Russia is a unique emerging market, in the sense that being the nucleus of a former superpower shows more anomalies. On one hand, its exports are primarily resource based, and on the other, it has a pool of technical talent in aerospace, nuclear engineering, and basic sciences. How this peculiar emerging market integrates itself into the world economy over the coming decade is a story as significant in today's world as the reemergence of China and India.
For about 60 years, the Russian economy and that of the rest of the Soviet Union operated on the basis of a centrally planned economy, viz. state control over virtually all means of production and over investment, production, and consumption decisions throughout the economy. Economic policy was made according to directives from the Communist Party, which controlled all aspects of economic activity. The central planning system left a number of legacies with which the Russian economy must deal in its transition to a market economy.
Much of the structure of the Soviet economy that operated until 1987 originated under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, with only incidental modifications made between 1953 and 1987. Five-year plan and annual plans were the chief mechanisms the Soviet government used to translate economic policies into programs. According to those policies, the State Planning Committee (Gosudarstvennyy planovyy komitet—Gosplan) formulated countrywide output targets for stipulated planning periods. Regional planning bodies then refined these targets for economic units such as state industrial enterprises and state farms (sovkhozy; sing., sovkhoz) and collective farms (kolkhozy; sing., kolkhoz), each of which had its own specific output plan. Central planning operated on the assumption that if each unit met or exceeded its plan, then demand and supply would balance.
The government's role was to ensure that the plans were fulfilled. Responsibility for production flowed from the top down. At the national level, some seventy government ministries and state committees, each responsible for a production sector or subsector, supervised the economic production activities of units within their areas of responsibility. Regional ministerial bodies reported to the national-level ministries and controlled economic units in their respective geographical areas.
The plans incorporated output targets for raw materials and intermediate goods as well as final goods and services. In theory, but not in practice, the central planning system ensured a balance among the sectors throughout the economy. Under central planning, the state performed the allocation functions that prices perform in a market system. In the Soviet economy, prices were an accounting mechanism only. The government established prices for all goods and services based on the role of the product in the plan and on other noneconomic criteria. This pricing system produced anomalies. For example, the price of bread, a traditional staple of the Russian diet, was below the cost of the wheat used to produce it. In some cases, farmers fed their livestock bread rather than grain because bread cost less. In another example, rental fees for apartments were set very low to achieve social equity, yet housing was in extremely short supply. Soviet industries obtained raw materials such as oil, natural gas, and coal at prices below world market levels, encouraging waste.
The central planning system allowed Soviet leaders to marshal resources quickly in times of crisis, such as the Nazi invasion, and to reindustrialize the country during the postwar period. The rapid development of its defence and industrial base after the war permitted the Soviet Union to become a superpower.
The record of Russian economic reform through the mid-1990s was mixed. The attempts and failures of reformers during the era of perestroika (restructuring) in the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev (in office 1985-91) attested to the complexity of the challenge. After 1991, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, the country made a significant turn toward developing a market economy by implanting basic tenets such as market-determined prices. Critical elements such as privatization of state enterprises and extensive foreign investment were rushed into place in the first few years of the post-Soviet period. But other fundamental parts of the economic infrastructure, such as commercial banking and authoritative, comprehensive commercial laws, were absent or only partly in place by 1996. Although by the mid-1990s a return to Soviet-era central planning seemed unlikely, the configuration of the post-transition economy remained unpredictable.
Although the market now determines most prices, the Government (Russia's cabinet) still fixes prices on some goods and services, such as utilities and energy.
According to official Russian data, in 1994 the national gross domestic product (GDP) was 604 trillion rubles (about US$207 billion according to the 1994 exchange rate), or about 4% of the United States GDP for that year. But this figure underestimates the size of the Russian economy. Adjusted by a purchasing-power parity formula to account for the lower cost of living in Russia, the 1994 Russian GDP was about US$678 billion, making the Russian economy approximately 10% of the United States economy. In 1994 the adjusted Russian GDP was US$4,573 per capita, approximately 19% of that of the United States. A second important measurement factor is the extremely active so-called shadow economy, which yields no taxes or government statistics but which a 1996 government report quantified as accounting for about 51% of the economy and 40% of its cash turnover.
The essence of economic restructuring, and a critical consideration for foreign loans and investment in Russia's economy, is the privatization program. In most respects, between 1992 and 1995 Russia kept pace with or exceeded the rate established in the original privatization program of October 1991. As deputy prime minister for economic policy, the reformist Chubais was an effective advocate of privatization during its important early stages. In 1992 privatization of small enterprises began through employee buyouts and public auctions. By the end of 1993, more than 85% of Russian small enterprises and more than 82,000 Russian state enterprises, or about one-third of the total in existence, had been privatized.
