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Annual economic gathering kicks off in Russia

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Kai Ryssdal: Moscow’s about this close to signing $1 trillion natural gas deal with China. It’d be, by far, the biggest investment Russia’s gotten in a good long while.

The Kremlin’s actively seeking out new business, in fact. That’s why they’ve invited executives and government officials from around the world to St. Petersburg for a three-day International Economic Forum. If that sounds a lot like the World Economic Forum in Davos — yeah, that’s intentional.

Peter van Dyk has the story.

Peter van Dyk: Many of the sleek black Mercedes ferrying VIPs around St. Petersburg have Moscow license plates. And certainly anyone who’s anyone in Russian business has left the modern capital for the ancient one today. But the really important visitors here are from abroad. Russia uses the forum to sell itself to foreign investors.

Roland Nash of Verno Capital in Moscow is attending for the fourth time.

Roland Nash: They certainly get a lot of people coming every year, so in that sense they’re achieving their objective. Where they are less successful is actually getting people to invest as a result of it.

The foreigners who do invest can reap big rewards, says Hans Paul Burkner, head of the Boston Consulting Group.

Hans Paul Burkner: Major companies from the U.S. have done extremely well because they have been very persistent and not let themselves be deterred from some of the issues that clearly are there.

Those companies include Pepsico, Caterpillar and Boeing. Those issues are corruption, rule of law and investor protections. They come up time and time again in discussions between Washington and Moscow.

Lorraine Hariton is the State Department’s special representative for commercial and business affairs.

Lorraine Hariton: I think the more that they can work on getting the business environment and the rule of law in a way that makes people feel comfortable, I think that will really facilitate business between the two countries.

Certainly, the St. Petersburg forum gets global attention and good PR. But people who do business here know Russia still has work to do if it is to get the level of investment it wants.

In St. Petersburg, I’m Peter van Dyk for Marketplace.

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