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Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

HALUK DINÇER:  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  I would like to welcome you to our session, titled “Eurasia’s Future:  New Sources of Growth and Prosperity.”  We have two fascinating economic panels this afternoon.  This is the first one.  There is no break after this.  We have a second economic panel and right after that, we will have His Excellency Minister Şimşek to deliver a speech.

Well, encouraged by easy money, excessive borrowing and a culture of debt finance spending, the global crisis has had a profound impact on the world economy and of course on the way we do our business as well.  But even before the crisis, we knew that things are changing in the world.  We have this new wave of globalization.  We have the rise of Asian giants.  And we need to find new areas of growth and implement them. 

Of course, we’ve been talking about these issues, about the theoretical framework for such growth, in detail for a while.  We’ve discussed about innovation, clean technology, international and interinstitutional cooperation and the development and retention of current and future talent.  And these have all been expressed as key factors. 

But how this all applies to our region, how it has all come together on a regional basis in the Eurasia region or the Black Sea region, to hopefully answer this question and more, the Atlantic Council has convened a most illustrious panel of dignitaries. 

And we have His Excellency – on my right – His Excellency Vladimer “Lado” Gurgenidze.  He’s the executive chairman and chief executive officer of Liberty Bank, former prime minister of Georgia. 

We have Mr. Ian Hague, cofounder and lead manager of Firebird Management LLC.  I have on my left Ms. Andrea Waldman Lockwood, deputy assistant secretary for Eurasia, Africa and the Middle East of Office of Policy and International Affairs for U.S. Department of Energy.  And on my far right, I have His Excellency Ion Sturza, former prime minister of the Republic of Moldova.

So let’s start our discussion.  So Lado, what are the most likely builders of regional growth opportunity in the twenty-first century?  And will they be any different from our past performance based on raw materials and industry?  What strategies can maximize the potential?

VLADIMER GURGENIDZE:  Well, I sure hope it will be different going forward, my answer to this question is very simple – hopefully not simplistic:  liberty.  Liberty and freedom is what leads to opportunity and that has to be the source of growth going forward.  And just to change things up a little – I know we’ll have a very productive – (inaudible) – the next couple days –

But you know, we got to ask ourselves this, right, when we sort of picture the prospects for growth for the twenty-first century for this broader region, just how many countries in this region are genuine democracies?  Just how many countries in this region are genuinely free of corruption?  And just how many countries in this region are fiscally responsible? 

Now, I was delighted to hear last night at dinner Mr. Babacan’s address.  I mean, that is a model of fiscal responsibility, fiscal probity and courage – policymaking courage.  Right?  But just how many countries, how many governments – especially as we all come out of the crisis and what will eventually, I’m sure, be known as a historical moment of neo-Keynesian madness worldwide – just how many countries have the courage to follow the principles we’ve heard last night from Minister Babacan? 

Such is the state, in my view, sadly, of today’s world that just these three things – right – freedom from corruption, democracy and fiscal responsibility – already would make this region stand head and shoulders above the rest of the emerging markets or, frankly, developed markets as well, such is the state of the world today. 

But I would put to you today that that’s hardly enough.  Right?  That’s hardly enough.  I mean, the one thing that has permeated the history of all of us in this region is the deficit of liberty, right?  Is it something we can address and overcome and have that as the, frankly, everlasting, ever-renewing engine of growth? 

Well, you have heard from my successor yesterday morning actually.  Georgia is trying to make a go at it.  Right?  We believe in very small government.  We believe in flat tax.  We believe in constitutionally limiting the size of the state.  I emphasize that – constitutionally limiting – right? – the size of the government as percent of GDP. 

We believe in giving back to the citizens the power to tax.  And that, again, to my way of thinking, is a crucial element of freedom.  Democracy alone does not suffice.  What happens during the elections or even in between the elections alone does not suffice if the choice the citizens are given is largely the choice between one and the same fiscally speaking and in terms of the usurped right to tax and eventually to spend.  Right?  That alone does not suffice. 

