Iipumbu addresses Russia trade concerns

HAVING enjoyed bilateral relations for 30 years, Namibia recorded a negative trade balance with Russia for the last three years. Acknowledging the need to increase Namibian exports into the Russian market, Minister of Industrialisation and Trade, Lucia Iipumbu (LI) has moved to address concerns around declining trade with Russia, highlighting that ties between the two countries remain strong with adequate room for improvement.

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In an exclusive interview with Confidente News Editor, Hilary Mare (HM), Iipumbu also shared the strategic approach towards relations with Russia.

HM:  How would you describe the bilateral trade relations between Namibia and Russia?

LI: Namibia has bilateral trade relations with various countries. These bilateral relations are strengthened through cooperation by actively participating in the frameworks established at bilateral, regional and international levels.

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Namibia and Russia have a cordial bilateral relationship based on mutual benefits. The sound bilateral relations should be seen within the broader relationships that existed before independence.

During 2017 and 2018, the value of Namibia exports to Russia amounted to N$101 million and N$17 million, respectively. This indicated that in 2018 exports decreased by 83 percent as compared to the previous year (2017). Exports value in 2019 rose to N million.

This represents 129 percent increase in 2019 as compared to 2018.

In terms of imports, Namibia imports from Russia amounted to N$143 million in 2017 and N$354 million in 2018. This represents an increase of imports by 148 percent in 2018 as compared to 2017.

It is worth noting that for the past three years (years under this study), Namibia recorded a trade deficit (negative trade balance) for all three years (2017, 2018 and 2019). A huge trade deficit has been recorded in 2019.

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This calls for an effort to increase Namibian exports into the Russian market.

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HM:  Is there development of a framework between the two countries?

LI:  Namibia and Russia have been holding bilateral consultations since independence. The eighth session of the inter-governmental commission on trade and economic cooperation between the Republic of Namibia and the Russian Federation was held in Windhoek from 22-23 May 2019.

The Inter-Governmental Commission serves as a platform where the two countries discuss issues of mutual interest and benefit. Namibia and Russia have concluded the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the field of industry.

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Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the signing of this important MoU could not materialise.

HM:  Why has government delayed the conclusion of several bilateral treaties such as the reciprocal protection of investments deals?

LI: Regarding the Reciprocal Protection of Investment agreement, Namibia has discontinued negotiating the said agreement and is currently in the process to come up with a new investment Act. This single investment policy should replace entering into bilateral treaty negotiations, and use the NamibiaInvestment Promotion Act as an umbrella policy for protection and as a more targeted strategy for Namibia to improve its attractiveness as an investment destination. The draft revised law will include a number of new investment facilitation, protection measures and investor obligation elements, many of them as provided for in the UNCTAD reform package.

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This balanced approach of investment facilitation and promotion in relation to investor obligations is intended to result in a more conducive investment and business environment.

HM:  While there are concerns over the trade relations with Russia, is government doing anything to strengthen these relations?

LI: Government is doing its level best to strengthen bilateral relations with all the countries on a win-win situation. In any bilateral affairs, it is not always possible to satisfy the other party due to diversity of demands which are sometimes not in the national interest of a country. With regards to Russia, there are no conflicting issues that the Ministry is aware of.