Your Excellency, let us start with a more common issue. Due to many reasons, last few years have been quite harsh for the economies of our countries. What impact have these difficulties had on our bilateral relations?
You are quite right when stating that the last few years have not been easy for Russia and Oman, but strangely enough, if you look only at our bilateral economic relations you would never be able to say that. Our trade turnover, for instance, has been rising for last seven years, showing nearly a ten-times increase during this period. Moreover, it has become really diversified and includes now a wide range of products: Minerals, food, chemical industry products, timber, vehicles, metals, etc. Of course, we are still far from an ideal level of cooperation, but I suggest we look at it in an optimistic way: If something is not ideal, it means that there is some space to move forward.
We see that some new possibilities are showing up. For example, Oman is turning into a very important regional logistics hub with world-class infrastructure, and Russian businesses are willing to use that opportunity. Thus, there are companies, specialised in food stuff production, poultry and halal products providers, that are trying to enter the Omani market but encounter some sort of technical difficulties, which, I hope, we will overcome soon.
I am glad to say that highest authorities in Russia support these activities. The proof of that are the visits of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Oman in February 2016 and of Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, in April 2016. No doubts that these visits gave a huge impulse to our relations and resulted in the progress we have managed to commit by now.
The 2nd Omani-Russian Business Forum is taking place in Muscat during October 15-16 under the patronage of Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI). It will become a continuation of the last year’s meeting in St Petersburg. Can you please brief our audience about the outcomes of the St Petersburg event?
On September 16, 2016, representatives of about 150 Russian and Omani companies gathered in St Petersburg. The Governor of St Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko led the Russian side, and the president of OCCI Dr Said Saleh al Kayoumi, one of the main inspirers and organisers of this Forum, who we cannot thank enough for all his help and support, was the head of the Omani delegation.
During that meeting, a memorandum of understanding between St Petersburg and OCCI was signed. Both sides also discussed the ways of enhancing business relations and sought for new projects in investments, tourism, mining, transport and pharmaceuticals. Special attention was paid to the assessment of prospects of launching a joint project in extraction of silicates in Oman.
That Forum also resulted in launching of an active delegation exchange between our countries. In December 2016, representatives of several Russian companies, including world-known Gazprom and Rusnano, a Russian government-owned company aimed at developments in nanotechnology, visited Muscat.
In this April, representatives of Russian tourism companies came to Oman, and a corresponding visit took place in August. Both Russia and Oman are attractive for tourists due to their historical and cultural heritage as well as recreational capabilities. I would like to take this opportunity to greet the recent decision of Omani authorities to relax visa rules for Russians. I am convinced that this step will positively influence the touristic flow from Russia to Oman and will facilitate solving other obstacles, which we are facing in this field, like the
fact that there is still no direct flights between Moscow and Muscat.
What will be in the spotlight during the Forum which is starting today?
The discussion will continue on all the questions mentioned above, but some of them will be particularly stressed. We hope that a memorandum of understanding about Rusnano-Oman Oil Company cooperation will be signed during this Forum.
Special attention will be drawn to the investment options in extraction of oil, gas and minerals, as well as in tourism. The two sides will also seek new possibilities in communication technologies and cyber security. Representatives of famous Sukhoi Corporation, a Russian major aircraft manufacturer, will also attend the Forum to promote its production.
The need for economic diversification is a pressing issue for oil-producing countries, and Russia and Oman are not exceptions. That is why it is crucial to put issues related to the hi-tech area, aircraft construction, etc., on top of the agenda.
What is the contribution of the Russian Embassy in Oman in organising the Forum?
This Forum is the initiative of the Russian and Omani business communities and organised by them. I suppose this is a correct position, since establishment of business relations should be primarily a matter of business itself. However, we are ready to do everything we can to facilitate the process both technically and substantially.
For this purpose, in 2014 an economic council under my chairmanship was created. It unites many Russians, involved in business in Oman, and is a useful tool for them to cooperate with each other, share their experiences and work out joint vision on most important questions.