I submit to you – and this is what we believe and this is what we’re putting in place now – constitutionally, right? – no tax increase, no new taxes without a public referendum.  That combined with the overall limit on the size of the state, that combined with overall constitutional limits on the government borrowing and on the size of the deficit – that creates – and I’m, you know, consciously trying to be very short in my answer to let the panel flow freely – combines to a backbone of confidence, backbone of credibility, backbone of opportunity. 

If you have that basis in place, then for the domestic investors and international investors alike, direct investment portfolio inflows, what have you – if you have that, then the investors and economic agents in general are freed from the electoral cycles, are freed from this ever-so-familiar navel-gazing where we’re looking three years into the future:

What’s going to come with the next election cycle?  You know, is the central bank guy a hawk or a dove?  You know, how is the finance minister of this or that bank?  Et cetera, et cetera.  Well, why don’t I shut up here, but obviously I’ll come back to this.  (Laughter.) 

MR. DINÇER:  It’s very clear.  So Lado tells us that liberties are the builders of regional growth.  Ian, would you comment on this?  What are the most likely builders of regional growth and prosperity in the course of the twenty-first century?

IAN HAGUE:  Well, our business got started in the heady, crazy days of the 1990s when the prospects for liberty in the post-Soviet space in Eurasia, which is where we focused, they seemed unlimited.  Over time, however, as many of the countries have evolved, there has been a definite resurgence of thinking about the state as an instrument driving the economy as opposed to the private sector in many of the countries. 

So I would say that Lado’s comments exactly fit the geography of our portfolio and where we have succeeded.  Those countries which have limited the size of the state more on a fiscal basis – because I think there are – what you don’t want is a state that is unable to protect property rights.

MR. GURGENIDZE:  I fully agree with that.

MR. HAGUE:  And that really relates more to the question of anti-corruption.  But where those elements have been in place – the three Baltic states to varying degrees.  We’ve seen significant progress on the dimensions that are important to us as investors also in Bulgaria and Romania with their accession to EU. 

And last, but by no means least, the shining example of the country Lado used to be prime minister of, where really unlike anywhere else in the region, these ideas of market – of people making choices in the market instead of in the ministry, have taken root and are firmly, you know, drilled in to people’s consciousness.  And it has an immediate impact on economic growth.  There are things that we are doing in Georgia that we wouldn’t think of doing in Kazakhstan or Russia because of the risk of confiscation or the impossibility of executing a business plan of the kind of things we’re doing in Georgia. 

Just some examples:  In Russia it was impossible to get involved at an attractive stage of development in mass retail.  Mostly because it was all – these were all private, self-funded businesses.  But in Georgia, it was extremely easy and we faced no obstacles in becoming important shareholders in the largest retail chain in the country at a stage of development that is very – it’s going to be very productive for us over the next several years, as Georgia builds up more of its retail infrastructure. 

Things like agriculture and agribusiness.  Very often in countries with a much less clear regime on the ownership of farmland, it’s impossible to do anything with significant scale because you can’t put together the contiguous land plots, the economies of scale that make a business like that profitable.

MR. GURGENIDZE (?):  (Cross talk, inaudible) – without violating the FCPA.

MR. HAGUE:  Without violating the FCPA, yes.  (Chuckles.)  But in Georgia you can buy as much farmland as you want.  Agribusiness in the particular case of Georgia, but it’s true elsewhere – Bulgaria is a good example and even now in Ukraine, against all odds – are extremely prospective areas. 

Georgia is still an extremely large importer of its own food.  When they have three growing seasons, a remarkable land base, highly productive soils and, you know, every chance to be an extremely important exporter of value-added agricultural goods.  Just there has been no investment in it.  So as the innate advantages of a country like Georgia in that area start to dawn on people’s consciousness, that investment will flow and that will be an important driver of growth in that country. 

I mean, just looking at sectors across the region, where natural resources are the predominant developmental mode or the most important sector, they are likely to remain extremely important sectors.  But where the government can mitigate the often sad effects on governance of this large resource endowment, you’re going to see a flourishing of all the other sectors, things in the economy that were completely underdeveloped under the planned economic model.  And that’s things like financial services, services of all kinds, agriculture, manufacturing in specific areas where there are advantages. 

