MANILA, MARCH 6, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - The Russian Federation pledged yesterday to boost bilateral trade with the Philippines by increasing investments from the current $200 million to at least $2 billion.

Six members of the Russian trade and investment mission, led by Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Mikhail Nikolaev, made a courtesy call to President Arroyo at Malacañang yesterday and expressed Russia’s interest in "many unexplored areas" of investment in the Philippines.

Nikolaev said Russian intends to expand its trade on products of interest to both countries.

The Russians conferred on President Arroyo, Russia’s Presidential Star Medal.

The Presidential Star Medal has been awarded only to senior statesmen including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson.

The commitment to increase bilateral trade is part of Moscow’s effort to expand relations with the Philippines, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia.

"Russia is a very important country to the Philippines. We would like Russia to be more economically engaged in the ASEAN and East Asia," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The Philippines has been designated as the coordinator of Russia’s relations with the ASEAN.

"We hope Russia could become a full dialogue partner of ASEAN and East Asia. I hope your visit would contribute to that aspiration," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Nikolaev told the President that Russia would like to have more participation in the ASEAN, specifically to assist and help small businesses in the region.

In the Philippines, Nikolaev said they have keen interest in Cebu’s custom-designed furniture that are made of materials indigenous to the Philippines.

They are also looking at Philippine tropical fruits and aquaculture products, which they intend to distribute to the Siberian region.

The delegation arrived for an eight-day visit to the Philippines. The Russians will also visit Cebu and Bohol.

The delegation is composed of members of the Eastern Dimension International Public Movement, a non-government organization that assists in the rapid development of the Russian economy, particularly in Siberia and the Far East, through the expansion of Russia-ASEAN cooperation.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary of the Office of European Affairs Maria Zeneida Angara-Collinson said the Board of Investments has scheduled several meetings between the officials of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Russian visitors.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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