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Meet you on the bridge
Governor of the Jewish Autonomous Region Alexander Levintal about the benefits of flying an economy class and difficulties in creating checkpoints
Photo: VEF / TASS Photobank
- Alexander Borisovich, a regular Eastern Economic Forum has recently ended in Vladivostok. If my memory serves me, then you have participated in all four VEFs since the very first. Have you managed to hear and learn something new now? Are there any practical benefits from meetings and discussions at such summits?
- Compared to previous forums, VEF-2018 is number one, its program was so dense and intensive, and the negotiation process was active. Every year the forum is gaining momentum, is of particular importance. By its status, it has long overtaken St. Petersburg: it suffices to recall the person of what level took part in it this time. The heads of Russia, Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia arrived in Vladivostok. It is clear that in the orbit of each of the presidents are people who make decisions at the state level, big business, and influential experts. Such a representative “landing party” even turned out to be closely in the largest city of the Far East - we had to use an ocean liner at the pier to accommodate the guests.
The agreements that are reached at such sites have a special weight. Therefore, the regional authorities are preparing for the Vladivostok forums especially carefully, as well as our potential partners. As a rule, after the WEF, joint projects are carried out in the "storm and breakthrough" mode. The forum just passed is no exception. One example is our agreement with our Chinese partners to include EAO in the bus production chain. The idea of such a project arose literally two months ago, but we are already preparing for its practical implementation at full speed.
- Will the production site be in the Jewish Autonomous Region?
- No, in Kuzbass. In this case, several Russian regions united their efforts at once. Businessmen from Tatarstan became the owners of an enterprise in the Kemerovo region, and agreed with Chinese partners - the Yutong company on the localization of production. The car kits will be supplied from China, industrial assembly will be carried out in Kuzbass, and later, possibly, in other regions, where in the future they can also arrange assembly. And the Jewish Autonomous Region is called upon to play a system-forming role in this chain. Why? The answer contains one short word: bridge. The one that is now being built across the Amur River and should be ready in the summer of 2019. The only problem today is the construction of checkpoints - these are separate objects, they are created and launched according to special rules. But they must be put into operation simultaneously with the bridge. Now we are fighting for such synchronicity so as not to get a stupid situation: the bridge is ready, but it is still impossible to move on it ...
To carry industrial kits for assembling buses from China by sea is troublesome and expensive. First they need to be unloaded in Vladivostok, then delivered to the Trans-Siberian Railroad, further several stages ... And across the bridge the railway will go to Siberia itself. In addition, in the Jewish Autonomous Region they plan to create a “smart warehouse” - a logistics hub, where the vehicle sets will be accumulated and sent to Kuzbass as needed.
- What kind of miracle buses are they?
- Normal, passenger, 22 seats. Urban. School. They will compete with those manufacturers who are on the market today. There are not many analogues in Russia. Of no small importance is the fact that they run on different types of fuel, including gas that is more environmentally friendly than gasoline, and it is also planned to produce buses on electricity.
We have already signed a multilateral agreement with the Chinese partners, we are moving forward.
- Does EAO have other joint projects with foreign companies?
- Of course. The same Chinese are now very interested in the supply of our food, especially soy. After America imposed trade sanctions against the PRC, supplies of this culture from the USA are curtailing. Of course, we will not be able to replace all the Far East with this. But the scale of their needs is greater. So, the Chinese offer us an interesting scheme of cooperation. Soy is grown on our territory, and partners from China help us with seeds, equipment, land reclamation works - that is, they create conditions for increasing yields. At the second stage they are ready to participate in the creation of processing enterprises in the Russian Federation, and to import the finished products. We also plan to start with the Jewish Autonomous Region, as the bridge makes such deliveries convenient and profitable.
- Is there any risk that the Chinese with their agrotechnics (especially fertilizers) will simply devastate our lands, and then abandon them as unnecessary?
- We consulted with experts from the Agricultural Academy of Heilongjiang Province, with ecologists and soil scientists, there was no massive use of harmful substances. Scientific methods are now used in agriculture in China. We are also introducing them, and in addition, we are improving control over land use, taking soil analyzes, and conducting monitoring. The slightest violation will result in the termination of the lease agreements. However, the guarantee is also that the land plots are not leased for 2-3 years, for 10-15 years, in such a situation it is extremely unprofitable to “spoil the land”. The Chinese people are quite law-abiding, they work for the future, it is not in their interests to break the economic mechanisms that have just begun to work.
