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Meeting with French business leaders

Vladimir Putin met, via videoconference, with leaders of several French companies-members of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France Russie).

The participants discussed topical issues of Russian-French trade, economic and investment cooperation, including the implementation of large joint projects.

Taking part in the meeting on the French side were Co-Chair of the CCI France Russie Economic Council, Board Chair, CEO of Total Patrick Pouyanné, CCI France Russie President Emmanuel Quidet, and top managers of Auchan Retail, BlaBlaCar, Leroy Merlin, Renault, Vinci, Saint-Gobain, Air Liquide, Legrand, Michelin, Danone, Orange, Pernod Ricard, Sanofi, Thales, Schneider Electric, and Credit Agricole Bank.

Taking part on the Russian side were Aide to the President Maxim Oreshkin, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov, Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko, Minister of Economic Development and Russia’s Chair of the Russian-French Council on Economic, Financial, Industrial and Trade Issues Maxim Reshetnikov, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media Maksut Shadayev, Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov, owner of the Volga Group private investment company and Co-Chair of the CCI France Russie Economic Council Gennady Timchenko, as well as Director of the CCI France Russie Economic Council Pavel Shinsky.

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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

First, I would like to note that the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is still operational regardless of any difficulties. We are meeting for the fourth time since 2016, so our conversations can be called a good tradition now.

Today we will hold our discussion in a different format, via videoconference. Nevertheless, as always, I hope that we will have a frank discussion on relevant current issues of Russian-French trade and investment cooperation as well as the prospects for collaborative work.

France has been and remains a key economic partner for Russia, holding a high but not sufficiently high, 6thplace among EU countries in the amount of accumulated investment in the Russian economy and 5th place in the volume of trade.

Despite a certain decline in mutual trade in 2020 (it went down by14 percent compared to 2019) the ultimate figure is quite acceptable at $13 billion. French investment in Russia is hovering around $17 billion. Incidentally, Russian investment in France is $3 billion. It could have been more if the French regulatory and state authorities treated Russian businesses as Russia is treating French businesses. This meeting is attended by the heads of French corporations that are major investors in the Russian market.

Over 500 companies with French capital are operating in various sectors of the Russian economy. French business features especially prominently in the Russian fuel and energy complex, automobile manufacturing and, of course, the food industry.

Gentlemen, French companies are involved in the implementation of globally famous landmark projects, such as the construction of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 facilities and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. We are aware of and regret the amount of political speculation concerning the latter. I would like to point out once again that it is a purely economic project that has nothing to do with present-day political considerations. But there are many rumours about it, which I see above all as unfair competition attempts in the European market.

Some political forces seem to believe that electricity simply comes from a plug, and nobody wants to bother and think just how it gets there. One of our satirical writers, [Mikhail] Saltykov-Shchedrin had a tale about a general who, when he lost his way in a forest, ordered his orderly to bring him some rolls and pastry as he thought that these grow on trees. It appears that some political forces are like that general, they believe that electricity comes from a plug.

I hope we will overcome these difficulties. Our plans include the construction of a hydrogen fuel facility on Sakhalin. Like you, we are keeping up with the times.

We appreciate that in a difficult economic environment, French companies operating in Russia have not reduced their activity. This testifies to your confidence in the Russian economy and the prospects for its development.

For our part, we have provided and will continue to provide general support to French businesses in Russia and to French investors. The Russian Government established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, which, by the way, includes six French companies.

An opportunity to discuss in detail specific issues related to the economic and investment climate in Russia is traditionally provided at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held this year on June 2–5. As always, I invite you, friends, to take part in it.

I will brief you on what we have done and are doing to help businesses, including foreign businesses, and in general to stabilise the economy amid the difficult situation in global markets associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

First, we have successfully ensured macroeconomic stability, despite all the difficulties; we have ensured stability in the financial markets. At the same time, due to a well thought out budget policy, we have managed to increase federal spending aimed at supporting key economic and social sectors.

We have worked hard to reduce the fiscal burden on businesses in these conditions; legislation to remove regulatory restrictions is subject to improvement. In order to provide targeted assistance to the enterprises most affected by the pandemic, a new programme for concessional lending was launched this year.

At the same time, the state intends to increase assistance to the development of science and technology. Funds will be directed primarily to innovation sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, nuclear and renewable energy, and the utilisation of carbon emissions.

Of course, we are interested in involving foreign companies that would like to invest in Russia and in projects we consider high priority. In order to do this, we will continue to use preferential investment regimes and execute special investment contracts, as you know. A lot of French companies successfully use these tools on the Russian market. For example, more than one third of 45 special investment contracts have been signed with European, including French, partners.