And you know, it all gets back to what Lado was talking about:  A proper environment for people to take risk and make profit has to be established.  And that’s really a political question beyond any kind of economic consideration.

MR. DINÇER:  Yeah, Lado underlined these liberties and you are underlining the legal infrastructure as well.  I understand.  The legal infrastructure –

MR. HAGUE:  It’s very important.  The judiciary – 

(Cross talk.)

MR. HAGUE:  How the judiciary functions is a crucial investment variable.

MR. DINÇER:  Maybe it’s not just the functions, but the infrastructure that exists or not as well.

MR. HAGUE:  Oh yeah.  We were shareholders of Yukos.  (Laughter.) 

MR. DINÇER:  (Chuckles.)  Okay. 

MR. HAGUE:  And we were actually shareholders of Yukos twice.  The first time we owned – when Khodorkovsky was putting Yukos together from these other production organizations, we were shareholders in these subsidiaries.  He proceeded to issue a bgillion shares and dilute our interest down 98 percent. 

After that, when Yukos was put together, we invested again at a much higher valuation, of course, relative to the first time.  And once again, we enjoyed the benefits that came from organizing that company properly and being profitable. And then that opportunity was taken away from us by the Russian government. 

Six months later, we were visited by the same Russian government trying to sell us Rosneft, which was now the accumulation of all those same assets that we bought twice before.  And we found it very problematic trying to develop an opinion on whether it would be a good thing to buy because at the prices we were being asked to pay, it was a hundred times more expensive – (chuckles) – relative to our first opportunity. 

So that kind of stuff, the property rights regime is the most crucial variable.  And it’s really a matter of conviction about these notions of liberty, as well as very practical implementation of, very often, the laws that are on the books already.

MR. GURGENIDZE:  But not in a selective way.

MR. HAGUE:  Not in a selective way.  (Laughter.)  We’re talking about rule of law.

MR. DINÇER:  Rule of law, yeah.  Okay, well, Andrea, what do you think?

ANDREA WALDMAN LOCKWOOD:  Well, I think everybody starts from where they sit.  And where I sit is at the Energy Department in Washington, D.C.  So when I think about new areas of growth and prosperity, I think about where we are coming from in the United States in new areas of growth and prosperity, which are in the area of clean energy technologies.  And we have put – the Obama administration has put some $12 billion into encouraging clean energy technologies in the United States. 

And I know that when President Obama came to Turkey and to this region, he and President Gül talked about the potential for clean energy technologies for Turkey, for the Black Sea region, and where we could go together to encourage investment and trade in clean energy technologies. 

So what I’m talking about is energy efficiency, which is an area with significant potential for this region.  We think – and experts in this area think – that there is 10 to 15 percent energy reductions that can be made.  And that’s not just everyone deciding that they’re going to be a little more efficient.  I mean, we’re talking about real technologies, real investments, creating the market structure and the interconnections and shared labeling, standards among countries that would electricity infrastructure – that would put in place a market opportunity there. 

Renewable energy is another area which has strong, new growth potential for this region.  The things that give you the background that you need to create a successful renewable energy market is information, figuring out where the wind blows at a sufficient velocity, where the days of sunshine are sufficient to create a solar industry.  Biomass is another area of significant interest in this region where the waste crop residues are that can be utilized to create an optimal industry. 

And then there are the basic things that we’ve all been talking about:  you know, transparent markets, stable markets, investor-friendly regulations, incentives.  You know, I think that these are – clean energy technologies represent a real area of growth, but the conditions have to be right.  I think the commitment is there.  Everyone wants to move to that low-carbon future that we have all been talking about to meet the climate change goals in a way that creates both growth and new areas of opportunity. 

So you know, there are some exciting things that we can work together on and that we’re committed to working together on.  And I know that a lot of the nations in the region attended the – (inaudible, audio interference) – a lot of the governments represented here.  So we’re looking forward to those clean energy technologies and working together and, you know, looking forward to hearing more about how we can create those market opportunities.

