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Russia, Mongolia Seal Trade Agreement

President Vladimir Putin and his Mongolian counterpart Nambaryn Enkhbayar agreed on Friday to boost bilateral trade to $1 billion and look at scrapping visas between the two countries.

Speaking to reporters after two hours of talks in the Kremlin, Putin said, "Russian companies are ready to make a significant investment in the Mongolian economy," adding that investment could reach $5 billion over the next few years.

Russia invested just $45 million in Mongolia from 1991 to 2005.

Putin also said Russia wanted to revive the use of the Russian language in Mongolia. "We believe that would substantially expand opportunities for Mongolian society," Putin said.

Enkhbayar called for bilateral ties to be restored to the level of those enjoyed during Soviet times. Speaking in Russian, Enkhbayar -- a former student in Moscow -- said he was eager to see Mongolian students coming to study in Russia's "prestigious" universities.

Sitting in the front rows of the audience were a group of Mongolian and Russian state officials, including Transportation Minister Igor Levitin, Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev and General Yury Baluyevsky, head of the General Staff.

Rustam Sabirov, a Mongolia expert at Moscow State University's Institute of Asian and African Studies, said it was time to revive ties with Ulan-Bator as China, Japan and the United States were actively establishing their positions in minerals-rich Mongolia.

"Foreign businesses and politics are actively pushing Russia out" of Mongolia, Sabirov said. A U.S. ally, Mongolia has sent troops to Iraq, while China is investing heavily in the country.

Russian businesspeople recently accompanied Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on a trip to Mongolia and found that re-establishing ties would not be easy, Sabirov said.

At the Kremlin briefing, Putin and Enkhbayar signed a declaration calling for bilateral trade to increase to $1 billion by 2010.

That trade was worth $466 million last year, 21 percent more than in 2004, according to a Kremlin statement.

Last year, exports to Mongolia totaled $443.5 million, while imports from Mongolian were a mere $22.4 million.

Mongolia believes high Russian rail tariffs, "unjustified delays" and other bureaucratic hurdles are hurting its exports, the Kremlin statement said.

The leaders agreed to boost cooperation in a range of sectors, including energy, transportation, IT, machine-building and processing industries, agriculture, banking and tourism. Under the agreement, Russian companies will have a chance to participate in the so-called Millennium Road project, which aims to link all areas of Mongolia.

The Kremlin said a range of companies, including Basic Element, Norilsk Nickel, Unified Energy Systems, Renova and Severstal Group, were ready to invest in the country.

Enkhbayar welcomed Russia's willingness to invest more but said the money should also go into infrastructure and social projects.

During his six-day trip to Russia, Enkhbayar also visited the Buddhist republics of Buryatia and Kalmykia and the city of Novosibirsk.


(The Moscow Times 11.xii.06)

 
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