The task of privatizing the Russian economy was of an enormous scale. As described in Blasiet al. (1997), the Russian economy in the late 1980s was dominated by large and medium-sized industrial enterprises that had more than 200 employees. These firms employed about 95 per cent of the industrial workforce and produced 95 per cent of production. Large firms with more than 1000 employees accounted for 75 per cent of employment and production. At the beginning of 1991 the Russian Federation had approximately 24,000 medium-sized and large industrial enterprises and about 170,000 smaller ones – astonishingly few businesses for such a large and diverse economy. Moreover, virtually all these businesses were in the state’s hands. As OECD (1995) explains, measures taken towards the end of the communist period in Russia had allowed a variety of co-operatives and leasehold enterprises to be established, often using the assets and labour force of existing SOEs to set up these new, quasi-private businesses. These measures gave rise to a wave of spontaneous or nomenklatura privatization. This spontaneous privatization took a variety of forms: from nomenklatura-bureaucratic privatization to managerial privatization and employee lease-buyouts.
The last scheme was especially widespread – the USSR law on leasing enacted in 1989 provided employees (worker collectives) with the opportunity to lease state enterprises with the right of buy-out; the enterprises were then re-established as 100% insider-owned closed corporations. Formally, the lease-buyout privatization was stopped in mid-1991 when the law on privatization was passed; however, it de facto continued through 1991 and even 1992. The incidence of the lease-buyout scheme was particularly large in the retail trade and consumer services sectors, in light industry and some others. By February 1992, 9,451 state enterprises accounting for 8 percent of total employment were leased by their workers and managers.
The 1992 mass privatization programme classified enterprises into three categories: (a) small enterprises, to be sold by competitive bidding orlease buy-out; (b) large enterprises, to be converted to joint stock companies first(corporatization), then privatized through the mass privatization programme; and (c) medium enterprises, which could use either method. Some enterprises, such as most public utilities and firms in the defence sector, were exempted from this round of privatization. However, firms in retailing and consumer services, which had already been transferred to municipal ownership in 1991, were required to take part in the small privatization, and mass privatization was required for about 5000 large enterprises and over 15,000 medium-sized ones.
In 1999, exports were up slightly, while imports slumped by 30.5%. As a consequence, the trade surplus ballooned to $33.2 billion, more than double the previous year's level. In 2001, the trend shifted, as exports declined while imports increased. World prices continue to have a major effect on export performance, since commodities, particularly oil, natural gas, metals, and timber comprise 80% of Russian exports. Ferrous metals exports suffered the most in 2001, declining 7.5%. On the import side, steel and grains dropped by 11% and 61%, respectively.
Most analysts predicted that these trade trends would continue to some extent in 2002. In the first quarter of 2002, import expenditures were up 12%, increased by goods and a rapid rise of travel expenditure. The combination of import duties, a 20% value-added tax and excise taxes on imported goods (especially automobiles, alcoholic beverages, and aircraft) and an import licensing regime for alcohol still restrain demand for imports. Frequent and unpredictable changes in customs regulations also have created problems for foreign and domestic traders and investors. In March 2002, Russia placed a ban on poultry from the United States. In the first quarter of 2002, exports were down 10% as falling income from goods exports was partly compensated for by rising services exports, a trend since 2000. The trade surplus decreased to $7 billion from well over $11 billion the same period last year.
Foreign trade rose 34% to $151.5 billion in the first half of 2005, mainly due to the increase in oil and gas prices which now form 64% of all exports by value. Trade with CIS countries is up 13.2% to $23.3 billion. Trade with the EU forms 52.9%, with the CIS 15.4%, Eurasian Economic Kommunity 7.8% and Asia-Pacific Economic Community 15.9%.
Trade volume between China and Russia reached $29.1 billion in 2005, an increase of 37.1% compared with 2004. China’s export of machinery and electronic goods to Russia grew 70%, which is 24% of China’s total export to Russia in the first 11 months of 2005. During the same time, China’s export of high-tech products to Russia increased by 58%, and that is 7% of China’s total exports to Russia. Also in this time period border trade between the two countries reached $5.13 billion, growing 35% and accounting for nearly 20% of the total trade. Most of China’s exports to Russia remain apparel and footwear.
Russia is China’s eighth largest trade partner and China is now Russia’s fourth largest trade partner.
China now has over 750 investment projects in Russia, involving $1.05 billion. China’s contracted investment in Russia totaled $368 million during January-September 2005, twice that in 2004.
Chinese imports from Russia are mainly those of energy sources, such as crude oil, which is mostly transported by rail, and electricity exports from neighboring Siberian and Far Eastern regions. In the near future, exports of both of these commodities are set to increase, as Russia is building the Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean oil pipeline with a branch to Chinese border, and Russian power grid monopoly UES is building some of its hydropower stations with a view of future exports to China.