MR. DINÇER:  Yes, and last year here we held a very successful conference with the U.S. Department of Energy on energy efficiency, clean technologies.  So I know for sure that American companies have the know-how in these fields to cooperate.  Well, thank you.  So Ion, would you comment on this as well, please.

ION STURZA:  Yes.  Thank you very much.  Last 10 years I spent in private business, mainly in oil and gas.  And I was a quiet partner of Dinu Patriciu in this fantastic history to build one of the biggest oil company in our region from petrol.  Nice history.  It was sold for a few billion dollars just three years ago before crisis.  My main task it was to build our operation in abroad – (inaudible, audio interference) – industry – (inaudible, audio interference).

I remember one of my discussions in the middle of this, my activities, with one of the biggest leaders of the biggest country in Asia, in Central Asia, who told me something like this:  You are from the small country and you will be succeed in your growth and prosperity because you are poor in energy resource. 

Of course, Asia – Eurasia and this region, it’s different in the sense of model of economical growth and prosperity.  But it’s mainly especially countries which are rich in energy resource use the simplest way to build the future of the country, their economical model which is based of resource. 

This model, of course, are not so stimulated or less motivated elites – political elites, national elites – to think about reforms, about transparency, about democracy.  It’s easy to pump and to sell outside the country, to have a serious amount of revenues, especially during this gold era of ’90s when the price of oil and gas was unbelievably high.  And this is a high serious impediment of real reforms in this country and modernization of the country and economy.

The second serious problem or problem which has faced the country in this region, of course, it’s mono-trade model.  When 90 percent or even 100 percent of revenues came from energy resource of resource.  And just maybe in a few countries, it’s a little bit higher, like in Russia maybe 25, 30 percent. 

And also 100 percent of imports, it’s not a new technology, it’s not a new equipment and infrastructure investment, it’s only consumer goods, which has created the illusion of prosperity, of a better life, but this is mainly a price which elites are ready to pay to the normal people in exchange of stable political and social situation. 

One of the next problem which I want to mention, it’s trade relation with neighborhood country.  This country totally depend on biggest brothers, big brother:  Russia, China, sorry to say, some countries with Turkey.  And this has, of course, created the afraid and some concerns in the elites and especially in Central Asia, this dependencies for two big brothers because the model of this example of development, even in Russia or in China, I think it’s not totally agree in this country. 

And I want to, not to repeat but totally be agree of what Lado, my friend, says.  The source of growth and prosperity in this region anyway, it will be economic reform base of profit economy and liberty and transparency and democracy.  It’s nothing new, maybe you think this is a – you know, general words.  But nothing will be happen in sense of real, stable growth in these countries if they are not start implement the real economical reforms, eliminate this oligarchy, technocracy and to become more freedom, more open, more transparent for outside world.  This is my personal opinion.

MR. DINÇER:  Thank you.  Well, before we take some questions from the floor, I would like to raise a second question:  It seems to me, you know the region quite well, country by country.  So I would like to ask you, where are the opportunities, what are the new markets and how can we have access to these markets?  What do you think? 

MR. HAGUE:  Well, by “we” I’m assuming you’re talking about just a regular investor.  That is really a function of the development of the local capital markets.  Obviously, by size the most important capital market in the region is Russia.  It’s now extremely accessible.  There are even ETFs, which are index-linked securities that cover the broad market that are available to any investor in New York or London or anywhere else.  (Inaudible, audio interference) – on the overall rise of asset prices in the country. 

But if we’re talking about other countries, the pace of development of capital markets has been rather slower for a couple reasons:  either because the companies themselves are frequently still controlled by a single large shareholder who is reluctant to surrender this control because of the risks involved in doing that; once again, because of the business environment or because – which is kind of Georgia’s problem with the one shining exception of Bank of Georgia – that the enterprises themselves are too small to get a listing on a foreign exchange. 

So these are all considerations relating to portfolio investment.  In terms of direct investment, the average investor obviously has fewer options, but there are a number of people operating private equity-style vehicles that are very active in the region.

