Main | Archive | Issue 2/2008
“What Are We Doing for Our Members?”
Column: Under The Sign Of Mercury
This question is answered by Rene Harun, director of the department in charge of relations with member companies of the Russian-German Chamber of Foreign Trade.
“Like a cliff amid breaking waves”-can there be a more accurate description of its role given by one of the founders of the Union of the German Economy in the Russian Federation (also known as the German Business Association, or GBA)? A startling evolution that has occurred--not without our efforts-in Russia in the last few years has taken us to qualitatively new heights in our bilateral economic relations. The GBA and the Russian-German Chamber of Foreign Trade (CFT) established on December 14 last year, which is the GBA’s successor, are the common voice of the whole of the German economy operating in Russia.
The “Made in Germany” label has now become a recognizable image and a symbol of impeccable quality. Together with leading German companies, medium-sized businesses are also widely represented here-starting with suppliers of automotive spare parts and manufacturers of building materials to makers of windows, foodstuffs, furniture, and packaging products. The general framework conditions for economic activities in Russia can unquestionably be characterized as good. In some cases support is needed, however, and there we, that is the Chamber, come to the aid. That this is not just empty talk is borne out by the fact that in the last more that ten years of our presence here, our membership has increased steadily (186 members in 1995 and about 520 members at the end of 2007). And all that despite the economically very tough years, for instance, the year of the 1998 financial and economic crisis.
What do the Chamber members get for their member fees and what do they expect from us? The question can be briefly answered with three words: “platform,” “information,” “contacts.”
Platform. This notion covers the activities of the members themselves, who successfully shape the business of their own while making use of our advice and services. About 400 representatives of member companies are actively involved in the work of seven committees and ten working groups of the Chamber, each having its own specifics. Meetings are held in the form of public discussions, during which Chamber members and guests, potential clients, exchange views on a variety of issues, such as the issuance of work and residence permits in Russia, accounting, taxes, real estate, logistics, public relations (PR), visa support, customs, and many others. On making specialized presentations at various events or publishing their articles in CFT booklets, its members share their “know-how,” which helps form a circle of experts in the most varied areas: certification, finance, human resources (HR), information technologies (IT), etc., to whom people turn for advice and consulting on a regular basis.
Despite some noticeable progress, Russia still remains a specific market with many treacherous features inherent in such markets. This is why the firms based here still need backing. Without appropriate support, the implementation of their projects may be disrupted. We also cannot help mentioning our direct assistance to individual enterprises claiming value-added tax return. All this also requires our indispensable and time-consuming work involving the lobbying of interests intended for further improvement of the framework conditions for investors.
Information is yet another key area of our activities. Our aggregate competence and knowledge of branch specifics form a basis for participating in and organizing numerous conferences, info events and seminars on different issues. For instance, the Open Doors day that the CFT holds every year is a kind of symbiosis of various events, at which compact information on how to launch successful work in Russia is presented.
Firstly, the CFT members promptly get information on changes in customs, tax and immigration laws as well as minutes of important meetings with decision makers. Secondly, we offer alternative solutions to different problems.
Through our regularly published CFT Bulletin we widely inform our members about our activities, info events, and contacts with Russian and German agencies, meetings and discussions with our guests from the fields of politics and economics. We also inform our readers about protocol events, holidays, and so on. What’s more, our experts publish contributions on crucial trends emerging in their specific branches, on changes in legislation as well as transfers in Russian agencies and political structures. The bulletin also publishes information on individual Russian regions, announcements about exhibitions, conferences, and much more.
Our annual reports provide an appropriate assessment of companies and enterprises as well of the current economic and social situation in Russia. Special issues of “100 Questions and Answers on Business in Russia-from Professionals to Professionals” are fairly popular. Representatives of successful companies describe their hands-on experience and strategies of entering the Russian market in the form of interviews and show ways of bringing about success. Indeed, sometimes, one can only attain a goal after getting over obstacles and mistakes.
Of special importance is our cooperation with mass media. Here we should especially commend the efforts of the working group in charge of PR. The group considers intensification and deepening of contacts with German and Russian journalists, an improved mutual understanding and correct cooperation with them as one of its objectives. In addition, numerous events involving journalists and PR specialists of enterprises and firms are held. We, for our part, willingly grant interviews in which we highlight our activities and arrange briefings for media representatives.
Different polls we conduct are likewise part of the Chamber’s info activities. For example, our regular poll designed to find out the level of wages at German enterprises in Russia allows comparing it with that in Central and Eastern European countries. Regional polls on the most favorable investment environment in all the 86 RF constituent entities are needed and asked-for by both the executives of the enterprises already present in Russia and those planning to enter the Russian market.
Charitable projects are equally part of our social life. For the last seven years, we have focused the financial assistance of our company members on three orphanages located in Kolomna (the Kolomna municipal center helping children without parental care; a specialized kindergarten for children with impaired hearing; and a home for children with the organically affected central nervous system and mental disorders). With our personal involvement, the financial support of enterprises and other actions we have been able to ease-even if to a small degree-the suffering of these children.
And now about our contacts. The socio-economic support of activities of German entrepreneurs, support based on a ramified chain of connections and mutual relations established in both Russia and Germany, is a must. A direct road to decision-making people and organizations can justly be dubbed the most important road leading to successful investment. Last year, we managed, relying on our contacts, to implement a series of major projects. The Chamber members highly value our function of an intermediary in federal and regional authorities. In this context, we can look back on our long-lasting and constructive cooperation with Russian customs authorities in the field of the general support of investment projects being implemented by German companies. We practice the holding of joint events with high-ranked customs executives and our talks with senior officials of individual customs posts in Moscow. To address specific problems of our members and those of the German economy at large, we make use of contacts with several governors, the ministry of economic development and trade, the finance ministry, and also the Federal Migration Service or the Registration Chamber of the Justice Ministry whenever issues related to migration laws for expatriate co-workers must be addressed.
In the real situation of increasing German-Russian trade and economic interaction, the Chamber exemplifies a classical organization providing consulting services. We have succeeded in filling the key notions “platform,” “information” and “contacts” with a workable agenda. One of the members of our association wrote, “If there had been no Union [of the German Economy] and CFT, it would have been necessary to invent such an organization immediately.”