The 2018 RBCC Business Forum was well-attended with some 130 delegates from many RBCC member and non-member companies, as well as representatives from regional chambers of commerce from across the UK and Russia. The event was opened by RBCC Patron HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who spoke positively of the work of the RBCC in what are difficult times in diplomatic relations between our two countries.
Other keynote speeches came from Roger Munnings CBE, Chairman of the RBCC Board of Directors; HE Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the UK; Dr Boris Abramov, Trade Representative of the Russian Federation in the UK; and Dr John Kennedy, Head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Team at the Department for International Trade. The overwhelming theme of all four keynote speakers’ addresses was that both countries should continue to cooperate in the business sphere, despite the challenges presented by the current political situation.
The first panel, “Focus on the Future”, was expertly moderated by Charles Hendry, President of the RBCC Advisory Council and allowed delegates to hear from leaders in the energy, cybersecurity, automotive and legal sectors. Alex Barnes, Government Relations Advisor for Nord Stream 2 AG, spoke about the rationale behind the Nord Stream 2 project – a pipeline that will transport natural gas from Russia to Europe through the Baltic Sea. Whilst Europe’s energy demands continue to grow, projects such as this allow for a competitive market, offering Europe a larger choice when it comes to natural resources. The project requires a lot of cooperation and therefore trust between the countries that are involved, an idea that was also emphasised by Adam Maskatiya, General Manager for Kaspersky Lab UK & Ireland. As the world becomes increasingly digitised, we need to work to ensure that we keep our data and businesses safe, and this requires trust between business partners as well as between businesses and regulatory bodies. Interaction between businesses and governments is therefore of great importance to cybersecurity, but it is equally important in other areas.
Bob Murphy, Powertrain Operations Manager for Russia, Ford Motor Company, shared his experience of having spent six years in Tatarstan where he led the launch of a Ford manufacturing plant. Ford has worked closely with the local government in bringing their operations to the region and has also forged a partnership with Russian automotive company Sollers. Bob attributes the success of Ford in Russia to these close relationships – when times got tough, Ford stayed on the ground in Russia and this trust and integrity shown by the company has been reflected by the Tatarstan government and Russian employees of Ford. Trevor Barton, Consultant for law firm CMS, echoed the sentiment that it is the people that are so special about Russia, and emphasised the need to explore the options that the country presents to British businesses. There is no denying that sanctions can present an obstacle to Russo-British trade, but the doors remain open and many opportunities remain. We must seize these and stay engaged, especially in difficult times.
Following a coffee break, delegates were treated to a very interesting and frank conversation with Liam Halligan, Economics Commentator for Telegraph Media Group, led by Roger Munnings. Liam first went to Russia in the 90s and shared his experiences of moving his family to Moscow. He highlighted the long affinity between the UK and Russia, and the similarities in his own Celtic mindset and that which he experienced among the Slavs – of getting on with business and seeing things simply and for what they are.
The final session of the Forum, “Advise, Support, Engage”, was moderated by Stuart Lawson and brought the focus from British businesses looking to work in Russia to Russian business culture and where positive changes could be made. Arsen Manukyan, Head of International Affairs at RBCC Gold Member Synergy University, spoke about the university’s business education and the freedom its private status allows it. Not only can they provide incredibly facilities and even invest in students’ projects, but they are using their global connections to diversify the education they give. This and other projects, such as that of the Central Bank of Russia that aims to improve the financial literacy of Russian SMEs, are helping to create a culture of entrepreneurialism among young business people. Oxana Romanchuk, Expert Counsel on Financial Literacy at CBR and an Ambassador for OPORA, highlighted the issues that have prevented SMEs from being at the core of the Russian economy, and explained how organisations such as OPORA are helping to change this.
Whilst OPORA provides support to SMEs, RVC offers funding opportunities to start-ups and facilitates the development of tech companies in particular. Represented on the panel by Yulia Druzhnikova, Head of International Projects, RVC also works towards creating a global business culture amongst Russian SMEs, of which less than 1% currently export their products. The session may have underlined the need to educate Russian entrepreneurs and encourage a more global outlook in Russia’s SMEs and start-ups, but the panellists were also very positive in regards to Russo-British business: these organisations that provide support and guidance are actively working towards their international goals which will, in turn, benefit the Russian companies they work with.
This summarises the overall sentiments coming from all speakers and delegates at the event: that both Russia and the UK are open for business and there are many parties willing and eager to share their experiences and offer support to those wishing to explore the possibilities. The RBCC is one such organisation, and the overwhelmingly positive attitude of all participants of the Forum has shown that the work we do has value for the Russo-British business community. The Forum discussed some difficult topics, but we hope that it also inspired those considering taking their business to Russia that it is worth taking the next step, and those who are already working with Russia that they should continue doing just that.
Putting on the RBCC Forum in the current climate was no mean feat, and it would not have been possible without the speakers, delegates, and event sponsors: BP, Nord Stream 2, LPC, Petropavlovsk, CMS, Blackthorne & Sunfloret. We are very grateful for the support of our sponsors and for that of our members and friends that continue to value our work. We are also thankful for the support of HRH Prince Michael of Kent, the Department for International Trade, the Russian Embassy in the UK and the Russian Trade Delegation. You can contact the DIT or RTD for export-import assistance – please see below for their websites. For those of you who take inspiration from the above report of the event, please do get in touch with any Russo-British business enquiries – the RBCC is always happy to help.
Tel:+44 (0)20 7931 6455
Department for International Trade
Russian Trade Delegation
Tel: +44 (0) 208 340 1907