A draft bill the Cabinet was debating envisages expatriate access to many government supply contests. "Any other country, if it has a big army, never imports foodstuffs for it. This is not a Russian prejudice-it's a global arrangement," the minister remarked to that.
Andrei Sharonov, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, who reported to the gathering on the issue, saw Mr. Ivanov's point and, at the Defence Minister's bidding, called to qualify food and certain other commodities as strategic, and so subject to import limitations.
Debates took a grotesque turn as the conferees went over to purchases of military-oriented technologies. As the bill has it, whenever an item is purchased outside contest, the government buyer has to prove to relevant agencies that only one company produces the commodity, so a choice is ruled out.
"Am I supposed to convince you that nuclear submarines are coming from a single manufacturer?" Sergei Ivanov rhetorically asked Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov-a query the Premier waved off.
"It doesn't concern me! You ought to address Gref [meaning German Gref, acting Minister of Economic Development and Trade]. Try and prove it to Gref! But then, this is classified information to which he has no access, for all I know," chuckled Mr. Fradkov.
"A sub has several thousand parts. True, its rubber-lined titanium hull comes from a monopoly manufacturer, and it's common knowledge. It's an open secret even to Gref! But then, certain parts come from many companies, and such contracts are to be contested," Andrei Sharonov joined in. The other debaters came down on him at that, and the vice-minister eventually acknowledged his was an awkward example.
Though approving the concept underlying the bill, the Cabinet turned it down for amendment, Premier Fradkov announced to the media after the session.
"This is a socially oriented bill. It implies Russian-based manufacturing industries encouraged, federal expenditures streamlined, and duties delineated more explicitly between administrations of the various levels," he explained.
"We must take thorough stock of the situation-or we shall make headlong steps. What are we having to do with in purchases for government needs? Is it that importers are getting too aggressive? Or are our domestic manufacturers unable to cope? Or are our foreign economic activities not smooth enough?
"Debates took us an approximate two hours, though the matter deserves a far longer discussion as the involved turnover approaches a trillion roubles [roughly US$34.5 billion], so we must weigh our decisions and bring hazards to the least possible." The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, which drafted the bill, finds it among the world's most up-to-date, said Mr. Sharonov as he was addressing newsmen after the session, in his turn.
"We have taken overseas experience into due consideration. The matter has brought many headaches to the whole world, and so is thoroughly elaborated. The state can economise on government purchases. On the other hand, it offers ample elbowroom for graft." The drafting team proceeded from a law the United Nations foreign trade legislative committee based on practical experience of UN member countries. The team also relied on World Bank practice, stored over decades as stringent government purchase rules were emerging. World Trade Organisation standards of commodity and service interpenetration also had their say, added Andrei Sharonov.