The Russian American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast United States is helping foster economic interaction between Belarus and the Southeast, according to Mikhail Khvostov, Belarus’ ambassador to the U.S.
“What is missing sometimes are the necessary tools and mechanisms to involve both parties into cooperation, Mr. Khvostov told GlobalAtlanta during an interview at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta. “So I see that the Russian American Chamber of Commerce may be the right tool in involving people from (the American) side…by providing information on how to deal with American partners here.”
Having served in Washington for four years, Mr. Khvostov recently made his first visit to Atlanta to follow up on a March trip by the head of the economic section at the Belarusian embassy in the U.S., Vladimir Mironovich.
The ambassador, who commented on Atlanta’s attractive, tree-filled cityscape, was greeted on the day of his arrival by more than 20 businesspeople at a reception hosted by the Russian American chamber.
Representatives from a variety of fields showed interest in Belarus by their presence at the reception. Law firms, consulting firms, real estate companies and logistics services showed up to meet the ambassador, Sergio Millian, president of the Russian American chamber, told GlobalAtlanta.
Mr. Millian, who grew up in Belarus and studied at Minsk State Linguistics University, said the ambassador’s decision to come to Atlanta shows the city’s relevance to the Belarusian government’s strategy for continued economic expansion in America.
“This was the first trip from the ambassador himself, which shows the importance of the state and the interest of the state to the Republic of Belarus as the business center of Southeast United States,” Mr. Millian said.
Mr. Millian and Mr. Khvostov both stressed fertilizer, tires and tractor equipment as some of Belarus’ leading industries and areas where bilateral cooperation could exist between Georgia and Belarus, which is located north of Ukraine. Mr. Khvostov also mentioned forestry and wood products as potentially productive synergies between the two economies.
One-third of Belarus’ land mass is covered by forest, and Georgia is one of the top timber-producing states in the U.S.
Belarus’ economy is still largely industrial, with factories making products ranging from the simplest machine parts to complex technological devices, Mr. Khvostov said.
But the former Soviet Union country is looking to attract increased foreign investment from lands beyond neighboring Russia and European Union countries, and Belarus wants new markets for its exports as well.
American investment is increasing as the Belarus government has created more free economic zones to encourage foreign companies to enter Belarus, according to Mr. Khvostov. He said that there are some 456 joint venture projects between the U.S. and Belarus and that Belarus is now exporting $600 million in goods to the U.S. annually.
During his meetings with the Russian American chamber, the ambassador introduced some of the first steps toward establishing awareness of his country that could lead to this type of investment in Belarus by companies in Georgia and vice versa.
“As ambassador, I have the task to present or to showcase Belarus, from the point of view of political, economic and social development,” Mr. Khvostov said in reference to his discussions at Emory.
As a start, the ambassador suggested that the Russian American chamber in Atlanta form an agreement with the Belarus Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Minsk, Belarus’ capital.
“Suggesting the relationship between the two chambers is important in developing contacts, first of all, and in promoting better understanding by American companies of Belarus,” said Oleg Morozov, second secretary at the embassy of Belarus, who accompanied the ambassador to Atlanta.
Since the ambassador’s brief trip to Georgia, the two chambers have been in communication, and they hope to sign some sort of definitive agreement within the next month to formalize their relationship and begin working toward bilateral cooperation, Mr. Millian said.
Once the agreement is signed, the Russian American chamber will begin organizing trip for a delegation of Belarusian businesspeople to visit Atlanta, possibly in December.
Attracting this delegation is key to turning conversation into real business deals, according to Mr. Millian, who said the Russian Chamber will help Belarusian businesses initiate contact with potential investors, customers and government officials.
“Once the official delegation comes, then we can start some real economic investment,” Mr. Millian told GlobalAtlanta.
Fostering involvement with the Minsk-based chamber wasn’t the only item on the ambassador’s agenda. During his first day in Atlanta, Mr. Khvostov had what he called a “very good” meeting with Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
“I’m very happy that he’s very supportive of developing bilateral cooperation between Belarus and Georgia,” Mr. Khvostov said.
He also visited and toured Emory University, where he met with both students and faculty to discuss and promote Belarus. He pointed out that Georgia has a significant population of about 40 Belarusians studying in the state’s colleges.
This generation can fill the gap in what’s been lacking in the Belarus business environment–education on how to make a free enterprise system take root and function properly.
After his time at Emory, the ambassador went to downtown Atlanta so he could really experience the city. Up until then, his perspective of Atlanta had been trapped behind plane and car windows, Mr. Morozov said.
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Russian American Chamber of Commerce – Sergio Millian, president 404.667.9319