The most important thing is for businesspeople to trust each other
If the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce didn’t already have an office in Moscow, it would definitely need to be established. It plays an incredibly important role for our countries’ business communities. “Our goal is to ensure that every member of the Chamber benefits fromthe networking opportunities we provide,” said Oleg PROZOROV, the Director General of the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Russia, during his conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of Capital Ideas Sergo Kukhianidze.
Mr. Prozorov, when we talk about Russian-Belgian relations, everybody remembers 1717, when Peter the Great visited several Belgian cities on his way to Paris – Brussels, Liege and Spa, where he learned different trades …
That’s right, this visit played an important role in the relations between our countries. No wonder Belgium has two monuments to Peter the Great. Two years ago, Belgians celebrated the 300 year anniversary since the visit from the famous Russian tsar. Though relations between our countries were established long before that. Back in the 7th-8th centuries, Flemish merchants came to Veliky Novgorod, where they met and traded with Russian merchants. Our relations also developed within the scope of the Hanseatic League. Prior to the Revolution of 1917, Belgian business was widely represented in Russia, and there were many Belgian enterprises in the country. The giant SOLVAY alone owned several factories in Russia. By the way, SOLVAY is still active in our country to this day. Not long ago, together with the Russian petrochemical concern Sibur, they built Europe’s largest PVC plant near Nizhny Novgorod. 1.5 billion euros was invested in the project.
What year did the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce open an office in Moscow, and why?
We registered in Moscow six years ago at the request of the business community. The thing is that back then there was already a relatively big Belgian-Luxembourg business community in Russia. There were about 350 companies operating in the country, and they had already build 50 plants. Business representatives wanted to take the initiative to establish a chamber in Russia, in Moscow. Before it appeared in the Russian capital, all of our joint events were held either in Brussels or in Luxembourg. If we came to Moscow, it was only for a short period of time to take part in forums, seminars, congresses, and exhibitions.
Not all companies that have a presence in Russia are investors. Some offer consulting services, some are dealerships… in spite of the sanctions, 2-3 companies from Belgium and Luxembourg localize their manufacturing in Russia every year, and those who are already here expand their capacities. Aside from the above-mentioned SOLVAY, there are also companies like BEKAERT, PURATOS, GUARDIAN, and ASTRON here.
Last year, a representative delegation from Antwerp visited Moscow and Saint Petersburg…
Yes, it included 150 business representatives. It was headed up by the Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever. Antwerp, the third port in Europe, has had strong ties with Russia for a long time. For example, in the Soviet era, back in the 1980s, the Russian Ladas were completed in Antwerp. Standard Ladas were brought from Togliatti to the factory in Antwerp, where they were disassembled and equipped with automatic transmissions… Basically, everything in these Soviet cars was redone by Western standards, and from here they were transported to other parts of the world. For example, the Lada-Samara was transformed into a fairly decent convertible. In the 90s, there was even a special market in Antwerp, where our compatriots, who ended up in Belgium for whatever reason, sold radio equipment, clothes, and carpets. Their clients were mostly Soviet sailors.
Today, Antwerp has a special relationship with Russia. Suffice it to say that the Russian mining company Alrosa is the main partner of the Diamond Exchange located in Antwerp.
You know, I have been living and working in Belgium and Luxembourg for a long time, and can say that Russia is not some kind of mysterious country for Belgians. And this isn’t just because of the examples I gave you earlier. Since the olden days, Belgians have been a people who are interested in what happens in other countries, and they love to travel. It should come as no surprise that Belgians work all over the world now, including in Russia. The same can be said about people from Luxembourg.
At the end of March, the Netherlands joined the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, right?
Not quite right, the Netherlands didn’t join our chamber. (smiles) The Netherlands is, after all, a country that is part of the Benelux customs, political and economic union, which has just celebrated its 75th anniversary. Dutch companies, which are now applying for membership, have decided to join our Belgian-Luxembourg business community. We are happy to work with them. Dutch business is widely represented in Russia. But we have also never been closed off to the Dutch. It just so happened that, since its founding, the Chamber was focused primarily on the Belgian-Luxembourg cooperation. In general, our goal is to ensure that every member of the Chamber could benefit as much as possible from the networking opportunities we provide.
Can you tell us about your networking?
I’ll say right away that we are a chamber of commerce, a non-profit organization. We don’t do business ourselves and we don’t do business for anyone else. We try to present any company – from Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, as well as Russian companies that come to Benelux countries – the opportunity to network with reliable partners. We have our own reputation rating. Our goal is to be a community where business people can trust each other. If we see that someone comes to the Chamber and they don’t have serious intentions, we terminate their membership. Unfortunately, this recently happened with a Russian company that turned out to be unreliable.
We also protect and promote member interests. For example, some companies are interested in entering a specific Russian region, and we help them do this. We make sure that they don’t end up at the train station at Khanty-Mansiysk with all of their luggage, not knowing where to go or whom to talk to. Out of the 80 regions in Russia, we have already been to 30, and we have visited some of them several times. Our members are already working in many regions. We recently went to Western Siberia for the first time, because companies from Belgium and Luxembourg expressed the desire to go there. We also provide visa support, helping people get business visas. And I want to point out that we don’t do lobbying or consulting. We think our role is much broader in scope. At the end of the day, members of our Chamber work in different sectors and, if the need arises, we provide a convenient platform for negotiations.
So if a foreign company from Belgium, Luxembourg, or the Netherlands wants to come to Russia, can it bypass your Chamber? In other words, can they enter the Russian market independently?
We are a voluntary organization, and we don’t force anybody to come to us. Yes, there are companies that try to come to come to Russia without our help. But sooner or later they still need assistance from our Chamber. It’s good if we can still do something to help, because more often than not they’re already in a tough situation by the time this happens. I’ve witnessed this happen many times in my 6 years of experience of heading up the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Russia.
You see, companies sometimes encounter challenging situations where nobody can help except for us. Even their embassies can’t help. We enter into negotiations with the authorities, with federal and regional departments, ministries, and looking for reasonable ways out of the situation. So we always recommend that companies operate without corruption schemes and comply with all laws.
Our motto is “old ways won’t open new doors”…