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"Amazing Peoples ..."

Alexey Repik, Head of the Russian-Japanese Business Council at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, on the interaction of the two countries

"Amazing Peoples ..."
Photo: Tass / VEF Photobank
The new year 2017 promises to be the year of a real breakthrough in Russian-Japanese relations. The leaders of the two countries - Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe - came close to signing the peace treaty for the first time in the 71 year since the end of the war between our states and launching joint economic activities in the Southern Kuriles. Which of these steps will precede the other - it is not yet clear. But the interlocutor of EastRussia, the president of Business Russia, the member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, the chairman of the board of directors of the group of companies R-Pharm and the chairman of the Russian-Japanese Business Council (RYaDS) at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation Alexei Repik believes that whatever the differences Between our countries on the "Kuril issue", it is necessary to build consistently and systematically with each other good-neighborly and mutually beneficial economic ties. And there, you see, and a positive political dialogue will improve.

- You are known as an active supporter of the development of economic relations with Japan. This is partly due to the status of the head of the Russian-Japanese Business Council (RNDS). But what kind of structure is it and how does it interact with "Business Russia"?
- RNDS is the body that has been operating since 2004 year as part of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Russia (CCI) - a voluntary non-state association of entrepreneurs. The Council was established on the initiative of Yevgeny Maximovich Primakov, who at that time headed the CCI. The mission of the Council is the comprehensive development of trade, economic and business ties with Japan. Among the partners of the RNDS are large Japanese business associations - RONIS-ROTOBO and Keidanren. "Business Russia" ("DR") is a public organization that unites entrepreneurs from non-primary sectors of the economy. Since 2010, it was we, representatives of DR, who actively developed partnership relations with the business community of Japan. In particular, they participated in the organization and conduct of Russian-Japanese investment forums. On one of them, which was held in Tokyo on 16 March 2014 - just on the day of the reunion of Crimea with Russia - we learned about the announcement by the US and its allies of sanctions against the Russian Federation. Japan, as you know, joined the sanctions. Although formally.

Right there at the forum we asked a simple question to our friends from the Land of the Rising Sun: "Do you think that the complication of political relations is called upon to freeze our dialogue in business and economy?" The head of the Japanese government Shinzo Abe admitted that no. He signaled to all business representatives in his country to develop business ties with Russia. And we all began to work on the principle: whatever happens on the political front - economic cooperation between our countries should not suffer from this. In this context, our relations with the Pacific neighbor developed in the second half of 2014. By the end of the year, CCI members and its president, Sergei Nikolaevich Katyrin, noted the positive role of Delovaya Rossiya in this process. Therefore, at the December re-election of the chairman of the RYANS, my candidacy (as representative of the "DR") was also nominated. As a result of voting, I headed the RNDS.

- And what are the tasks facing the Council today?
- First of all, the task is to multiply the number of projects and entrepreneurs striving for cooperation on both sides. We want to not just raise the level of interaction, but expand it. Today, the annual trade turnover between Russia and Japan barely exceeds 16 billion. While between the US and Japan - more than 200 billion dollars, and between China and Japan - more than 300 billion. At the same time, Japan is one of our closest neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region: just an hour from Vladivostok. Having such a frail partnership with each other, both Russia and Japan are missing out on big economic benefits. RNDS, first of all, represents the interests of Russian companies that have already left or just want to enter the Japanese market. Having started our work, we very quickly received feedback from Japanese entrepreneurs and, in fact, we continue to develop our contacts so far. The result of this work was partly manifested in the extent to which Japan's business circles participated in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2015 and 2016. Both times the program of the Forum was opened - with our assistance - a dialogue with the Japanese business.

Japan became the most representative participant (except China) and at the East Economic Forum-2016 in Vladivostok. The delegation from the Land of the Rising Sun was led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself. Between the businessmen of both countries, about 20 investment agreements worth 1,3 billion were signed at the forum. Before the Petersburg and Eastern forums of the past year, there was, as you know, the May meeting in Sochi of the leaders of the two countries. On it, the Japanese prime minister outlined eight points on the development of bilateral relations. All of them, one way or another, represent the outcome of that tremendous work on finding points of economic contact, in which Russia participated - and our government, business, and the RNDS. The crescent of 2016 was the December visit to Tokyo of our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. During the visit, more than 60 agreements were signed with the volume of announced Japanese investments of 2,5 billion.

EastRussia help. Alexey Repik, 37 years old. In 2003 he graduated from the State University "Higher School of Economics." Since 1995, he has been working in the field of healthcare and pharmaceuticals. The founder of the Russian pharmaceutical GC "R-Pharm." Since 2014, Alexey Repik heads the public organization "Business Russia", which unites representatives of non-primary business, and the Russian-Japanese Business Council at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation.

- Remind, please, what are the main areas of cooperation between Russia and Japan in question?
- This is the development of partnerships in the existing oil and gas projects "Sakhalin-1" and "Sakhalin-2", modernization of transport and urban infrastructure in the Russian Far East with the use of Japanese technologies, cooperation in fisheries, tourism, medicine, biotechnology, nuclear Energy, joint development of agricultural lands in the Far East and a number of others.

