Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk took the floor during the plenary session of the 9th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions in Grodno, the Republic of Belarus.
Excerpts from the transcript:
Participants in the Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions, colleagues,
We are holding this forum at a time of great challenges for our nations. Now, like never before, we need to demonstrate that our regions, governments and parliaments stand united in their efforts to promote deeper integration between Russia and Belarus. Approved on 4 November 2021, the 28 Union State economic integration programmes were designed to put conditions in place for developing the Union State and improving the wellbeing of the people in Belarus and Russia. Our respective governments have been working together as part of these efforts on a daily basis with all the agencies contributing to this work. Supervisors have been appointed to oversee these initiatives.
As of 30 June 2022, we have carried out 416 of 989 initiatives from the integration package for a compliance rate of 42.1 percent. Most importantly, we have been able to build trust between the staff of our respective ministries and agencies. They are working very closely and are communicating directly with one another.
Implementing these agreements will lay the foundation enabling Russia and Belarus to follow a single macroeconomic policy, as well as common policies in manufacturing, agriculture, finance, banking, social services and labour. This will also create conditions for introducing shared taxation policies and unifying our markets for oil, gas, electricity, and transport.
From a practical perspective, this is about harmonising the economic landscapes in Russia and Belarus and creating a single framework for government agencies and businesses under the “two countries – one economy” principle. Our companies must be able to operate without noticing the border that separates our countries so they can work in both Russia and Belarus.
I cannot forget to mention the upward momentum in mutual trade. In the first four months of 2022, bilateral trade increased 10 percent year-on-year to 898.3 billion Russian roubles, including 514.5 billion roubles worth of exports from Russia to Belarus and 383.8 billion in imports from Belarus, up 14 percent.
An increase in trade statistics demonstrates not just that we have been effective in coordinating our efforts, but also that we have reinforced the ties between our countries.
Considering the unprecedented and unjustified pressure exerted on our countries through the sanctions, using the untapped potential in our bilateral trade is becoming increasingly important. To replace imports that are no longer available, we launched an effort to define what Russian and Belarusian companies need in terms of manufacturing, technology and consumer products.
Russia’s regions are interested in increasing exports of their products to the Belarusian market and receiving more imports from Belarusian regions.
Increased cooperation between companies in implementing the import substitution strategy will boost the development of production and technology levels in the regions of both countries. The implementation of joint investment projects to create new and expand existing Belarusian manufacturing facilities in Belarus and Russia also supports this effort. We have generally agreed on the funding for this programme and on the first investment projects. There are 14 of them so far, and the number of such investment projects that are of primary importance for our countries will grow.
In addition to strong economic ties, we are focusing on the development of cultural and educational cooperation between the regions of the two countries. There are currently 12,000 Belarusian nationals studying at Russian universities. Next academic year, 1,100 Belarusian students – 50 percent more than last year – will be able to receive higher education in Russia on a budgetary basis.
Projects have been initiated and agreements signed on cooperation between Russian universities in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Volgograd Region and Moscow and Belarusian universities in Minsk and Vitebsk.
We usually talk a lot about the economy and prioritise economic issues at these forums, but recent events show that special efforts should be devoted to our cooperation in culture, education and healthcare because these areas provide for the humanitarian dimension that brings our peoples together. The humanitarian aspect, with its people-to-people contacts, will be given the attention it deserves in the next package of programmes, which we are currently working on. We very much hope so.
We see great opportunities for the further expansion of Russian-Belarusian cooperation in all areas, whether it is the economy, investment, education, science or culture. The Union of Russia and Belarus can ensure a reliable and comprehensive technological, food, energy, biological and information independence for years to come. Together, we have everything we need for this.
The Government of the Russian Federation will continue to work on implementing joint initiatives and do everything necessary to improve the wellbeing of the people of our countries.