As the epidemiological situation begins to stabilize through mass vaccination and building herd immunity, the 24th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is finally set to take place on 2-5 June. This unique Russian forum is expected to bring together politicians, corporate business directors and investors from different parts of the world. The organizing committee will do everything in its power to ensure that the event is held with all the necessary measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
In this interview, taken by Kester Kenn Klomegah specially for potential African participants, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Roscongress Foundation and Head of the Coordinating Council under the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum (RAPF) Alexander Stuglev describes it as a unique platform for networking and getting acquainted with top Russian executives of leading companies and business associations. It thus helps in laying a firm foundation for further economic cooperation. The interview excerpts follow.
The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov noted that African issues are supposed to be included in the programme of the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Can you kindly give us a roadmap of specific programmes and its significance for African participants coming to St. Petersburg this June?
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum has become a gauge of the mounting interest in the development of Russian-African business cooperation. From 2015 to 2019, the number of Forum participants from African countries grew five times. As part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum’s business programme, we host a Russia-Africa roundtable which has become a traditional meeting place for Russian and African business and government. Heads of African states have taken part many times.
This year, the African agenda will play an important part in the forum. In the scheduled Russia–Africa business dialogue, we plan to discuss a wide range of our cooperation: food security, healthcare, investment and participation of our business in key infrastructure projects on the African continent. I invite our African colleagues to take the most active part in the upcoming discussions.
The African landscape is changing with more foreign players. In the reality of developments and competition for geopolitical influence, what are your views? Do you consider the St. Petersburg forum as a gateway to reach the African market?
The interest many countries are expressing in Africa today is no surprise when you take into account the continent’s huge potential and opportunities. Major players will continue being active on the African scene and we should be ready for it. I believe that in any line of business, fair competition helps growth and stimulates progress.
Regarding the gateway to the African market, I believe that the key point here is regularity and systematic approach. St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is, undoubtedly one of the most important stages in the development chain of the entire range of mutually beneficial Russia-Africa cooperation. Yet, it is important to realise that you cannot land in a foreign market immediately. There is a lot of work to be done beforehand in order to set mutually respectful and trustful relations, to learn the culture and so on.
The St. Petersburg forum is just a venue where people from all over the world traditionally have an opportunity to exchange opinions on the most burning issues, to present their initiatives, and establish contacts, thus laying a firm foundation for further cooperation.
Do you think there is potential in terms of raising trade and economic cooperation between the region and Russia? What will be Roscongress’ key focus, products and services for potential African participants?
Undoubtedly, there is potential for trade and economic cooperation. It is important, however, not just to talk about it but to carry it through as well. In recent years, we have seen increased Russian activity where Africa is concerned. We will do everything we can to keep that tendency going.
Constant dialogue is the basis for any successful interaction. The key objective of the Roscongress Foundation is to make sure that dialogue is intensive and productive. We are ready to share our skills and experience by organizing and holding Russian-African events together. To unlock the economic and trade potential, it is important to involve small and medium-sized businesses in cooperation. We are ready to consider the options for organizing small topic-specific events both in African countries and in Russian regions. Our key objective is to create opportunities and conditions, to be the link between the Russian and African businesses.
As Chief Executive Officer of the Roscongress Foundation, Head of the Coordination Council for Russia–Africa Partnership Forum, what are some of the preparations for the next Russia–Africa Economic Forum at the 2022 Summit to be held inside Africa?
The Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum in 2019 demonstrated the mutual interest of Russia and African countries in working together. A roadmap for further cooperation has been set; participants have had an opportunity to talk and learn more about each other. Despite the pandemic, we continue to work on ideas and initiatives that can be carried out as early as the next Summit and Economic Forum in 2022.
You cannot organize just one large forum and expect radical changes in trade and economic cooperation. You need to put in comprehensive efforts at the economic, diplomatic and humanitarian levels. You need to involve the regions, as well as small and medium-sized businesses in cooperation. This comprehensive interaction is underway. The Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum plays a central part in it.
The Roscongress Foundation is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of international conventions and exhibitions; and business, public, sporting, and cultural events. It was established in pursuance of a decision by the President of the Russian Federation.