Prospects look great for business cooperation between Russia and Germany, says Ulrich Schoening, Consul General of Germany in St. Petersburg

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It is an honor for us, Mr. Consul General, to be talking to Germanys top diplomat in St. Petersburg on the eve of the upcoming BAUFACH international construction forum in Leipzig. When did your St. Petersburg mission begin? Have you previously held diplomatic posts in Russia or the former Soviet Union? I was posted to St. Petersburg in October 2000, but I had spent five years in Russia before, in 1990 through 1995. Before I was posted here, I had headed the OSCE office in the former capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, for a while. So, its been a year on the banks of the Neva for you. Do you think anything has changed over the year in terms of economic relations between Russia and Germany? When I first came to St. Petersburg, I was impressed by the dynamic business cooperation between Russias Northern Capital and German cities. As far as I can see, we still have a lot of mileage. Prospects look great for business cooperation between Russia and Germany. How could construction companies contribute to further rapprochement between the Russian and German business communities? I have recently attended a lecture given by Michael Porter, a Harvard Professor. He aptly remarked that the type of business a company is engaged in is of little importance; whats crucial is whether or not the company is doing business efficiently. This is certainly true about the construction industry, which has been growing at a fast pace. Moreover, Russias construction services market is truly colossal. At the recent international construction trade fair BATIMAT in St. Petersburg, Germany was represented by a collective national display featuring more than 20 companies, who all said they were exceedingly glad they had attended. More than half of the German delegation members said they would be back again next year. Mr. Schoening, do you think regular meetings between President Putin and Chancellor Schroeder are conducive to better economic ties between our nations? Those meetings are very important, but I have to say that good business links come as a result of a long, painstaking effort. It is Moscows responsibility to make sure that Russian laws work and help promote private enterprise in the country. St. Petersburg authorities must also do their bit here, in their home town, by making a policy to nurture a better investment climate in the city. I agree that Russia and St. Petersburg must try harder to bring international investors to the country and the city. Meanwhile, scores of German construction companies are already active in St. Petersburg and Russia. They set a good example of how business can, and should be done in Russia. Can you name a few success stories like that? Indeed, there are a few German companies who have committed major investments to Russia. Their long history in this market testifies that German companies can be very successful here. As for the construction industry, I can name two companies off the top of my head: the construction materials manufacturer Pobeda/Knauf, and Pfleiderer, a manufacturer of fiber glass and other sealing products. A Russian delegation of construction companies will be attending the BAUFACH show in Leipzig whose slogan this year is Focus on Russia. Our journal will be covering the Leipziger Messe as its only official Russian information sponsor. What do you think that slogan means? Its not just words. This slogan has a high import for the entire Russian delegation and specifically for St. Petersburg builders. This year, Russia will be at the center-stage of the Leipzig show, and its principal partner. The German side will give your delegation a special treatment, which means that the BAUFACH hosts are assured of successful business ties between Germany and Russia in the field of construction. Russian builders and construction materials manufacturers cannot say their products and services are exactly in demand in Europe. Do you think Russian companies stand a chance of making it in the international market? So far, Russians have been attending international trade shows to learn from the rest of the world. In fact, Germany should be of particular interest to them. East Germany had a system similar to the Soviet Unions for almost half a century. Like the Soviet Union, it built a lot of cheap block housing, but it has since changed out of recognition. Russian builders will have a lot to see in Leipzig. Slowly but surely, your companies are beginning to showcase their products abroad, and to do business internationally. German builders carefully study the proposals and opportunities offered by their Russian counterparts. It is certain to me that eventually, we will be able to cooperate both in the Russian and German marketplace. St. Petersburg is preparing to celebrate its 300th anniversary. Is Germany planning any celebratory events in the Russias Northern Capital? St. Petersburg is a crucial city for Europe, and its upcoming anniversary is a major highlight. St. Petersburg is sister cities with Hamburg and Dresden in Germany. Committees for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg operate in both cities, developing cultural events to take place as part of the festivities. As far as I know, some private German companies will also be involved. For instance, RUHRGAS has sponsored the restoration of the legendary Amber Room in Tsarskoye Selo, which will be completed by May 2003. Im sure there will be other events both more and less significant involving Germany as part of celebrating St. Petersburgs 300th anniversary. What would you like to wish St. Petersburg builders who will be either exhibiting at BAUFACH-2001 or simply visiting it, Mr. Schoening? First of all, I wish success to all Russian attendees of the Leipzig trade fair. I hope they will find new reliable partners in Germany, and I trust this show will give a new impetus to cooperation between Germany and Russia in the field of construction and the construction materials industry.

: 12.11.2001
Interviewed by Alexander Simonovsky
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