The Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum SPIEF 2021 was held on 2-5 June. The focus was on the global and Russian economies, social issues, and technological development. This year 20 representatives of Finnish companies participated in the event. The official delegation from Finland was led by Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade of Finland Mr Ville Skinnari.

Before takeoff

SPIEF has traditionally been the largest and most international business forum out of all those organized in Russia annually. It is the president’s forum, while the Sochi investment forum is hosted by the prime minister and Yekaterinburg Innoprom is organized by the Ministry of industry and trade. Though the biannual arctic forum is hosted by the president, it is not focused on business.

In previous years, foreign heads of state have participated SPIEF and joined the plenary session with President Putin – President Niinistö in 2012, Chancellor Merkel in 2013 and President Macron in 2018. This year the guest stars, the Emir of Qatar al-Thani and Austrian Chancellor Kurz, participated online, while President Putin was on the stage with moderator Stas Natanzon.

Safety first

Last year SPIEF was cancelled for obvious reasons, and the decision to organize the event this year offline was made in February. Many were doubtful if the organizers could manage to ensure safety, questing how they could make the event with 13 000 people COVID-19 free. According to organizers, those 13 000 gave 52 000 PCR tests during the event, out of which 500 were positive. At the forum, most of the people wore masks and few exceptional even gloves. This applied not only to guests but also to the organizers.

140 countries were represented at the forum. Compared to previous years, they were now less from EU countries and more from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America. Out of the EU countries, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Hungary had their Minister participating in the forum.

In the plenary session, President Putin made some statements that were a continuation to his State of the Nation address. Putin gave practical instructions for his government, such as to prolong the mortgage program for a year with a 7% rate up to 30 000 euro, to improve youth employment, to extend state-owned companies’ purchases from SMEs to 25%, and to relieve restaurants from VAT if their turnover is less than 20mln euro in a year.

Finland was visible and got noticed

This year 20 representatives of Finnish companies participated in the event, which was a relatively modest figure compared to earlier years (usually there have been around 50 business participants). German companies had 104 registered participants (coming both from Germany and Russia), and French had 80.

The official delegation from Finland was led by Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade of Finland Mr Ville Skinnari who participated in the forum and had also numerous meetings with ministers, governors, and Russian companies’ CEOs on the sidelines. Some of these meetings were accompanied by company representatives, which then got governmental support for their negotiations.

East Office at SPIEF

East Office coordinated in good co-operation with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs the traditional Finland-Russia Business dialogue, which was part of the official program. The panel discussion took part on Thursday, June 3 and was moderated by our Senior Advisor Mr Esko Aho. Special Representative of the President of Russia on Environmental protection, Ecology and Transport Mr Sergey Ivanov pointed out, that a lot has happened in Russia in the field of environmental protection and ecology – “even in the forest industry, which is very obsolete”. He hoped Finnish forest companies would in the future expand also to the Eastern part of Russia. He also brought up Fortum and YIT having a long tradition in the Russian market. He expected forest replanting in Russia to become interesting also for Finnish companies in the future, as “currently that practically does not exist”. Companies plant a forest for themselves, but not to sell for the market.

From East Office companies, Mr Esa Hyvärinen, the Head of CEO Office at Fortum, noted that every company has a responsibility to make their business operations cleaner to contribute to a more sustainable world. In the field of energy, while heat and electricity are a local business, gas is, and hydrogen will be a global one. In the beginning, in order to step up and build market and infrastructure all levels of environmentally friendly hydrogen would be needed, and once the market is established, a movement towards green hydrogen could be possible. “If you want to promote a clean world, you should invest in those companies which have commitment and culture to become cleaner and greener.”

In addition to the official part of the SPIEF, events on the sidelines and unofficial meetings at the high level are always an essential part of the event.  This year this was especially true since the pandemic has prevented people from meeting each other. East Office was no exception, as we were very happy to meet and discuss with our key contacts and decision-makers physically after a year of Teams meetings. This year we were also invited, with selected 50 key foreign companies in Russia, to meet with President Putin in an exclusive event after the SPIEF Plenary session. Confidential discussions, new networks as well as meetings with our long-time partners made SPIEF 2021 a success for East Office community.

Our panel discussion was broadcasted, and you can watch it here.