industry, as well as share some of its international experience.”
In essence, SPIEF is divided into two often unrelated blocks: the first one is a discussion of how the global economy is expected to grow, and the second one is signing agreements. In 2018, more than 17,000 participants from 143 countries visited the Forum, signing 593 contracts worth 2.625 trillion rubles — excluding those deals where amounts are confidential. “SPIEF is a concentration of blue-chip deals, which has no rivals in Russia”, says Alexander Timofeev, head of analytical department at Instant Invest investment company. He emphasizes that China’s presence is an important sign of developing bilateral relations, demonstrating that major deals with Russian companies are likely. For example, active deployment of 5G networks is planned as part of the economy digitization program, with US-sanctioned Huawei being a leading vendor of 5G equipment. “We can see some twists and turns, both in terms of new deals executed and new partnerships declared”, Alexander Timofeev added.
Regional authorities are also expected to sign a great chunk of contracts. For example, Moscow Oblast government is expecting to sign around 8 agro-industry agreements worth more than 66 billion rubles. Press service of Moscow Oblast Ministry of Agriculture and Food explains the contracts include production of breast milk substitutes, construction of greenhouses for growing vegetables, and opening a factory producing soft cheeses, curds and whole-milk products. Siberian regions will present their projects under the auspices of “Siberian Agreement” inter-regional association, as the President’s Envoy to Siberian Federal District Sergey Menyaylo announced earlier. Some of the likely projects include construction of a railroad between Kyzyl and Kuragino, establishing “Enisey Siberia” special economic zone, and a number of new projects in the area of agriculture.
Finally, the last area of focus is support of startups. According to Alexander Borodich, the Forum’s organizers actively promote the topic of startups and innovations — the Forum agenda features a pitch session with international investors, project exhibition and a start-up area for talking to investment funds. These initiatives are only held at the largest economic forums, Mr. Borodich says. At SPIEF, the pitch session will follow Oxford University’s international startup format: Techstars Startup Weekend Oxford and PitchFest Oxford. The projects selected will receive up to 50 million rubles technical support for business development, with the total investment pool of the session exceeding one billion rubles.