In terms of just purely where the best opportunities are as we see them, I think there are still isolated opportunities in the energy area in all of the countries.  At different times, depending on commodities prices, the market value of these firms can change drastically, which creates opportunities for the average investor to get a good bargain.  But it is something that you have to pay close attention to because just as prices can become excessively cheap, they can become excessively expensive very quickly and it requires a lot of trading, which many people aren’t interested in doing if they’re not going to be located in the region. 

But we’re finding in our private activities that anything having to do with the consumer economy in a formerly planned economy is a brilliant investment over time because this is exactly the portion of the economy which was least-developed when it was a planned system.  And the demand for all kinds of consumer goods is extremely strong across the whole region and only gets stronger as GDP growth and the wealth of the population increases. 

An interesting feature that I kind of didn’t expect how fast it would become a big business:  In Russia, for example, foreign manufacturers of automobiles have now taken a significant market share in that market and that’s proven to be an enormously successful investment and will likely continue for a long time. 

Initially, the Russian government was trying to encourage partnerships with Russian domestic manufacturers.  These proved to be unworkable for a variety of reasons, some of which we discussed:  the corruption and the difficulties of doing any kind of large, technical manufacturing.  So instead, they opted for the model of making kit cars.

The Russian market is incredibly underserved still in terms of automobile purchases.  And now that they have a level of income which permits that kind of purchase by the average consumer, it’s an enormously popular – it’s an enormously lucrative business to manufacture those items and sell them in Russia.  And eventually, Russia will probably emerge as an export platform I imagine for that activity.  So those are just a few of the things. 

Just to give you an idea, I mentioned this retailer we own in Georgia.  One of our best investments in Georgia was the bank, largest bank in the country.  At the time in 2004, Georgia was still a relatively under-banked market.  It’s evolved significantly since then.  It’s really the most competitive sector in the Georgian economy at the moment.  And financial services across the whole region have always been a very – we’ve always had a very good experience investing in that sector.  So just look for things that were not part of the Soviet-style economy and you’ll generally be going in the right direction.

MR. DINÇER:  Okay.  Okay, Lado, what do you think?

MR. GURGENIDZE:  Well, having built the bank that Ian is so happily a shareholder of, I obviously agree on financial services.  And now I’m doing it again – (chuckles) – with Dinu Patriciu, who is my partner in my new venture.  We buy banks around the region.  But in the country, it’s a kind of pass the smell test, again, kind of going back to the earlier part of the debate here.  Consumer goods, services, yes, very much so. 

But also let me segue back to what Andrea said about clean energy.  Hydro, actually, is something that’s very, very big – huge in Georgia:  88 percent of the energy we consume comes from hydro.  And yet we currently are utilizing maybe 20 percent of the overall potential.  Now, again, we take no credit for being located where we are, the highest mountains in Europe, 26,000 rivers, huge vertical drop, all that good stuff. 

But essentially think about hydro in Georgia as a play on Turkey.  Why?  Because Turkey has a structural deficit of electricity.  Turkey has the highest prices of electricity in the region.  And basically even if you fully developed the Georgian hydro potential, which is another three, 4,000 megawatts, I reckon.  And even if you fully exported that to Turkey – and the new high voltage lines now allow to do that, you know, to a huge scale – that would still basically amount to about 3 percent of the Turkish electricity market. 

We have all heard yesterday and today about the robust health and prospects of the Turkish economy.  They have the electricity deficit here; that’s a fact of life.  We’re next door, the high voltage lines are being built and there’s thousands of megawatts of untapped potential.  So there you have it.

MR. DINÇER:  (Chuckles.)  Ion, would you say anything?

MR. STURZA:  Well, you know, from my experience, I know.  If you want to spend money, you can go to Western world.  If you want to make money or to do money, you can go to East.  And today I am a private equity investor.  Together with my partners, we invest in a lot of things.  Start with IT, online retail, agriculture, textile, industrial parks – everything has potential to growth, much, much higher than in the world which is more or less stable.  I can encourage you to take risk and to go to this region, discover, play and win money in the region.

MR. DINÇER:  Andrea?  Please.

