Russia Is Trade Weeks Focus
World Trade Week kicks off at noon at the Grand Rapids Economic Club luncheon in the Ambassador Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. Christine Todd Whitman, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will be guest speaker.
Later, an invitation-only VIP reception will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Hager/Lubbers Exhibition Hall at GVSU’s downtown campus to give members of the West Michigan business community an opportunity to meet Russian dignitaries and U.S. government officials.
The reception will include the annual presentation of the Presidential E-Award to X-Rite Inc.
A half-day seminar on doing business in Russia is slated for 8 a.m. Tuesday at GVSU’s Loosemore Auditorium downtown. Rex L. Farris, president of Global Express International Capital Corp., will be keynote speaker. Business leaders and government officials experienced in U.S.-Russia trade will also be featured.
There will be presentations and break-out sessions featuring: Yuri Ushakov, Russian Federation ambassador to the United States; Stephan Wasylko, U.S. Embassy senior commercial officer for Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Dale Posthumus, director of business development for the U.S. Grains Council.
Private industry executives will also participate in the seminar, among them Tom Groos, president of Viking Group Inc.; Don Seale, Bissell Homecare Inc. international sales manager; and Blake Krueger, vice president of Wolverine World Wide.
From 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, the West Michigan World Trade Association will present its World Trader of the Year Award at a reception in the GVSU Eberhard Center.
Immediately afterward, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan will sponsor a videoconference in the Eberhard Center with Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, D.C.
Eisenhower is an expert on Russia and has testified on Russian foreign policy issues before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.
She serves on the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control and frequently consults for major companies doing business overseas.
Tuesday’s reception and videoconference is open to the public. Admission is $15.
Grand Rapids has a World Trade Week Committee that decides seven months ahead of time what country will be spotlighted during the week, said Thomas Maguire, local director/international trade specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“We’ve done practically every major market in the world but we’ve never done Russia,” he said.
U.S. sales to other countries were down 5 percent worldwide last year but held steady in Eurasia — Russia and surrounding areas. Russia joined the World Trade Organization last year.
“They’ve been slowly coming up the ladder of commercial transparency and infrastructure building to where it’s becoming an attractive market,” Maguire said.
“We’re hoping people will come to learn about Russia as it exists today.
“We want to get the message out to companies in the area that might have a negative image of Moscow based on their experience of some years ago. But now Russia is changing, and we’re bringing in a senior officer from our embassy in Moscow who will give us the very latest.”
During Russia’s 1998 financial crisis, many investors pulled out of the country. Since then, the Russian government has enacted a number of reforms, particularly with respect to tax reduction and simplification.
Today, Russia is reported to be one of the emerging markets in the world economy, and is the world’s largest oil producer and oil exporter.
Although the Russian Federation is still working to establish a modern market economy and modernize its industrial base, from 1999 to 2002 its annual output grew by an average 6 percent.
Its economy has been expanding and consumer-spending power continues to grow with real wages increasing by 17.3 percent in the past year.
“The year 2000 marked the first democratic transfer of power in Russia in 1,000 years, and the new government has been able to enact new laws to open up transparency,” said Greg Harris, who also is an international trade specialist with the Department of Commerce.
“I call it ‘Russia at the crossroads.’ They’ve got back to where investment is flowing in again.”
He said the U.S. Embassy has researched and found many industries that would be favorable to U.S. investors, among them oil and gas, aircraft parts, automotive assembly and parts, medical equipment, agricultural machinery, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications.
World Trade Week has been observed nationally since 1935, and is proclaimed each year by the U.S. president to focus attention on how important exporting is to the U.S. economy and job generation. This is the 18th year that World Trade Week has been commemorated in West Michigan.
Co-hosts for this year’s event are Tim O’Donovan, CEO of Wolverine World Wide and Michael Jandernoa, CEO of Perrigo Co.Event sponsors are Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC, Davenport University, Standard Federal Bank-North America, and Witte Travel & Tours.