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«ABC Radio»
Surge in bartering in the Russian economy2009-05-01

MARK COLVIN: A year ago, Russia seemed to be sloshing around in money.

Now it's in the grip of a liquidity crisis, and individuals and companies are looking to another way to procure what they need - bartering.

This direct exchange of goods and services is rising in popularity in Russia.

But some fear that if bartering continues to grow, it could hamper Russia's economic recovery from the crisis.

Moscow correspondent Scott Bevan reports.

(Sound of cash register)

SCOTT BEVAN: In a Moscow general store, a customer uses the well-tried way to buy groceries; he hands over ruble notes.

(Sound of cash register closing)

SCOTT BEVAN: But in the midst of a major economic slump, more and more Russians have fewer and fewer rubles in their pockets or accounts.

So, in place of cash, many are offering to exchange goods and services directly, with the internet providing a venue for a huge swap market.

Khadis Aliev is spokesman for one on line service called Rusbarter.

KHADIS ALIEV (translated): With the economic crisis, barter deals, barter companies, the whole barter market is growing quite fast.

SCOTT BEVAN: Thousands of barter offers can be found on the internet. And the items being put up for exchange give an idea of just how tough times are for some: a cottage for a car, furniture for a laptop computer, a pair of rubber boots for a box of chocolates, even retail discount cards for men's socks or baby food.

And it's not just individuals going online to barter; companies, large and small, are offering to exchange everything from apartments to building products to keep business ticking along, or to even stay in business.

Professor Andrei Yakovlev is from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

ANDREI YAKOVLEV: Non-payments from customers is the main reason for the development of bartering.

SCOTT BEVAN: Professor Yakovlev says recent estimates have put bartering at about 3 to 5 per cent of total sales in Russia at the moment.

But that's a far cry from its presence during the economically turbulent 1990s, as Russia struggled after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

ANDREI YAKOVLEV: In the 1990s, especially before the crisis of 1998, it was about 50 per cent of total sales in our industry. And in the case of the biggest enterprises, it could be even 70, 80 per cent.

SCOTT BEVAN: Some companies are wary of bartering.

Dmitry Morenkov, the trading director for a firm called Russian Grain, says in extraordinary circumstances they've accepted payment other than money from customers who are cash-strapped.

But he says on the whole, bartering is not very practical for companies.

DMITRY MORENKOV: For example, for a grain trading company to be paid by cars, for example, or whatever, oranges, it will be quite difficult because to sell it to someone else and to be paid by the third type of commodity.

SCOTT BEVAN: Yet businessman German Sterligov believes companies linking up and exchanging goods is the way of the future and not just for Russia but the entire world.

Sterligov made millions as a commodities trader in the new Russia during the 1990s before retiring to a simpler country life.

Now he's emerged from the wilderness and, in a Moscow high-rise building, he's set up what's called the anti-crisis settlement and accounting centre.

GERMAN STERLIGOV: It's not bartering.

SCOTT BEVAN: What do you call it?

GERMAN STERLIGOV: We call it . . . (speaks Russian).

SCOTT BEVAN: A global commodities linking system, he replies.

Professor Andrei Yakovlev from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow says while bartering may be a survival tool for struggling companies, it could also hinder Russia's economic development, as well as its recovery from the crisis.

ANDREI YAKOVLEV: For instance, a decrease of taxes, of tax collection, because for state budget, it's impossible to collect taxes in kind in barter.

SCOTT BEVAN: Dmitry Morenkov from Russian Grain says he believes bartering slows everything down in the economy, adding to the difficulty for companies to use it in an age that demands speed.

But, he says governments may already have the structures and the contacts to barter if the world needs to.

DMITRY MORENKOV: Maybe, with time, in case the world economic crisis develops more, we'll have to think about this possibilities and realities.

SCOTT BEVAN: Yet Dmitry Morenkov, like business people everywhere, is hoping that the crisis ends and money flows freely once more - before those sort of measures have to be implemented.

This is Scott Bevan in Moscow for PM.

Surge in bartering in the Russian economy

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