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Russia-Canada trade needs to be improved

OTTAWA - Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on Monday said he wanted Canadian companies to sign more deals in Russia and expressed concern about the stagnating trade flow between the world's two largest countries. Kasyanov, speaking after talks in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, called for immediate steps to improve a bilateral trade relationship that was worth C$866 million ($550 million) last year. ``Unfortunately, in recent years our (bilateral) trade has not grown, which in our view is not very reassuring,'' he told a news conference. Kasyanov said he was dismayed that some Canadian-Russian projects had stalled and said the two governments should set up a monitoring mechanism to ensure that all major joint deals were completed. This and other topics will be discussed further during a major trade mission that Chretien is due to lead to Russia in February 2002. Critics question the need for the trip, citing evidence of corruption and the chaotic state of corporate governance in Russia. Canada and Russia are still negotiating a foreign investment protection agreement to replace the one signed with the former Soviet Union in 1989, and Chretien acknowledged there were still some investment-related problems. In July he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a bitter dispute between Canada's Norex Petroleum and Russia's Tyumen Oil Co. over Siberian oil producer Yugraneft. Norex says Tyumen Oil has taken over Yugraneft by force, evicting its officials and installing its own representative as director. Tyumen denies the accusation. ``We have had some problems (in Russia) which always get more news (coverage) than problems elsewhere. But there are always difficulties with investments,'' Chretien said. ``I believe...that the climate for investment in Russia is much better now than it was five or 10 years ago,'' he told the news conference. Canada's Export Development Corp., which provides loans to foreign companies wishing to buy Canadian goods, restarted operations in Russia this March. It had suspended dealings following the August 1998 economic collapse. The EDC has in the past offered loans to Russian blue chip companies such as Gazprom and Lukoil and officials said they were ready to conclude similar deals with other major enterprises that meet the corporation's criteria. In 2000 Canada exported C$200 million worth of goods to Russia, mainly oil and gas equipment, building products, tobacco and pork products. It imported C$666 million worth of Russian crude oil, iron, steel, base metals, precious metals, fish and seafood. -Reuters
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