The Russian market might be bullish, but the bear is as prickly as ever.
Doing business in a country that, at once, has an evolving free-market system, a developing bureaucracy, an authoritarian bent in government and a nationalist streak in culture is a challenge.
But Russia is growing, poised to overtake Canada to become the world’s tenth-largest economy by GDP; like Canada, its vast territory endows it with vast mineral wealth, even though it only accounts for 2 per cent of the world’s exploration budget.
For Canadian businesses, the opportunities are there – if they can get off on the right foot.
Where to start
Business owners familiar with Russia’s environment say it’s best to be there in person, if you can.
But first, gather as much information as you can. Both the Internet and in-person Canadian resources can help.
For starters, get in touch with a Canadian trade commissioner (or check out the government’s virtual trade commissioner site).
The Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association (CERBA) is the trade organization for companies doing business between Canada and Russia.
It has offices across Canada, including Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary, as well as in Moscow and Almaty, Kazakhstan. (Russia shares a customs union with the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Belarus, meaning that, once goods are imported into that zone, they don’t need to clear customs again when moving within it.)
Businesses can join CERBA for in-person support, and can consult its website for digital resources, including an a detailed, Webcasted Export Development Canada, the Crown corporation that specializes in export financing, maintains up-to-date links to Russia-specific resources , as it does with other countries, and also hosts a thorough, if predictably dry, hour-long webinar on best practices for exporters working in Russia’s customs union. Registration is free, but required.
Consulting firms, law firms, and accounting firms also possess country-specific knowledge and can help guide a company into a new market.
To make a go of it in Russia, veterans of its business environment say it’s a country that rewards putting boots on the ground – and keeping them there.
“The most important part to starting is to find a partner in Russia you can trust,” says Wolfgang Spillner, president of Albacor Shipping, a Toronto-based firm that’s moved into the Russian market over the past year and a half, opening a network of offices in the country.
Despite the fact that Mr. Spillner himself has been doing business in Russia over the course of 20 years, Albacor only opened its network of shipping offices there in the last year and a half, after he found a partner with whom he was comfortable.
“You don’t go there today and expect business tomorrow. It’s a matter of meeting people, and meeting the right people,” he says.
Mr. Spillner says that language hasn’t been much of a problem: There’s a fair amount of English fluency, especially among the new generation of post-Soviet 30-something business people with whom he’s increasingly dealing.
Still, the vagaries of an emerging market continue to pose a challenge
To that end, establishing a presence and persevering in it is another recurring message from the Canadian-Russian business community.
“It is a slow process working through the government agencies. You have to bring time, and paper,” Mr. Spillner says.
“It can be done. It’s not impossible, but it is a challenge.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
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