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    MOSCOW, February 2, 2004 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's regional administrations will get the authority to manage forestries, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said at the hearings of a new draft forest code on Monday.

    "The idea behind the new code is that all forests that have been registered by the time the code comes into force will be owned by the state. However, forest management functions will be delegated to regional authorities," said Mr Gref. He said a relative agreement had already been reached with the Natural Resources Ministry.

    The minister emphasised that the amended draft code was discussed at the hearings, which involved relative ministry officials, as well as regional governors and business people. He called on the business community to speak out about how the "entirely new system of forest use will function." The new draft forest code is designed to provide incentives for the development of a civilised forestry business and ensure a sustainable condition of the country's forest reserves, improve the forests' quality characteristics so that forests could perform their environmental functions and replenish forest resources," read the documents drawn up by the Economic Development Ministry.

    Forest use rights will be distributed through tenders alone. However, the draft code envisages the situations when the Cabinet shall have the authority to issue forest lease certificates. A forest user who leases a forest plot for more than 5 years shall perform forest management functions.

    The switch-over to civil relations in the sphere of forest use will help settle rental payment issues in compliance with the code.

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