August 13, 2009 / 10:00 PM / 10 years ago

Merkel-Medvedev talks to focus on investment, Opel

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Boosting Russian-German trade at a time of global crisis will be on the agenda when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet on Friday, a Kremlin source said.

A bid by Canadian automaker Magna and Russia’s Sberbank to buy a stake in Opel, the European unit of General Motors, is the most pressing matter for the two nations.

Medvedev has invited Merkel to his official vacation residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for their third meeting this year in a gesture showing close political and economic ties between Berlin and Moscow.

“In Sochi, the leaders will discuss details of joint steps to stimulate the diversification of trade and economic ties to make them more stable and resistant to the fluctuations of global markets,” a senior Kremlin official told reporters.

“Promoting existing high-tech investment projects and starting new ones is an important part of these efforts,” he added.

Trade between Russia and Germany, Russia’s biggest trading partner in Europe, reached a record $67.2 billion in 2008. That figure has been cut by more than half in the first five months of 2009, the Kremlin official said, without giving the precise number.

Russian leaders have said the global crisis provided a good opportunity to review the structure of bilateral trade and economic cooperation.

Merkel has backed the Magna-Sberbank bid for Opel over a competing offer from Belgian private equity firm RHJ International.

On Thursday, Magna’s co-Chief Executive Siegfried Wolf said agreement in principle had been reached with General Motors to buy the stake. But a GM official later said the race was not over.

“We plan to discuss in detail the conditions under which the Magna-Sberbank consortium can purchase the Opel assets with benefits for Germany and Russia,” the Kremlin official said.

He said Medvedev and Merkel were also expected to discuss finding Russian investors for struggling firms like Dresden chipmaker Qimonda and Germany’s fifth biggest shipbuilder, Wadan.

Qimonda, which has 12,000 staff, collapsed this year as chip prices slumped. Efforts to organize a state bailout failed.

Wadan is owned by a Russian investor Andrey Burlakov, who is looking for ways to save the insolvent shipyard.

Ahead of Medvedev’s visit to Germany in July, Burlakov’s spokesman said Russian metals giant Norilsk Nickel was likely to order 10 ships and marine oil and gas platforms. Norilsk Nickel has denied having such plans.

The Kremlin official said Russia had far-reaching plans to buy into German firms.

“Given proper social and economic reasons and commercial guarantees, such projects can become springboards for strategic alliances between Russian and German hi-tech companies in carmaking, shipbuilding and electronics,” he said.

“This will complement the existing and emerging alliances in the energy sector,” he added.

Germany is Russia’s partner in an ambitious Nord Stream project to deliver Siberian gas under the Baltic Sea to Europe.

Russia wants to boost German support for the project in the face of the concerns of some European states that it could harm the Baltic Sea and strengthen Russia’s grip on the continent’s energy supplies.

Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; editing by Michael Roddy

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