We will continue to attract foreign companies that localise their production to state purchases and to implementing the National Development Projects. Those foreign partners who have taken the Russian Government’s recommendations into account and have chosen to move their production capacities to Russia can now take part in tenders on equal terms with their Russian counterparts. The total volume of such tenders amounts to trillions of rubles, which is a significant resource for our economy.

There are good opportunities for French businesses in special economic zones. Today there are 38 such zones with a total volume of announced investment of 1.1 trillion rubles, and four French companies have already become residents.

We pay particular attention to attracting high-quality foreign specialists. Their employment is being fast-tracked, and their families can now obtain indefinite residence permits. We plan to launch a programme of ‘golden visas’ whereby we expect to issue a residence permit in exchange for investment in the real economy. You know, this practice is used in many countries. We thought why not use it in Russia too.

Let us move on to our discussion. Of course, I am ready to listen to the questions you have and to consider your proposals and critical comments. There will probably be some, because life is difficult and diverse and you probably have to face issues in your line of work that require our special attention.

First, I would like to give floor to Mr Timchenko, co-chair of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Economic Council.

Mr Timchenko, please.

Gennady Timchenko, Co-Chair of the CCI France Russie Economic Council: Mr President,

I would like to thank you for finding the opportunity to meet with representatives of French business. Our fourth meeting is taking place this year rather than last year just because of the pandemic.

The pandemic has changed the world, people and business. Unfortunately, it disconnects and isolates people. However, we are able to note that Russian-French cooperation is only growing stronger and consolidating. For example, Air Liquide provides oxygen to many medical institutions, including the covid hospital in Kommunarka. Danone has donated over 167 tonnes of products to hospitals. In different formats, all the companies that are present here have participated in this war for life, so to speak. It is not only during the pandemic that French companies have demonstrated such responsible behaviour. French companies in Russia are responsible employers and socially responsible members of Russian society.

As the Co-Chair of the CCI France Russie Economic Council, I would like to highlight the main facts regarding the business of French companies in Russia. Despite the crisis and the geopolitical situation, a number of French companies, previously not represented in Russia, launched production in 2020–2021. Companies already operating in Russia have localised the production of additional products that they previously imported. Companies such as Saint-Gobain and Danone have renewed their investments.

French companies have increased their export of products manufactured in Russia; they are investing in priority sectors of the Russian economy. For example, this year the French company Lidea is launching a plant called Tanais to produce seeds. Russia is dependent on the import of 30 to 60 percent of these seeds, according to various estimates.

Thank you again for the meeting, which in the current geopolitical conditions and information field will become an important signal for French business and the Russian side to strengthen economic cooperation, attract investment, and create partnerships on a new mutually beneficial basis.

Thank you for giving me the floor.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Timchenko.

It is a pleasure to give the floor to Chair of the Board of Directors and CEO of Total, Mr Pouyanne.

Patrick, you are welcome.

Co-Chair of the CCI France Russie Economic Council Patrick Pouyanne (retranslated): Good afternoon, Mr President.

Once again, thank you very much for devoting your time to us. Thank you for meeting with the Economic Council of theFranco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Today, 14 representatives of various companies are meeting at the Total offices. You can see them on your screens. Another two have joined us from other points of the globe. Today, we are meeting in a digital format but, of course, we are always more pleased to be your guests at the Kremlin. Let us hope this will be possible next year when our current efforts to counter the pandemic will allow us to have more control over it, if all of us are vaccinated.

Indeed, this is our fourth meeting today. It has become an excellent tradition as you have noted. The presence of 17 CEOs and deputy CEOs of French companies shows how important these meetings are for us. They reflect the interest of French business in Russia.

By 2020, twenty members of the Economic Council invested a total of 1.65 trillion rubles, supporting 170,000 jobs. These companies have operated in Russia for decades and continue investing in the Russian economy despite the sanctions and the epidemic. These companies help France maintain its status as the second largest investor in Russia. In 2020, France invested over one billion dollars in Russia despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

We rank first in the number of jobs among foreign employers. At our previous meetings, we managed to discuss very specific issues and to achieve certain success owing to your participation and, of course, the work of our co-chairs, Gennady Timchenko whom I welcome, and thanks to the involvement of all ministers of the Russian Government. And, of course, this was possible because of your personal support, Mr President. Let us hope that at this meeting we will retain the focused, professional style of our previous meetings. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to speak not only about the things that work but also about those that do not work.

Concluding these opening remarks, I would just like to say that we, economic operators, believe that everyone will benefit if Russia, France and all of Europe are not divided or isolated. This is the challenge today. Indeed, diplomacy must continue playing an important role when the number of differences is on the rise.

In the meantime, we are convinced that meetings like this create bridges between Russia and France through investment and economic cooperation. I sincerely wish to all the French companies here that you will have success in overcoming all existing obstacles.

Mr President, once again, thank you for your attention.

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