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Institutes for the development of the Far East: first steps and results - 2015

The outgoing 2015 year played a special role in the social and economic development of the Far East. This year, new development institutes were established, initiated by the federal center and with the participation of regional authorities and business

It is assumed that the successful work of these institutions will make it possible to change for the better the financial and investment situation in the Far East, which, although not quite rightly, is usually called one of the “problem” territories of the country.

Institutes for the development of the Far East: first steps and results - 2015

Rostislav Turovsky

Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor of HSE, Scientific Editor East Russia
The first, on March 30, came into force the federal law on the territories of advanced socio-economic development (TOR), which are an advanced version of special economic zones (SEZ), which already exist in considerable numbers on Russian territory. TORs offer the most significant tax benefits in comparison with all other "special" territories in Russia, reduced rental rates, simplified administrative barriers, a free customs zone regime, expanded opportunities for attracting foreign labor. The state assumes obligations for the construction of PDA infrastructure facilities. True, judging by the latest decisions on the establishment of a TOP, the center increasingly prefers to support projects in which the budgetary component will be minimized.

After the entry into force of the law, the process of official approval of the TOP began, preparation for which was carried out in advance. Last year, the Ministry for the Development of the Far East conducted consultations and identified the most promising projects of the TOP. As a result, in the first two waves, nine TORs were approved, located in six of the nine regions of the Far Eastern Federal District. In the "central" regions - Primorsky and Khabarovsk Territories, as well as in the Amur Region, two TORs have been created, one each - in Yakutia, Kamchatka and Chukotka. The development and management of ASEZ began to be dealt with by a specially created Corporation for the Development of the Far East. In all TOPs, anchor residents have been identified, work is underway to expand the list of participants.

It is planned to expand the number and geography of ASEZ: the ASEZ project is being prepared for approval in the Jewish Autonomous Region, two projects on Sakhalin were previously supported. The process of creating the TOP was supported in the recent presidential message, when Vladimir Putin spoke in favor of the development of Komsomolsk-on-Amur as one of the industrial centers of the Far East: one of the first TOP associated with the interests of aircraft construction operates here. Ultimately, the TOP is likely to be created in all regions of the Far Eastern Federal District.
The next decision of the federal authorities to create the Free Port of Vladivostok, the first project in Russia, known from international experience as a free port, can also be called an initiative of the presidential level. This idea was expressed in last year's presidential address. The corresponding law came into force on October 1. The free port occupies all the southern municipalities of Primorsky Krai and is a unique phenomenon, being not a separate seaport, but a territory on which there are several seaports, an airport, border crossings on the border with China, i.e. a free port in Russian is a powerful multimodal infrastructure complex. The working conditions of the residents of the Free Port are similar to the TOP, but they also provide additional opportunities. In particular, the possibility of simplified entry of foreigners with the issuance of an eight-day visa at the border has become unique for Russia.

Thus, the Free Port is maximally focused on stimulating tourism, business travel and, in general, on solving the problem of integrating Russia into the APR. Primorsky Krai remains the key region designed to solve this problem. At the same time, a special emphasis is placed on the transit traffic of Chinese goods, due to which the new port of Zarubino should grow, which is likely to become one of the main elements of the Free Port.

As in the case of the TOP, the idea of ​​a free port quickly developed. While Vladivostok is seen as a pilot project, a more general draft law "On a free port of the Far East" is already under discussion, designed to extend similar practices to ports in other Far Eastern regions. As a result, free ports may appear in the Khabarovsk Territory, Sakhalin and Kamchatka. At the same time, an attempt is being made in Kamchatka to bring the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to a qualitatively new level, turning it into the eastern hub of the Northern Sea Route, the development of which is now given much attention by the federal authorities.

It is, of course, too early to speak about the results of the work of the new development institutions. Due to the energetic efforts of Deputy Prime Minister Yu. Trutnev and the Ministry for the Development of the Far East, headed by A. Galushka, the necessary legislative and organizational infrastructure has been created. But there are also limitations - a territory remote from the centers, a difficult general economic and international situation, a lack of budgetary funds, coordination of procedural issues with other departments, especially in terms of border and customs regimes. As a result, despite the attractiveness of the Free Port's working conditions, only one resident is registered in it - with a project for the construction of a hotel. The work of TORs also starts rather slowly, although there are first positive examples, such as the opening of the Europlast plant in the Nadezhdinskaya TOR.

The volumes of the declared investments in the TOPs are impressive and amount to hundreds of billions of rubles. But there is also a risk here if the TORs become just a new way of receiving benefits for the largest raw material companies, for example, for a gas processing and gas chemical complex in the Amur Region. Such projects can indeed provide large volumes of investment. But then the TOPs will not contribute to the development of new sectors of the economy, the introduction of innovations, i.e. will not become true poles of growth, which is implied in world practice for such special economic regimes. The innovation component in the TOP is still poorly expressed.

In addition, interest from foreign investors remains moderate: in fact, the projects turned out to be focused on local and capital businesses. To solve the complex and urgent task of international integration, the Eastern Economic Forum was held for the first time in September, which will become an annual event. But he did not and could hardly give any immediate results in the form of concrete large projects for the Far East.

It should be remembered about the experience of special economic zones, which in Russian practice turned out to be ambiguous. In the Far East, there is an example of a SEZ in the Magadan region, which was created by a special federal law at the end 1990-x biennium, and which was recently extended until 2025. But it cannot be said that it radically changed the regional economy. There are two examples of SEZs in the Khabarovsk Territory (the port of Sovetskaya Gavan) and the Primorsky Territory (the Russky Island), which actually did not take place, without the interest of potential residents. A new SEZ in Vladivostok, connected with the creation of an automobile cluster, actually started working, but its prospects are questionable, since the demand for cars is falling. With a long delay, but this year, yet another unique object began to operate - a gambling zone in the Primorsky Territory, where the first casino was opened.

So far, we can talk about the successful passage of the development institutions of the Far East of their "zero cycle". Given the previous experience, there are risks that the number of institutions being created will not translate into an equally impressive quality. The international significance of new projects is questionable. But it seems that the new development institutions are able to solve the minimum task - to significantly improve the investment climate in the Far East, at least for Russian business. The national rating of the investment climate of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI) released this year had disappointing results: none of the regions of the Far Eastern Federal District was included in the first and second, i.e. the most business-friendly groups, and in the best case was among the middle peasants. Now it turns out that the TOPs compensate for the shortcomings of the regional authorities, which have not created a favorable investment climate in their territories, and represent islands with more attractive business conditions. However, nothing prevents the regions from making their own efforts and thinking about improving the quality of their investment policies.

In the current geopolitical conditions, it is the Far East that has the best prospects to become a platform for further experiments to improve the business climate and develop international cooperation. Subject to joint and coordinated actions of federal and regional authorities, as well as successful cooperation between government and business, the task of increasing the investment attractiveness of the Far East can really be solved. Growth points in the Far East have been created, but there is still a lot of work to be done in order for the decisions made by the state to justify themselves.
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