Nathan Hunt

Selection_185Director of Rep Office, Ronald A. Chisholm Ltd.

President of CERBA

How did you come to be living Russia?

I graduated in Russian studies in 1988, and came here in 1992 with a small consulting outfit based in the Midwest of the United States. The owners of that company and I went our separate ways after a year and I ended up working with a meat industry association. They were interested in opening the Russian market to U.S. and Western meat imports. After two years in that position I realised I would be better off in the private sector and in 1993 I became the exclusive agent of a Canadian company, one of the major players in the worldwide meat trade. This was the beginning of my long-standing connection with Canada, a country I have grown to know and love over two decades.

You became the President of CERBA

In 2004 I oversaw a merger of our Canada-Russia business club in Moscow with similar business clubs in Canada (Calgary, Toronto and Montreal). Each separate office had its strengths, such as oil/gas in Calgary, IT and mining in Toronto, and aerospace/food industry in Montreal. We decided to merge, since there was no sense in opening up separate ‘Moscow offices’ and fighting for each other’s members and dues. Over these 10 years we have developed into the chief voice of Canadian business in Russia, promoting commercial relations and commenting on the political situation when appropriate. I was National Chair of the merged organisation for 4 years, from 2009 to 2013. Now I remain Chair of the Moscow chapter, a post I have held since 2001. We have recently begun to do business as the ‘Canada Eurasia Business Association’ in some locales since we work in countries besides Russia, including Kazakhstan, Armenia, Uzbekistan and are planning an expansion into Ukraine this spring. It is not a simple feat to balance the interests of our many stakeholders, but we are succeeding so far.

What is CERBA trying to do?

Our mission is to promote trade, investment and good relations between Canada and the countries of Eurasia. We encourage trade and investment both ways, i.e., from Canada to Eurasia and vice versa. Our ‘good relations’ mandate is important –- we organise cultural events such as an annual charity auction which raises around $200,000 each year. Interestingly we have maintained that level even after the rouble’s recent devaluation.

Have you suffered a membership loss due to the current situation?

Surprisingly it hasn’t been so bad. Some members have left, but others continue to join, including companies that are either new to the market or have been here but have not been part of the association, and now find membership more compelling in the current political environment. We have started to carry out a quasi-governmental role, filling in for the Canadian Foreign Service, which is not allowed to support new business ventures here due to the political situation.

Is there hope for Canadian businesses here in Russia?

That’s all we have – hope. Unfortunately, there continue to be good signs and bad. The EU and USA have been hinting at an end to sanctions this summer and we hope the Canadian government will follow suit. Canada has always been a staunch supporter of independent Ukraine, especially because of the large and well-established Ukrainian community in Canada. The question is how best to support Ukraine – by ignoring and isolating Russia? Or by trying to find a solution? We support the latter approach.

I believe both sides share blame for the current crisis. Much of this could have been avoided if we in the West had moved carefully and cautiously, recognizing at the start that Russian concerns are no less valid than our own. Russia has made some terrible mistakes and misjudgements, but many of these were predicated by conflicting or hostile signals from Western leaders.

Are Canadian companies getting round the sanctions somehow?

Sanctions have hurt Canadian agricultural trade with Russia, which used to be one-third of our total exports. We were also poised to make a major investment in the aircraft industry, which would have been the first foreign aircraft assembly facility in Russia. That was all supposed to happen in 2014, but the political situation deteriorated and business followed. The Canadian government’s application of sanctions has been more ambiguous than that of the US, which has clear guidelines issued by OFAC. Canadian companies have therefore been less successful in finding legal mechanisms to mitigate the effects of sanctions.

Everybody says that CERBA is the success it is because of you.

We have a board of thirteen people, all of whom are very active, even between meetings. The willingness of our board members to volunteer time and resources has made our organisation a success. I am proud that while Canada’s population is one tenth of the USA’s, our activity level is definitely more than one tenth of corresponding associations in other countries.