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“We are optimistic about the Russian market...”

Sammy Kotwani, the Indian Business Alliance.
Indian Business Alliance is working in Russia for many years, and one of its most important goals is to promote India and Russia as business destinations in both countries
Not only Indo-Russian relations are long-term and have much in common but also both of us, really do have a lot to propose to each other – both in developing joint production and in trading experience. Hence, both are headed towards a common aim.

As I see it, our role in Russia is to make Indian businessmen here more at ease. We have contacts in the Russian government and in Russian business circles. The situation today is of course complicated by the global economic crisis, but we Indians are quite optimistic.

In a crisis, you have two choices – to fall or to rise. A lot of business people are afraid, yet most Indian businesses in Russia were, in fact, started in the wake of the 1998 crisis. Thus the current situation is very familiar to us. We know how to proceed – not only how to survive, but how to go on working, and how to grow in spite of the crisis.

The crisis could be an opportunity to rise — if things are properly organised. In any case, it is an opportunity to analyse previous mistakes. Given such an analysis, we can figure out how to organise and reorganise the process of production and marketing of goods. The crisis is also pushing us to find new ways of doing things. So, we are working and waiting patiently for the crisis to end. Nothing lasts forever, and it would be a great mistake not to use the crisis to the best advantage.

Unfortunately, we Indians are not so good in research and development, and perhaps in promotion. Russia and India both have yet to realise all the advantages of working in the present situation. India makes good quality products, comparable to European, American and Chinese brands. We have an excellent IT sector that has long been recognised throughout the world.

Some may say that living standards in India keeps differeing and that some Indian products are far below world standards. This also true, but at the same time in India, there are many other possibilities for setting up and growing a business. And Indians have much to propose to Russia.

As for opportunities in Russia, Indians also need to realise that Russia is not only Moscow. Much more could be done in the Russian regions – a huge consumer market and the Russian economy’s industrial base. Indians might do well to focus more on the regions in their search for real success.

We should also look for new mechanisms for developing bilateral ties. Joint production is one possibility. The Indian labor market is another. There are many different options here, though using labour from India and other foreign countries is a little controversial at the moment. The Russian government is trying to create safe workplaces for Russians. But believe me, qualified workers from foreign countries, even if they cost a little more, will not create problems for Russia’s internal labour market. Russia’s population is decreasing, and for it to continue to develop industrially, it will need workers from abroad.

We also should optimise customs regulations and logistics between India and Russia. This is a task not only for Indian businesses. Today, Indians are looking for official ways for working but also for the Russian authorities: custom regulations, the certification process and other official procedures must be made clearer and easier for foreign businessmen.

We are not looking for something special and exclusive, but there should be ways to help people from foreign business communities to feel more comfortable with their businesses here and to realize that profits in Russia are much higher than in other countries. The connections between government and business should be simplified and should be reasonable for our relations to improve.

Russia is still a very young country from the point of view of market relations. That's why many laws and institutions do not work properly, and some don't fit the market. This can make it very difficult to do business here — not all the conditions and terms for working are understandable and easy to follow, the level of corruption is quite high, and the infrastructure may not be very well developed. There is a lot of confusion. But if we ask ourselves whether we are ready to work together, our answer is yes.

First of all we need to begin a proper exchange of information. Despite all the efforts on both sides, the information flow so far has been only a trickle and not objective. This makes for many myths which turn the real picture into a sort of cartoon.

We are grown-up people, and should follow logic. Business is business, and in order to go ahead, we have no choice but to form proper mechanisms for our work and to realise that the only true basis for real cooperation is respect, for oneself and one’s partners. If we can manage that, we can weather the crisis.

My advice to Indians who want to try the Russian market: you should be ready to stay for a long time, even if yours is a small business. Otherwise, it is useless and meaningless. Be tolerant of the circumstances – and you'll win.