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Friday, September 30, 2005

U.S. Authorities Forbid Import of Russian Beluga Caviar

Photo from www.intour-khabarovsk.com30.09.2005 11:40 MSK MosNews - The United States, which imports 60 percent of the world's beluga caviar, will ban shipments of this gourmet item from the Caspian Sea region to protect falling sturgeon stocks, the Bloomberg agency reported on Friday, Sept. 30. Russia, along with Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, will lose a large portion of its legal caviar market, but it is likely that illegal trade will flourish. Legal trade in caviar is worth about $100 million a year, with black market trade worth as much as five times that amount, says CITES, the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which lists caviar as threatened, rather than close to extinction. Stocks of the fish have declined as much as 30 percent since mid-2004, according to a study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Sept. 16. The Bush administration in March gave nations around the Caspian Sea —- Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Russia —- six months to furnish the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with a coordinated management plan to address over-fishing and poaching of sturgeon or face a halt to trade. "Time is running out for the beluga and there's no excuse for the free-for-all in the Caspian," Shannon Crownover, program manager for Caviar Emptor, a Washington-based conservation body, said in a telephone interview from Turkey. "CITES, European governments, chefs, retailers, consumers, everyone can do more. We hope the ban sends a clear message to governments in the region from their biggest market and offers some temporary relief for the sturgeon." Caviar from the beluga sturgeon, which takes 15 years to mature, is considered the rarest and best type of roe. It retails at New York-based Petrossian Inc. for $352 per 1 3/4 ounces, or 50 grams. The number of beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea has plunged 90 percent in the past 20 years, according to Caviar Emptor. The fish has survived since the days of the dinosaurs.

Russia Occupies 75th Place in Worldwide Competitiveness Rating

Image by MosNews29.09.2005 12:11 MSK MosNews - Russia occupies 75th place in the Global Competitiveness Rating, prepared by the World Economic Forum. This year it has fallen five places, and is behind Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Russia is also far below China, India and Brazil in terms of competitiveness.
According to the Global Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum on Thursday, Sept. 29, Russia's possibilities in the area of research and development as well as considerably strong human resources somewhat compensate the serious weaknesses of its state institutions.
The economy of Finland was named the most competitive in the world for the third year running. Second place is occupied by the United States, then Sweden, Denmark, Taiwan and Singapore. The rating's last places are occupied by Kyrgyzstan and the Republic of Chad.
The rankings are drawn from a combination of hard data, publicly available for each of the economies studied, and the results of the Executive Opinion Survey, a comprehensive assessment conducted by the World Economic Forum, together with its network of partner institutes (leading research institutes and business organizations) in the countries covered by the report.
This year nearly 11,000 business leaders were polled in a record 117 economies worldwide. The survey questionnaire is designed to capture a broad range of factors affecting an economy's business environment that are key determinants of sustained economic growth. Particular attention is placed on elements of the macroeconomic environment, the quality of public institutions which underpin the development process, and the level of technological readiness and innovation.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Russian "oligarchs" losing their influence

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vasily Kononenko) - The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) uniting most of the country's businessmen now faces the first round of a tough struggle for power.
In closed session it was suggested that RSPP President Arkady Volsky, who was appointed in 1990, step down. The Russian public at large started discussing the issue of an RSPP leader this August. It turns out that the RSPP has drastically revised its strategy in an attempt to establish civilized rules of the game in relations with the authorities. The RSPP Bureau advised the Board to appoint Alexander Shokhin, Chairman of the Coordinating Council of Employers' Unions and Chairman of Renaissance Capital's Supervisory Council, as the Union's next President. However, many businessmen expect some unpleasant surprises during the RSPP Board's September 30 session, and with good reason.
It took several months to nominate the next RSPP leader. On September 28 twenty-six members of the 27-person RSPP Bureau held a preliminary vote concerning two candidates, namely, Alexander Shokhin and former RSPP vice-president (occupied this post for four years) Igor Yurgens, who left for Renaissance Capital in January 2005. But former Yukos chief executive officer Mikhail Khodorkovsky now sitting in prison was unable to vote. Igor Yurgens garnered 98 points, with Alexander Shokhin collecting 93 points. Oleg Kiselev, Chairman of the Renaissance Capital Board, finished third, received 31 points. No one expected such surprising results because Shokhin was considered to be the front runner. It is said that his candidacy was even approved by the Kremlin. However, Volsky, an experienced bureaucrat, managed to profit from this situation.
Behind the scenes dealing implies that Volsky would become honorary RSPP president, but he decided to split the Union apart. The RSPP Board dominated by the so-called "Red Directors", who became businessmen during the privatization of former state-run enterprises in the early 1990s, supports Volsky. It seems that they prefer Volsky, a member of the former "nomenklatura," who worked in the apparatus of the Soviet Communist Party. Business tycoons controlling the RSPP Bureau suggested replacing the RSPP leader last spring. They were sure that Volsky's inaction, rather than the so-called "Yukos case," had torpedoed dialogue between the business community and federal authorities.
Volsky was up to the mark during the Yeltsin era when oligarchs ruled Russia through backstage dealing. They pressured the Kremlin into adopting all vital decisions that favored them . According to State Duma deputies, the business community bribed the Parliament that rubberstamped many essential laws. The oligarchs became quite powerful by the late 1990s. However, the situation changed under Vladimir Putin who suggested an equidistant policy with regard to business tycoons. Several powerful businessmen, such as Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Lisin, Vladimir Potanin and Vladimir Yevtushenkov, demanded Volsky's resignation in the spring of 2005. Intricate talks got underway, with Volsky subsequently agreeing to an honorable discharge. But he demanded that the new RSPP president's candidacy be coordinated with him.
Still it seems that Shokhin is putting the cart before the horse. He said in a recent interview that the RSPP leader was its main problem. "All Volsky can do is react to events. At the same time, pre-emptive action must be taken in order to solve the business community's problems," he noted. In reply, Volsky called on the RSPP Board to oppose Shokhin. One had the impression that the RSPP Bureau and Board would enter into a major confrontation. As a result, many influential businessmen decided to support Yurgens, a more acceptable candidate, on September 28. Nonetheless, results show that the RSPP Bureau favors Shokhin.
It is hard to predict the moods and actions of RSPP Board members (medium-size businessmen, for the most part) at the September 30 Moscow session. Volsky can only be removed by an RSPP congress. Neither the Bureau, nor the Board would be able to do anything, if Volsky changes his mind and renounces preliminary accords. Everyone understands that the RSPP, which controls 85% of the country's GDP, would then lose its lobbyist status. The most influential businessmen would realize that they decide nothing; and the Union would be dissolved. To be frank, this scenario is not likely because of the business community's strong instinct for self-preservation. It appears like the RSPP Board will not openly engage in a public battle with the Bureau. And Volsky will have to step down. All these passions now raging around the RSPP show that "oligarchs" are no longer able to manipulate Russia's authorities. Our businessmen find it advantageous to conduct transparent dialogues with the Kremlin nowadays.

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