Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at the 39th meeting of the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers, Baku, December 14, 2018
Mr Chairperson, colleagues,
First, I would like to express gratitude to our Azerbaijani friends for their warm welcome and traditional hospitality.
We highly appreciate Azerbaijan’s activity during its chairmanship of the BSEC. We believe that Baku has generally managed to conduct a balanced line aimed at strengthening the organisation while preventing a politicised approach.
Symbolically, the Azerbaijani chairmanship has been held under the motto “Encouraging Trade through Interrelationship.” The Black Sea region comprises various countries which are also closely intertwined – historically and economically. Old trade routes and transport and energy corridors intersect in this region and new ones are being created. Various integration projects are ongoing. So, there is significant potential for economic cooperation. Unfortunately, we have failed to fully use it so far.
The BSEC can make a useful contribution to effectively tackling this task. The BSEC’s activities objectively help promote the identity of the Black Sea littoral states and create institutional conditions for pushing forward a common regional economic agenda.
The declaration passed at the May 2017 BSEC Summit on the 25th anniversary of the BSEC sets forth new and ambitious goals for a practical perspective and we hope to achieve practical results. One of Russia’s priorities is to expand intra-regional trade and qualitatively improve its structure. Here, we have good stepping stones. I mean two mutually complementary documents – the Russia-proposed Framework Foundation for the Creation of One Stop Shop and Turkey’s Regional Trade Facilitation Strategy. The adoption of these has obviously dragged out; not all countries have ratified them yet. I hope that this matter will be resolved as soon as possible.
I would like to draw your attention to the need to move forward on two key BSEC projects in transport – the coordinated development of the Black Sea Ring Motorway and marine routes in the Black Sea. Their implementation will promote intra-regional trade and lure investment into the tourist and transport sectors. Unfortunately, the October 25 meeting of our countries’ transport ministers in Baku failed to produce a final document due to groundless objections by one delegation.
The Russian side is open, as before, to the discussion of rational ideas on the reform of the organisation. We are ready to consider proposals to create – with regard for the experience of other international organisations – a BSEC internal pension system that would include the whole staff of the Secretariat, and not just the technical staff.
We are counting on more BSEC Business Council activity, something that received major impetus during Turkish chairmanship. For our part, we have delegated representatives of an authoritative Russian business association, Delovaya Rossiya, to the Business Council.
The role of the private sector in interstate cooperation has been growing everywhere. Its more prominent role in the BSEC will promote the regional dialogue and broaden the organisation’s support base. We welcome the decision approved at the last meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers to include entrepreneurs in delegations during working group meetings. Delovaya Rossiya representatives intend to participate in the working groups on small and medium-sized businesses, tourism and information and communications technology.
Russia has consistently advanced the “integration of integrations” concept. Regional cooperation formats should not be separate: it is necessary to build a common, harmonised economic space based on the aligned potential of various associations.
The BSEC has very good experience of partnerships with other multilateral structures. As a reminder, in the past the organisation established productive contacts with the Eurasian Economic Community. This grew into the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) which has become an important factor in integration processes in the region. The signing of a memorandum of understanding between the BSEC and the EAEU would benefit both organisations.
Another attention-worthy matter is trans-border cooperation between individual regions. Similar cooperation is already being successfully carried out in the Baltic and in northern Europe in general. The same could be done in the Black Sea area under the aegis of the BSEC.
We support the development of cooperation between the UN and the BSEC. The November 26 resolution adopted at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly lends additional impetus to the joining of efforts by the two organisations with a view to strengthening economic growth and integration processes in the Black Sea region. Unfortunately, for the second successive year, we have failed to resume the practice of holding informal meetings of the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
As you know, a mechanism for project-oriented cooperation was set up within the BSEC framework at Russia’s initiative. We contributed $1 million to this fund. We hope that other countries will follow suit. Two projects have already been implemented: one through the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB) and the other in cooperation with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Positive resolutions have been adopted on four other projects. New applications are being proposed. We will continue promoting initiatives in areas of interest to our citizens like, for example, improving the energy efficiency of buildings or popularising and branding original Black Sea cuisine dishes. We are grateful to the Secretary-General for ensuring the transparency of the work of the project-oriented cooperation mechanism. We hope that the fund can be used to finance joint projects with the European Union as well. Naturally, it is up to the littoral states themselves to determine these projects.
Over a quarter of a century of existence, the BSEC has established itself as a sought-after regional platform. Further success will depend on how pragmatically we will be able to build our cooperation. Unfortunately, the situation in the Black Sea region has somewhat degraded in recent time. It is important to reverse this trend and make efforts to turn the Black Sea region into a zone of peace, stability and prosperity. We feel strongly that the organisation must not be an arena for political battles, let alone the squaring of accounts. The BSEC has a clearly defined economic profile and its status needs to be respected. This is a guarantee of the BSEC’s ability to assist in promoting integration ties.
In conclusion, I would like to wish success to Bulgaria which is taking over the BSEC chairmanship.