- But will the Japanese go to the joint economic development of the South Kurils and to help us in non-oil projects, while Russia will not agree to give them islands - Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai island group?
- I think they will. Yes, at an official political level, they insist that the signing of a peace treaty between our countries is possible only in the case of the transfer of Japan to these islands, which Russia inherited from the Second World War. But, firstly, Japan enjoys economic cooperation with Russia, and the local elite is well aware of this. Secondly, our president, even during the second Eastern Economic Forum in September last year, quite simply and clearly marked the political position of Russia: "We do not trade our territories ...". Nevertheless, the Japanese side has not abandoned plans for economic cooperation with our country.

Last December, Shinzo Abe and Vladimir Putin met in Tokyo, the first of February this year in Moscow, Russian-Japanese consultations were held at the level of the Foreign Ministries of the two countries. According to their results, an agreement was reached on holding in March in Tokyo a first round of bilateral consultations on the joint economic development of the South Kuril Islands. And at the end of April, Shinzo Abe is scheduled to visit Moscow. But what is the benefit to the Japanese to invest in the construction of high-tech "smart cities" in our sparsely populated Far East or in the modernization of the local transport infrastructure? Not everything is measured by apparent financial profit. There is an opportunity to declare oneself to the world and stake out the status of pioneers in the implementation of the most courageous futuristic projects in the harsh conditions of the Far East. Such fame is expensive and guarantees Japanese firms the most lucrative contracts at the international level. And investments in our port structure, for example, are justified by the fact that exports from Russia to Japan of the same hydrocarbons are optimized. In addition, the addressee of Japanese investments is not only the Russian Far East, but also other regions of Russia.

"By our side, the Japanese are promised joint economic management in the Kuriles within the framework of the Russian legislative framework. Will the Japanese government agree to this?
Special modes - the territories of advanced development (TOR) and the free port of Vladivostok (SPV) - actively implemented in the Far East by the Russian government and promoted personally by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Petrovich Trutnev - go beyond the usual Russian legislation. Special legal regimes have been applied. They are imprisoned for providing very favorable conditions to foreign investors (albeit not only). Our Japanese friends, as far as I can judge from their communication with them, share the opinion that TORs and SPVs are comfortable conditions for doing business. I think the best option for cooperation in a number of industries would be joint ventures that work as residents of TORs or SPVs.

- You are a successful Russian entrepreneur involved in a large pharmaceutical business. What is the cooperation between Russia and Japan in this area?
- As for the group of companies, the founder of which I am, we are talking about direct Japanese investments. That is, the Japanese partner company acquires part of the shares of our holding. This will help us to enter the Japanese pharmaceutical market (very closed, by the way), plus differentiate our business in Russia by selling not only drugs and medicines, but also selling Japanese medical equipment in a franchising scheme. For my part, I am considering the possibility of investing in such a sector of the Japanese economy as robotics. In general, I am optimistic about the prospects of the Russian-Japanese partnership on a par with high-tech. Contrary to the popular myth, Russia's fatal lag behind Japan in a number of high-tech industries is not there. And if somewhere it is, it is due not to some insolvency, but simply to the fact that we had no reasons and motivation to develop this sector. In a number of areas, we even surpass our south-eastern neighbor. For example, in chemical production we are inferior to Japan, and in biotechnology we are ahead. In the automotive industry, we lag behind, and in the nuclear power industry, on the contrary. And it is also very important not to forget that the Japanese made many of their technological breakthroughs on the basis of studying Soviet and Russian scientific and technical thought. You know, I suspect that the main resource that the Japanese business in Russia is oriented towards is people. Whatever you say, but human capital, we have - intellectually and professionally - very high quality.

- That's just getting old steadily. The demographic situation in Russia, as well as in Japan, is by no means rosy.
- Yes. And this is one more reason for more dense cooperation between our countries in the field of medicine and high technologies. Comfortable habitat and good health very much contribute to an increase in life expectancy.

- Is there a chance for Russian small business in the Far East to build effective relations with the "kids" from the neighboring country?
- To this, and we must strive! In the view of many, Japan is a country crammed with state-of-the-art electronics, super-cars, “smart” houses, robots, and other high-tech attributes. This is true. But, among other things, Japan is also diverse, as far as one can imagine, food, that is, farming, fishing, and the restaurant business. All this is often represented by small firms with a turnover of up to a million dollars a year. We in the Far East and in Russia as a whole also have quite a few such enterprises. There are also examples of fruitful cooperation: one entrepreneur from Primorye successfully sells products and drinks in Japanese supermarkets made according to old Russian recipes. And the other has set up in the Land of the Rising Sun supplies of Russian honey. We (RNADS, Delovaya Rossiya), in the framework of our consultations and meetings with Japanese business associations, pay special attention to the small and medium-sized business sector. And on the agenda of the intergovernmental dialogue, this topic is also one of the main ones.

- During the time that you are working closely with Japan, you, besides business partners, have friends in this country?
- Of course. It is generally believed that all Japanese are completely introverts, as well as adherents of strict rules and ceremonies. Perhaps this is so. But these people have a very rich spiritual world. And they - like no other - they know how to be friends and keep their word. You know, we and the Japanese are equally different from Europeans and Americans in that we are more romantic. But the Japanese romanticism is often hidden behind the external restraint. We do not feel ashamed to be embarrassed. But, if the Japanese recognize you as a friend, you become for them truly their own. And you can already push aside the extra officialdom. Even to be late for a meeting it is possible - forgive. Awesome people. Moreover, they consider us to be the same. I am confident that our future is friendship, cooperation, good-neighborliness.
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