US OFFICIALS SEE INCREASED COOPERATION WITH MOSCOW ON TAXES AND INVESTMENT

US OFFICIALS SEE INCREASED COOPERATION WITH MOSCOW ON TAXES AND INVESTMENT

An improving Russian economy is helping lay the basis for expanding U.S.-Russian trade and investment ties, U.S. Commerce Department officials say.

Further helping those ties, they say, U.S. and Russian government and business leaders are working on a number of initiatives, particularly in tax policy and trade finance.On taxes, said Jan Kalicki, a Commerce Department counselor and the Clinton administration's ombudsman for energy and commercial cooperation with Russia, officials from the two governments are cooperating on two fronts.

Late last month, they unveiled recommendations for reforming Russia's policy on oil and gas taxes in order to attract more investment, Russian and foreign. Key Russian legislators, Mr. Kalicki said Friday, have since indicated that the recommendations will be "a very high order of business" in the Russian Parliament this autumn.

Meanwhile, he said, a group of U.S. and Russian government officials and business representatives will by year's end submit a final report proposing a yet broader array of Russian tax reforms covering other sectors of the economy. This effort, he said, is receiving "very significant" support from Russian authorities.

At a more advanced stage, he noted, is legislation to establish rules for oil and gas production-sharing agreements in Russia. Already cleared by the State Duma, the parliament's lower house, it awaits approval by the Federation Council, the upper house.

Once the measure becomes law, it is expected to help spur a growing number of U.S.-Russian oil and gas ventures, representing tens of billions of dollars in potential U.S. investment.

Also helping, Mr. Kalicki said, is the fact that the U.S. Export-Import Bank is close to clearing the way for the first of more than $1 billion in disbursements to finance sales of U.S. oil equipment and services to Russia.

The financing, under the U.S.-Russian oil and gas framework agreement, has been stalled for months. But, Mr. Kalicki said, the first disbursements will almost certainly be made by Oct. 1 or earlier.

Ex-Im Bank, Mr. Kalicki said, is considering similar framework agreements to finance U.S. goods and services for Russian forestry and fishery projects. As in the oil and gas agreement, Russian hard-currency earnings would be deposited in international bank escrow accounts and used as collateral for the Ex-Im Bank financing.