Russia Far East joint ventures in offing

Kyodo

Tokyo and Moscow have agreed to enhance cooperation in developing Russia’s Far East through joint projects in such fields as energy, agriculture and infrastructure, government officials said.

The agreement reached Tuesday at a meeting in Tokyo comes as Japanese officials are hoping, by advancing bilateral economic cooperation, to make progress on their demand for the return of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that were taken by Soviet forces at the end of the war.

At a meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba pointed out the importance of resolving the territorial dispute, which has prevented the two countries from concluding a formal postwar peace treaty, a Japanese official said.

The two sides will also set up a working group under the bilateral economic committee to study ways to improve the environment for Japanese companies doing business in Russia, given the numerous problems they currently face in investing in the country.

The 10th session of the bilateral committee, held at the Iikura Guest House, was jointly chaired by Genba and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

“Building relations that are appropriate as partners in the Asia-Pacific region by advancing cooperation in various fields would be of strategic interest to each other,” Genba said afterward.

Shuvalov said Moscow hopes the working group will discuss how the two countries can “join forces” to solve issues related to investment in Russia. Shuvalov, who is said to enjoy the trust of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is second-in-command in Russia’s Cabinet, taking charge of the country’s economic reforms.

In a memorandum signed by Genba and Shuvalov at the end of the talks, the two sides also agreed to set up a working group aimed at addressing Russia’s urban problems, such as traffic congestion and outdated infrastructure. On energy, both Tokyo and Moscow agreed that energy resources should be provided for Japan under terms that are “mutually beneficial,” the memorandum said.

Economic and fiscal policy minister Seiji Maehara met separately with Shuvalov earlier Tuesday, praising Moscow’s decision to have Putin’s former presidential adviser lead the Russian delegation for the bilateral committee.

Genba and Shuvalov last met in early September on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting in Vladivostok, Russia.

The first meeting of the bilateral committee was held in 1996, and the body last met in Moscow in February last year. The next session of the bilateral committee is due to be held in Moscow, likely in 2013.