MOSCOW - Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov presided Friday over the signing of more than 70 investment, trade and exchange deals between their countries.
"At last we can say that Canada, our great neighbor, great friend, is giving a serious political and economic signal for cooperation between our big, neighboring, rich countries," Kasyanov said.
Chretien said that "the time is ripe for Canadian companies to substantially raise their profile in the new Russia."
Business leaders from the two sides signed 77 contracts and letters of intent, worth a total of dlrs 337.15 million. The deals were in the areas of agriculture and food, housing and construction, education, oil and gas, mining and technology.
The signing ceremony at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, followed by an elaborate luncheon, was the high point of the 300-strong Canadian delegation's four-day visit to Russia, which ends Sunday when the group departs for Germany.
The stadium was chosen as much for its symbolism as its capacity to accommodate thousands, since it was the site of four matches of the legendary 1972 World Hockey Summit tournament between Canada and the Soviet Union. Veterans of the matches presented team jerseys to Chretien and to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also attended the luncheon.
Putin called the two countries "the northern giants of two continents, of the Old and the New World," and he noted their common occupation of huge territories, their harsh climates, and their "special love" for hockey.
Putin appealed to the Canadians to open their markets to Russian steel, which he said had been virtually shut out by antidumping measures.
"I'd like to reach an understanding that it is in our mutual interests to get high-quality, inexpensive goods on the Canadian market," Putin said, singling out steel.
Earlier Friday, Chretien, accompanied by top Russian AIDS expert Vadim Pokrovsky and the country's top public health officer, Gennady Onishchenko, announced the launch of a joint three-year AIDS prevention program to operate in four regions of Russia. He said that Canada would guarantee Russia had resources to combat the growing spread of the disease.
Pokrovsky said Thursday that 1 million Russians were likely infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the Interfax news agency. He said 100,000 new cases of HIV were registered last year, more than double the figure from the year before, bringing the total officially reported HIV cases since 1987 to 182,000. However, officials say that several times that number of cases have gone unreported.