MS. LOCKWOOD:  Yeah, I think following up on the hydro comment, I think that there are some things that we’ve learned about technologies that help us to make better decisions.  You know, there have been investments in hydroelectricity which created too much electricity.  Now the technology is honed to being smaller and better able to be positioned.  Infrastructure:  creating these high-voltage lines, linking up various markets so that new electricity generation sources, including renewable energy, can be better dispersed to fit to larger markets. 

You know, countries that have those kind of innovative thinking and programs in place, encouraging that kind of smart investment so you don’t overbuild, you don’t create electricity generation in places where it cannot access markets – those will be the kinds of pragmatic opportunities, I think, that will create these new areas of growth.  And also just lower electricity prices overall, which is a key component of, you know, growing economies.

MR. DINÇER:  Okay. 

MR. HAGUE:  Just if I could add on to that.  Once again, the question of how the market is organized and the role of the state does enter into questions of the development of hydro in particular because if the pricing for electricity is regulated, the capital investment required to do hydro projects makes no sense in many instances.  So where you have a genuine market for electricity, you’re going to have a much clearer opportunity to invest in that particular area than otherwise.

MR. DINÇER:  I see.  I see.  Thank you.

MR. STURZA:  You know, but don’t forget oil and gas.  (Laughter.)  Just in this morning, during this conference, we discussed a new opportunity to invest in upstream in Russia.  They are, today, less arrogant than was.  Lot of small and middle-sized fields and even in the historical, you know, oil fields, like in Western Siberia, you can find the good opportunity to buy even 10 times less in sense of price than was two or three years ago.  Don’t forget about oil and gas.

MR. HAGUE (?):  Invest in the Black Sea region of Western Siberia.  (Laughter.) 

MR. STURZA:  Too much players in Black Sea.  (Laughter.) 

MS. LOCKWOOD:  Well, and I think – (inaudible) – technologies for oil and gas development are highly improved.  And I think that, obviously, the enhanced recovery and technologies like carbon capture and storage help to bring down the carbon footprint of oil and gas development.  I mean, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we’re moving away from oil and gas anytime soon.  So the opportunities continue to be there. 

Every economy, though, is based on a balanced portfolio.  I think especially economies that don’t have significant oil and gas resources are excited to have the opportunity to look at some other resources.  But I think there’s lots of innovation and new technology available in the energy area that will be of use to economies moving forward.

MR. DINÇER:  Okay, so we have 10 more minutes here.  So I would like to take a few questions from the floor.  Please introduce yourselves before asking.  Any question?  There is one over there.

Q:  Is it working?  From the DOE standpoint, I’m interested in the demand side and energy efficiency side and how you bring some thinking in that direction.  The Obama administration has formed a very interesting partnership for sustainable communities through an interagency partnership between Department of Housing and Urban Development, the EPA and DOT.  And I’m sure DOE is aware, involved or supportive. 

Real estate development patterns and patterns of human settlement have so much to do with energy consumption and energy demand and how we’ve exported certain patterns through our infrastructure design or our standards.  I’m curious whether DOE addresses anything related to community design, infrastructure design, such as the end product might be reduction of car starts, reduction of emissions – in other words, the community design aspects. 

MR. DINÇER:  Andrea?  (Laughter.) 

MS. LOCKWOOD:  Yes, I think that – and that’s something that actually we’ve been partnering with other countries with as well in looking at designing new communities so that they are – the buildings are developed to use less energy, the communities are structured more closely together so folks don’t have to drive as far.  After riding around beautiful Istanbul, I think that some folks here might feel like they’d like to live a little bit closer to where they work. 

And so I think that there are real opportunities for efficient design, particularly where new development is occurring.  And I know Secretary Chu gets very excited when he talks about buildings and community design, where the buildings monitor their own consumption, where people can walk from their building to their workplace.  And there are real chances as we develop new communities for efficient design across the board.

MR. DINÇER:  Okay, is there any other question?  Any question?  No?  Any more comments?  Andrea, Ian?  Okay, well it’s about time.  We have to – we have five more minutes, but we have another economic panel coming up and we don’t have exactly a break in between.  We just need to wrap up and go to our places, change places.  So I would like to thank you all for attending our panel and my special thanks to our panelists, Lado, Ion, Andrea, Ian.  (Applause.)