In a recent lecture at the Kennan Institute, Tracy McKibben, Special Counsel for International Trade and Investments of the U.S. Department of Commerce, discussed the Bush Administration's initiatives to foster better commercial relations between the United States and Russia. McKibben explained that as part of the Bush administration's commitment to improving overall relations with Russia, the Russian American Business Dialogue (RABD) was established as a forum for business leaders from both countries to identify areas where laws, regulations or practices impede or distort trade or investment in Russia. Administration officials, buoyed by recent improvements in U.S.-Russian relations, remain optimistic that the creation of the RABD will support Russian economic reforms and promote increased bilateral trade and investment as government officials and business leaders discuss ways to increase cooperation.

Announced in July 2001, the RABD is intended to give a new impetus to U.S.-Russian trade relations by elevating the involvement of the business community in bilateral discussions. McKibben explained that the Bush administration believes that the dialogue, which allows U.S. and Russian business leaders access to the negotiation process, will promote a transparent and predictable business climate and help Russia meet WTO accession standards. McKibben noted that U.S. firms cite the unpredictability of the Russian legal system and the lack of transparency in the financial sector as the leading deterrents to direct investment in Russia. U.S. officials believe that the RABD will become a vehicle for expanding bilateral business opportunities and will bring new participants into U.S.-Russian trade and investment relations.

McKibben stated that the RABD, steered by the U.S.-Russia Business Council (USRBC), American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham), Russian-American Business Council (RABC), and the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in Russia, issued its first annual report to Presidents Bush and Putin in May 2002. The report provided several recommendations for both governments. For the U.S., recommendations included facilitating business visas. For Russia, recommendations included making improvements in the banking and regulatory sectors and promoting the development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

She noted that in virtually all of the successful transition economies, new, small, private businesses have served as a primary engine of growth and played a major role in promoting market-oriented change. Leaders of Russian SMEs have cited "a lack of affordable and appropriate premises, limited access to credit, and local government's failure to implement a comprehensive strategy" as some of the largest obstacles to their development.

McKibben concluded by stating that U.S. government officials see a future with a "robust economic relationship built upon trade and investment between the United States and Russia." She noted that officials from both countries recognize that "while governments can try to encourage companies to increase trade investment, and to improve the business climate, ultimately only the interaction of private businesses can make this happen and therefore a key part of the new economic relationship is a reliance on the private sector." "The Russian American Business Dialogue," she continued, "is one significant way that the Administration sees to advance this relationship."