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EBRD: Diversify Healthy Economy

Russia's economy is healthy but the country must focus on diversification and improving its infrastructure, EBRD president Jean Lemierre said in an interview.

"The management of the economy is sound, and the budget decisions are good," said Lemierre, who will participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum this weekend.

Even inflation and the relative strength of the ruble seemed well managed, he said.

But Lemierre, whose bank invested $2.57 billion in Russian enterprises last year, warned that there were also questions, mainly involving Russia's need to diversify the economy and reduce dependence on oil and gas.

"We support the idea that Russia does not rely on energy so much," he said by telephone from London.

He said large government revenues and growing consumption would aid diversification.

Lemierre also pointed to Russia's limited infrastructure as a potential weak point. "Growth creates new challenges, and one is the need to avoid bottlenecks in the infrastructure."

A key element to tackle that is the capacity to attract private money, he said.

Lemierre said the St. Petersburg forum would provide an opportunity to attract that money, and he said this would be his message at the event. He was to attend a meeting of CEOs and President Vladimir Putin on Saturday and participate in a discussion titled "A Competitive Eurasia -- Expanse for Trust" on Sunday.

Lemierre stressed that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was focusing its work in the regions and that three-quarters of its investments were now going to places outside Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The EBRD is seen as a key investment leader in attracting follow-up capital from the private sector. It has spent $11.08 billion on more than 500 projects in Russia since it was created as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

Lemierre said Russia was changing as many of its companies started investing in the West. "Russia is becoming more a part of the global economy, and I hope it will become a member of the World Trade Organization soon," he said. He warned that investors should not look for a "cheap deal" in order to make a lot of money in a short time.

Asked about the difficulties encountered by foreign investors in the energy sector, and the example of Yukos, which has been largely swallowed by government-controlled companies, he said the authorities had made it clear that they saw energy as a key strategic area. "This did not come as a surprise," he said, adding that investors should look very carefully at any deal and hold open discussions with their Russian partners.

(The Moscow Times 11.vi.07)

 
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