- It is interesting, and our economic and social mechanisms will someday work without failures? This was mentioned, for example, at a meeting of the Presidium of the State Council, which was held "on the sidelines" of the economic forum ...
- On the eve of the meeting of the Presidium of the State Council, a working group gathered to prepare it. We watched how the President's instructions for the Far East were being carried out - there were twenty-two of them. So, we failed to execute four for various reasons, more than half were completed, some “in progress”. The most pressing issues are gradually being removed - for example, subsidizing air travel to the Far East and within the region. An additional 400 million rubles have already been allocated for this, and many people will be able to take advantage of the benefits. There was a certain lack of funds this year. Yes, and discount airplane tickets after the opening of their sale did not last long. For the next years, the task has been set to more than double the amount of funds allocated for these purposes. Moreover, financing should not come from the reserve fund as unplanned expenses, but as a separate item, funds for which are laid in advance. In this we count on the support of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport.
- Does the difficult budget situation in the region, which you just mentioned, affect the salaries of the residents of the Jewish Autonomous Region? How much do they average now?
- The nominal average salary in the Jewish Autonomous Region for January-July this year is more than 37,7 thousand rubles. This is more than in previous years, but it is still necessary to strive to raise the average earnings to 40-45 thousand per month. The nominal salary in our region, unfortunately, is still lagging behind the national average. Add to this the factors that in themselves make life more expensive: although we are located in the south of the Far East, we still have a long winter, high transport costs. Now it is important for us to create new jobs, look for investors to expand production. Sufficient financial resources should be allocated for the advanced development of the Far East - at least 5,5%. So far, this indicator is not being maintained by ministries and departments, and the president has harshly raised this issue on the Presidium of the State Council.
At the plenary meeting, the head of state assured that the national program for the development of the Far East will soon be developed in the national priority of development. Additional investments that the president deems necessary from the federal center will be invested in infrastructure, improving the quality of life, in order to keep people in the Far East. Business is trying to solve social problems of its employees to the best of its ability, large companies build housing, maintain hospitals or kindergartens. But completely outweigh this burden on the commercial sector is not possible, then the projects will not make any profit and no one will be engaged in them.
- Will the creation of new jobs in the commercial sector lead to an increase in the gap between the salaries of "private traders" and state employees?
- Just the opposite. The average salary of doctors, teachers, cultural workers, etc. is equal to the average for the region. As soon as businesses start raising salaries, we do the same with public sector employees, as the overall figure rises. In addition, the growth of salaries in the commercial sector leads to an increase in tax revenues, and additional sources of salary payments appear. Communication is direct and clear.
Our task is to attract large and medium-sized businesses to the region. At large enterprises such as the GOK, there are now about fifteen hundred workers, of which 1300 are ours, local, and two hundred people from Primorye, the Amur Region (engineers, mining specialists, etc.) In order for such personnel to appear in our country, at the University of Birobidzhan we opened a new technical specialty for training mid-level personnel, we are also discussing issues of training in the future and engineers. We teach workers in our colleges.
We are trying to launch new large enterprises, as well as supporting existing small and medium-sized businesses. Last year sausage producers increased production volumes by 70%, now our meat delicacies are sold in Primorye, Khabarovsk, Sakhalin and the Amur Region.
- It's no secret that in many regions protests took place on the eve of the discussion in the State Duma of changes in pension legislation. Did you have any complaints?
- We held a round table meeting in the regional public chamber when the issue was just being brought up for discussion in parliament. Various experts were invited, including independent ones. I also spoke there, honestly and frankly explaining that changes in the pension system were ripe. Of course, it was necessary to start all these changes in relatively good times. And, of course, we also had protests. But I must note that after the President's address, the intensity of passions began to decline. People gradually come to comprehend the proposed measures, calculate what changes will affect them personally. In order to soften the transition to the new system, we have decided to keep the benefits for 55-60 year olds. The person is not yet a pensioner, but he will still have discounts on travel, utility bills and so on. A certain compromise has been reached, and this is already a good intermediate result.
- How are your relationships developing with the new head of Minskostokrazvitiya?
- In recent months, he has already visited our territory three times. He is constantly present in the Far East. And he is our colleague, he passed the municipal, city and regional levels, many things are clear to him without long explanations. I hope that our joint work with the new minister will go well.