Interview with the member of Saint-Petersburg's Government, Chairman of Saint-Petersburg's Committee on External Relations Alexander Prokhorenko

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Александр Прохоренко

- Alexander Vladimirovich, our journal is devoted to the issue of cooperation between Saint-Petersburg and Latin American countries. What can be the basis for such active development of our relations, to your mind?

-There is an unconditioned mutual interest between Saint-Petersburg and cities of Latin America backed up with history, political will, economic benefit and mutual will to learn about the cultures of our countries. Diplomatic relations between Russia and countries of Latin America were established in 19th century in the capital of the Russian Empire, Saint-Petersburg. Relationships with Uruguay were established in 1857, with Argentina in 1885, with Mexico in 1890, with Cuba in 1902, and with Chili, Ecuador and Venezuela in 1944-1945. By the way, a memorial to the national hero of Venezuela Francisco de Miranda who is considered to be one of the first Latin Americans who visited Russia was set up in Park dedicated to the 300th Anniversary of St Petersburg in 2012.

Saint-Petersburg has seven twin towns in Latin America: Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires (Argentina), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Havana and Santiago de Cuba (Cuba), Guadalajara (Mexico) and Montevideo (Uruguay). There is no doubt that we actively implement the partnership connections in joint projects: from exhibitions, festivals, film show, visits of representatives of culture, science and sports to joint scientific and industrial programs. Days of culture of Latin American countries are regularly held in Saint-Petersburg.

- Countries and regions of Latin America are very different concerning the level of life and economic characteristics.  What country is the most active economic partner of Saint-Petersburg?

Brazil is the leader among the countries of Latin America trading with Saint-Petersburg. Based on the results of 2012, it occupied the 21 position in the ranking with the volume of over 700 million US dollars.

The 29th, 30th and 31st positions on the ranking list are occupied by Ecuador, Argentina and Mexico, respectively. Uruguay occupies the 47th position but increase in the foreign trade by 21% was observed in 2012.

The figures are not bad but we are sure that even a greater potential is available and our task is to use it.

- What branches of Saint-Petersburg's economy are considered the most attractive by Latin American businessmen?

- First of all, these are high technology products. Saint-Petersburg is a large industrial and scientific centre that forms cluster policy in the sphere of ship construction, motor-car construction, power plant engineering, aeroengineering, production of electrical, electronic and optical equipment, pharmaceutics, etc.  One example of successful work of St-Petersburg companies in Latin America is represented by the activity of Transas Group, developer and producer of high-tech solutions for transport, oil and gas industry, safety sphere, military and industrial complex and education. Marine aircraft navigation equipment, coast vessel traffic control systems, naval training sets are used in Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, Columbia, Chili, Uruguay, Ecuador and other countries.

Power equipment made by an industrial giant OJSC Power Machines in St-Petersburg is exploited at a hydroelectric power station in Brazil. OJSC Power Machines and Brazilian company Energ Power not far from San Paulu implemented a project related to the equipment of a new Porto Goes HPP power block with a capacity of 13.56 MW. In 2008 OJSC Power Machines signed a contract for delivery of two hydrogenerators with a capacity of 41 MW each to construct San Juan HPP power blocks.

According to The Economist, St-Petersburg was included into the list of five most actively developing cities of the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit research company and Citigroup transnational financial group conducted a study entitled Hot Spots 2025: Benchmarking the Future Competitiveness of Cities). Based on the presented world cities competitiveness prognosis from 2012 to 2025, it is expected that large cities of India, Brazil and Russia, including Saint-Petersburg, will increase their competitiveness and catch up with the advanced countries.

St-Petersburg has a good safety factor. No investor and foreign partner left the city even in the most difficult crisis year of 2009. We are still trusted by foreign investors: in the beginning of 2013 the volume of investment into economy of the city was increased by 1.6 as compared with the last year. Meanwhile, 93.3% of the investment is made into manufacture.

In 2012 gross regional product and industrial production index increased 4.5%. The highest growth rate is observed in the manufacture of industrial equipment and car industry.

Saint-Petersburg is the largest city in the Baltic Sea region and the most northern megalopolis in the world. In 2012 the five million citizens were born on the banks of the Neva. We are of interest for Latin American producers of food products both as the consumer market and as the largest port in the Baltic region with the possibility of all type of subsequent transportation throughout Russia. Volume of wholesale business accounted for over 60 billion US dollars in 2012. Retail volume increased by 8% and constituted 3.6 billion US dollars last year. The ratio of food and non-food products accounts for 34% and 66%, respectively.  The figures can correspond to the growth of real income: average salary of St-Petersburg’s citizen increased by 11% and accounted for over 1.5 thousand US dollars a month. Meanwhile, we are having the lowest level of unemployment in Russia.

Being a European megalopolis, Saint-Petersburg is a part of all world economic processes. Following Russian accession to the WTO the landscape of our economy changes and competition increases. Saint-Petersburg trades with over 180 countries. In 2012 imports increased almost 10%. China, Germany, Finland are top players in the list of our largest trade partners. Meanwhile 97% of foreign trade volume accounts for the non-CIS countries. Number of international trade participants in Saint-Petersburg increased 7.5%. Around 1,200 enterprises with involvement of foreign capital and staff number of a quarter of a million men work in the city. According to experts, annual turnover constituted 73 billion US dollars. As of the end of 2012 the volume of international services is estimated at 1.4 billion US dollars for export and almost 1 billion US dollars for import.

- How much are our fellow citizens staying in Latin America interested in the cooperation?

- According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the number of Russian citizens in Latin America amounts to 400,000 people. Over 300,000 of them stay in Argentina, they came from the Russian Empire, former USSR, CIS republics. The majority is presented by ethnic Ukrainians and Belorussians who are united due to the same religion (orthodox), Russian language and Russian culture.

Our fellow citizens who stay abroad promote the Russian culture actively and want their families to continue speaking Russian.  Conduction of regional conferences is a good tradition. The last conference took place in May 2013 in Havana. Representative of fellow citizens’ councils from 18 countries of Latin and North America visited Cuba that time.

There is no doubt that geographic distance of Latin America
from Saint-Petersburg influences the intensity of our work with fellow citizens but in case of any interest on their side we are always ready for work and dialogue. Thus, our fellow citizen from Buenos Aires, teacher of a foreign language centre at a University participated in the professional courses for teachers of the Russian language and literature, a traditional event held as part of the program of Saint-Petersburg's Government ‘Fellow Citizens’ in 2011. In November 2013 Maria folk vocal group took part in the international choir festival Cantapueblo with the cooperation of Saint-Petersburg's Committee on External Economic Relations.

Russian fellow citizens in Latin America are not just ‘ambassadors of culture’, but also a professional society that actively cooperates with Russian companies. Having such an important advantage as knowledge of the language and specifics of Russia many citizens of Latin America tend to develop business relations with our companies. We welcome the interaction and are always ready to support attractive initiatives.