Washington, 6 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Attention is always focused on the giant enterprises in every country -- from Gazprom in Russia to General Electric in the United States -- but the experts say it is the small businesses, the little firms you've never heard of, that together are the real engines of every economy.
For the first time, the United States and Russia are working together to promote the small companies that in Russia already produce 12 percent of the gross domestic product and in the United States employ over half the private work force and account for more than 50 percent of annual sales receipts.
Following on the signing last summer of a memorandum of cooperation between the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the newly-created Russian State Committee for the Support and Development of Small Businesses, a first working group of more than 30 Russian and American private business people and government officials met in Washington on Wednesday.
Chaired by SBA administrator Philip Lader and committee chairman Viachestlav Prokhorov, the working group adopted an action plan for 1997 to promote opportunities for small businesses in both countries in international trade.
As part of the program, a small business "matchmaking" conference will be held next summer in Houston, Texas to bring together small business people from both countries and acquaint them with the opportunities that are available.
In addition, the SBA and the Russian committee have agreed to create an integrated information system utilizing the Internet to provide quick access to information on opportunities and programs for small businesses in both countries.
SBA officials say a major effort in the months leading up to the first working group meeting was in raising the awareness within both the United States and Russian governments about small business needs and opportunities.
In addition, they say, there has been a strong effort at helping the Russian committee get itself established and work on legislative and regulatory reform initiatives needed to support and encourage small firms in Russia. The SBA, with financing from the U.S. Information Agency, has started an "exchange of experts" program to send American experts to Moscow to help in setting up programs.
Officials say another area of cooperation is in strengthening cooperation between banks in both countries to provide financing and support to small businesses which want to participate in trade and investment opportunities in other countries.
The SBA has long provided loan and financing guarantees for small businesses in the United States -- its portfolio currently totals over $29 billion in loans to 200,000 small businesses -- but it is just starting in providing loans for small businesses which want to conduct commerce internationally.
The working group has also decided to launch a study to look at the future of trade cooperation between small businesses in the U.S. and Russia, with a special emphasis on identifying sectors of the economy and regions in each nation which are particularly ripe with opportunities for smaller enterprises.
The small business working group met just one day ahead of the eighth session of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, chaired by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Its work will be included in the report to be issued at the end of the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission meetings on Friday.