Pravda Interview With Chris Devonshire-Ellis: “Russia’s Trade Relations With Asia are Improving Before Our Eyes”

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Chris Devonshire-Ellis, Publisher of Asia Briefing, was interviewed by Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper answered at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok by Pravda’s main economic correspondent Evgeny Proskuryakov. This discussion dealt with Russia’s developing trade ties with Asia and has attracted 14 million views in Russia. We provide the English language translation.

Chris Devonshire-Ellis
Photo: Andrey Minaev

“The Times Are Interesting Now”

Pravda: “Chris, you’ve been working with Russia for a long time. What, in your opinion, are the main problems of Russian companies today?”

Devonshire-Ellis: “The current geopolitical situation, sanctions, disconnection of some banks from the SWIFT money transfer system – all this has had serious consequences. In addition, many Western companies, suppliers of consumer and other goods left Russia. But now these gaps can be filled by representatives of Russia’s friendly countries. That’s exactly what’s happening now. For example, European cheeses have almost disappeared from supermarkets, but I noticed that they are replaced by cheeses from South America.”

Pravda: “Mainly from Argentina…”

Devonshire-Ellis: “Yes, and also from Chile and Uruguay, the old European diaspora is now competing with Europe for the Russia market! This gives alternatives, and not only in terms of cheese, of course. Here, at the Far Eastern Economic Forum, we see how Russia’s relations with Asian countries are being established – for example, Vietnam. From there, seafood is supplied to Russia, and Russia sends pork to Vietnam in return. Huge opportunities in the forestry industry are also associated with this trade corridor. So if we talk about Asia, most of the countries of this continent are friendly to Russia. There are huge opportunities for the development of trade with Russia, filling the vacancies left by Western suppliers.

Of course, it will not be possible to fully compensate for the departure of Western suppliers, at least not soon. But the first signs of recovery are already being outlined. Asian countries are now very interested in cooperating with Russia. We can already see how companies from Russia and India are using the ruble and rupee in mutual trade. At this forum, I was at a session on cooperation between ASEAN States. And they said that it seemed that the ruble would be used in conjunction not only with the Indian rupee, but also with the Vietnamese dong. And this process will develop. I think in 2023 we will see that more Asian currencies will be used in conjunction with the ruble as part of de-dollarization and the transition to trading using local currencies. So we have very interesting times now. There are difficulties, but among these problems you can see the first signs of growth.”

Pravda: “Yes, the time is interesting now. And how do your relations with Russian business partners develop at this “interesting” time?”

Devonshire-Ellis: “My business is already 30 years old, we have offices in China, in ASEAN countries, India, UAE, in Asia we have more than 600 lawyers and accountants. And now we are seeing an increase in the number of customers from Russia and increased interest on the part of Russian companies in entering Asian markets.”

“In Russia, I met only a friendly attitude”

Pravda: “Has your relationship with Russians changed?”

Devonshire-Ellis: “Things are normal, despite problems with SWIFT. In addition, it is difficult for Russian companies to open bank accounts in some countries – China, Hong Kong, Singapore. Now it’s easier for them to create an account, for example, in Dubai, India, and ASEAN countries like Indonesia. This is, by the way, a hint to Russian entrepreneurs about the places where they should start a business to enter huge Asian markets.”

Pravda: “Chris, what can you say about business partners from our country?”

Devonshire-Ellis: “I’ve always thought that in normal life Russians are sympathetic, friendly, sincere people. I haven’t met anything else but an atmosphere of friendliness towards myself in Russia, despite the political issues.

As for business, Russian entrepreneurs are often very conservative in their expenses. They like to bargain. But I have never had problems with non-payment of bills and general disputes over contracts with Russian clients. I have been working with Russians for more than 30 years and I can say: these are reliable people in business.”

Pravda: “Thank you, glad to hear that! We really appreciate it. And since we are meeting in Vladivostok, your opinion is very interesting: do you consider the Russian Far East a promising region for business?”

Devonshire-Ellis: “The consequences of the geopolitical struggle that we are now witnessing are pushing the Russian Far East closer to Southeast Asia. For example, as I said, Vietnam already has a sea transport corridor with direct shipments between Ho Chi Minh City and Vladivostok.”

Pravda: “But there is not only Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh City. There are many large ports in China, the Philippines, Japan… Does Vladivostok have a chance to become an important transport hub?”

Devonshire-Ellis: “Of course. Logistics companies and enterprises that want to sell their goods not only to Russia, but also to Central Asian countries can turn their attention to direct routes between Southeast Asia and Vladivostok. For them, these are ways to access new markets. For example, large areas of northeastern China need Vladivostok to access the Pacific Ocean. There is also Chennai – a port in the south-east of India, from where there are also direct shipping routes to Vladivostok. All this can be the beginning of strong business relations between Southeast Asia and eastern Russia.

This is because the countries of Southeast and North-East Asia can use the Trans-Siberian Railway, which runs from Vladivostok here in the Far East to the west of Russia to large consumer markets in Moscow and St.Petersburg. The middle-class consumer market in Russia is about 50 million people, which is quite a lot – about the same as the UK. You can buy products in Southeast Asia with shipment to Vladivostok, and then send them further across the country via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Over time, such routes will become more and more attractive for Asian exporters looking to fill the gaps vacated by Western businesses.”