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Putin Cuts Licensing as Economy Rebounds

The government on Monday endorsed a bill that would dramatically ease licensing restrictions for companies, reducing by more than half the kinds of businesses that would need to seek bureaucrats' permission before opening up shop.

If approved, the bill would mean that just 49 types of businesses — down from 110 now — would need to go through the time-consuming and expensive licensing process, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said at a weekly session of the Presidium, a downsized version of his Cabinet.

The measure, if backed by lawmakers and President Dmitry Medvedev, would follow on previous reductions over the past few months to support the economy in lean times. It also shows that the government will continue pushing to improve conditions for doing business, even as the recent economic rebound takes hold.

In addition, officials would handle all requests for remaining licenses online, starting in January, Putin said.

It was not immediately clear Monday which licenses would be abandoned under the bill.

The economy grew 4.2 percent in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period last year, when Russia experienced its first recession in a decade, Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina said. The growth came largely thanks to exports, which increased 50 percent in the first half of the year, she said.

"It was a powerful factor," Nabiullina said.

Inflation appears tamer for now. Consumer prices have risen 4.4 percent so far, down from 7.4 percent over the first half of last year, she said.

Disposable incomes increased 4.8 percent, while the unemployment rate contracted to 6.8 percent in June, from 9.2 percent in January, she said.

Also on Monday, the government considered the need to charge reasonable and uniform rates on the land that municipalities rent out to farmers and other customers.

"It's hard to believe, but the difference in the rent of close plots can be by a factor of hundreds," Putin said.

The federal government and municipalities are Russia's biggest landlords, collectively owning 92 percent of commercial land in Russia, Putin said.

Corporate land owners, including foreign farming investors, account for just 1 percent, with the rest belonging to individuals, he said.

In other news, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said Russia recently regained the capacity to build oil-drilling rigs. A plant in Yekaterinburg, Uralmashzavod, constructed the first rig for Gazprom Neft, although it imported 30 percent of the rig's parts, he said.

A Syrian oil company and a company called Ariel signed contracts for more rigs, while Surgutneftegaz and LUKoil are exploring the opportunity, he said.

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