Russia President Vladimir Putin has said contrary to popular thought, Russia is exporting more food to Africa than weapons.
In his plenary speech at the Russia-Africa Economic Forum in Sochi, Putin said Russia exported food products worth $25 billion in sales compared to $15 billion in weapons. The two-day Russia-Africa Economic Forum opened yesterday and attracted more than 40 African presidents and leaders.
Below is Putin's full speech
Mr President, heads of state and heads of government of the African countries, friends, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to offer my heartfelt greetings to all of you, participants and guests of the Russia−Africa Economic Forum timed to coincide with the first-ever summit of Russia and African states.
All countries of the African continent are represented here today, by top officials, politicians and, of course, business leaders. Top managers of almost 2,000 Russian and foreign companies are taking part in this forum. The topic of this plenary session, Russia and Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation, is extremely important and relevant.
Economic issues are an integral part and an actual priority of Russia’s relations with the African countries. Developing close business ties serves our common interests, contributes to the sustainable growth of all our countries, helps to improve quality of life and solve numerous social problems.
A lot of effort went into the preparations for this forum. Multiple events on specific fields of Russian-African cooperation have been held over the past year. They include an economic conference and a meeting of the African Export-Import Bank Board of Directors in Moscow last June.
The programme of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum included a special session on advancing cooperation with the African continent. There have been many other themed exhibitions, seminars, Russian-African business mission exchanges, in-depth and engaged discussions of prospective joint projects in trade, investment and industry-specific programmes.
To reiterate, African countries are becoming increasingly attractive for Russian businesses. This is largely due to the fact that Africa is becoming a global economic growth centre. According to experts, Africa’s GDP will have reached $29 trillion by 2050.
Russia-Africa trade more than doubled over the past five years and exceeded, as our colleague just said, $20 billion. Is that a lot or a little? A colleague of ours said this is a good figure. I cannot agree with this.
I think it is way too little. After all, ladies and gentlemen, keep in mind that Egypt accounts for $7.7 billion, or 40 per cent, of these $20 billion. We have many potential partners in Africa, lots of them. They have good development prospects and enormous growth potential. Of course, this is not enough.
Notably, the product range of counter trading is expanding, and the share of non-resource – agricultural and industrial – products is increasing. Russia is among the top ten suppliers of food to the African market. We are now exporting more agricultural products than weapons to the markets of third countries.
Weapons account for $15 billion of our exports, whereas agricultural products are nearing $25 billion in sales, I believe. So, the potential for development is good here, too, and there are things to discuss.
We hope that taking all this together will continue to push the trade numbers up, and, I believe, we can easily at least double the volume of trade within the next four to five years.
Integration processes unfolding in Africa provide additional opportunities for cooperation. We welcome the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area as part of the African Union and are willing to work with this new entity.
We support establishing close working contacts between the AU Commission and the Eurasian Economic Commission, which will sign a memorandum of understanding tomorrow. As an active participant in the EAEU, Russia will do its best to facilitate the convergence of trade regimes in the African Free Trade Area and the EAEU common market.
Notably, bilateral intergovernmental commissions and business councils established with many African countries work energetically on the economic agenda of Russia-Africa ties. Russia plans to expand its trade mission network, to support businesses and to establish new contacts.
The Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa created under the auspices of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a good track record. This committee assists Russian entrepreneurs in accessing the African markets and helps businesses implement joint investment projects.
Many Russian companies have for a long time and successfully worked with their partners from various sectors of the African economy and are determined to increase their presence in Africa. We will support such plans at the state level.
Gazprom, Rosneft, and LUKOIL are implementing promising oil and gas projects on that continent. Alrosa is developing diamond deposits, Yandex is present on the markets of a number of countries, and helps African states address information security challenges and develop the digital economy. Rosatom is willing to build the nuclear industry for its African partners as a turnkey project and to build research centres based on multipurpose reactors.
The construction of the Russian Industrial Zone in Egypt is nearing completion. This is a major site in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, where Russian companies will be able to localise their production facilities. About 20 Russian companies will participate in this project. This is the current estimation and I am quite certain there will be more of them.
Russia provides systematic assistance to developing the African continent. We provide trade preferences and cooperate within international organisations, such as the World Food Programme, the International Civil Defence Organisation and the World Health Organisation.
Our country is participating in an initiative to ease the African countries’ debt burden. To date, the total amount of write-offs stands at over $20 billion. Joint programmes have been launched with a number of countries involving the use of debt to finance national economic growth projects.
We have developed cooperation in the fight against dangerous infectious diseases. In particular, a Russian research centre of epidemiology has been established in Guinea. (Applause.) Yes, it is a very good project; it turned out to be very effective. Our country was one of the first to respond to the Ebola epidemic by allocating over $60 billion for fighting it. It should be said that the vaccine is very effective. I believe it is the best in the world.
Training of skilled personnel is a traditional sphere of Russian-African cooperation. By the mid-1980s, we had built about a hundred educational establishments in Africa and half a million Africans have been trained for work at industrial companies and agricultural facilities in African countries. Currently, 17,000 Africans are studying here in Russia, including some 4,000 who are on federal scholarships.
Friends and colleagues,
This forum has a packed business programme. After President el-Sisi and I complete our speeches, the participants in this plenary session will be introduced to practical ideas and proposals in the promising spheres of Russian-African cooperation. The heads of Russian companies and the Economic Development Ministry have prepared presentations for the key Russian competencies, which open up new opportunities for our economic cooperation with Africa.
It is notable that numerous specific sessions will be held during the forum, in particular in the field of oil, gas and nuclear energy, mineral production, agriculture and high technology. You will have an opportunity to discuss concrete spheres of cooperation and coordinate agreements on mutually beneficial joint projects.
I am absolutely certain that this forum will give a fresh impetus to the further development of the entire range of trade and economic cooperation between Russia and its African friends. I wish all of you taking part in this forum every success and all the very best. We are grateful that you decided to come to Russia.