Russia - Country Commercial Guide
Market Opportunities

Overview of best prospect sectors, major infrastructure projects, significant government, procurements and business opportunities.

Last published date: 2021-10-15

With a vast landmass, extensive natural resources, more than 144 million consumers, and pressing infrastructure needs, Russia remains a major potential market for U.S. exporters.  Russia is the world’s eleventh-largest economy by nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and the sixth largest by purchasing power parity (PPP), as cited by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  According to the IMF, 2020 GDP per capita (PPP-based) was $27,903.  Russia is a high-income country, with an educated, trained workforce and sophisticated, discerning consumers.

A combination of low oil prices, structural limitations, and sanctions pushed Russia into a recession in 2015, with the economy contracting by 4 percent, followed by a 0.6 percent drop in 2016, and a return to positive growth in 2017. In 2018, the real GDP growth rate was 2.5% and according to IMF estimates, the real GDP growth rate in 2019 was 1.3%. Pre-COVID, The Economist estimated that structural weaknesses, low levels of investment, and fiscal tightening would keep GDP growth at about 1-2% a year in the medium term.  The IMF reported 2020 GDP growth at -3.1 percent, in large part due to the worldwide health crisis, and is projecting a rebound to growth of about 3.8% in 2021

In terms of pre-COVID trade in goods, Russia was the United States’ 40th-largest export market and the 20rd-largest exporter to the United States in 2019.  Russia was the United States’ 26th-largest trading partner overall.  U.S. exports to Russia in 2019 were $5.8 billion, a decrease of 13% from 2018 (although U.S. exports of products other than commercial aircraft dropped very modestly in 2019).  Russian exports to the United States in 2019 were $22.3 billion, an increase of 7% from 2018.  In 2019 Russia’s leading individual trading partners (https://www.worldstopexports.com/russias-top-import-partners/) were China, the Netherlands, Germany, Belarus, the United States, Turkey, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Kazakhstan.

In the context of the 2020 COVID-19 global health pandemic and a general drop in trade, U.S. exports to Russia dropped 15.5% to $4.9 billion, while Russian exports to the United States were $16.9 billion, a 24.1% decrease.  

In 2018, the latest available data showed that the U.S. direct investment position in Russia was $14.8 billion, an increase of 6.5% from 2017.  The direct investment position of Russia in the United States was $3.9 billion, a decrease of 7.1% from 2017.  Given the prevalence of third-country trade and investment channels, official figures for U.S.-Russian trade and investment likely understate U.S. companies’ levels of business with Russia.  Many American firms view the Russian market as a long-term, strategic play given its large population, natural resources, growing consumer class, and access to a relatively low-cost yet well-skilled labor force.

Russia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August 2012.  In the same year, Congress also enacted legislation to establish permanent normal trade relations with Russia.  Russia’s commitment to not raise tariffs on any product above the negotiated rate meant that U.S. manufacturers and exporters experienced more certain and predictable access to the Russian market.

For American businesses, Russia’s accession to the WTO also provided the following benefits, although Russia has been slow to fulfill or has backtracked on certain of its WTO obligations:

· Stronger commitments for protection and enforcement of IPR;

· Rules-based treatment of agricultural exports;

· Market access under country-specific tariff-rate quotas;

· Improved transparency in trade-related rule-making; and

· More effective WTO dispute resolution mechanisms.

In some areas, subsequent Russian government actions, such as prohibitions it has placed on imports of U.S. and European agricultural products since August 2014, have effectively negated market-opening measures that resulted from Russia’s entry into the WTO.