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Russian, US Business Leaders Move to Increase Trade - 2002-04-29

Russian and American business leaders are holding a two day meeting in Washington to explore new ways to boost bi-lateral trade and investment.

After several years of stagnation there are signs of renewed U-S business interest in Russia. McDonald's is building 22 new restaurants this year, bringing to nearly 100 the number of restaurants it operates in Russia. The Chicago based company employs over 9,000 Russians and has invested $230 million there over the past decade.

Helen Teplitskaia, the head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in Chicago says U.S. investors are attracted by Russia's big market and political stability. "Compared to [two to five years ago], stability is on an increasing trend," said Ms. Teplitskaia. "Because we can tell that reforms are underway. And the fact that the government is so focused on judicial reformsincreasing the implementation of court decisionsreally does generate a lot of stability."

Speaking at the conference organized by the Russia Journal newspaper, German banker Peter Koelle, the head of HypoVereinsbank in Moscow, says there is money to be made in Russia. He admits there is widespread criminality in business but believes it is no worse than in China or Latin America. Mr. Koelle urges prospective investors to ask tough questions of their Russian partners.

"There are no people in Russia who have not violated the law during the last 10 years - including ourselves," conceded Mr. Koelle. "You just have to violate some of the laws, because in a country where you make hundreds of laws per year, the way the laws are tailored are not perfect. And they have to be corrected. And this takes time."

Mr. Koelle says investors must refuse to pay bribes as this opens the way to blackmail.

Participants at the Washington meeting give President Vladimir Putin high marks for pursuing economic reforms and encouraging foreign investors. Russia's economy has been growing fast over the past two years, and its stock market which was depressed since the 1998 financial crisis registered near record gains in the first quarter of this year.