Trade between Russia and Japan has surged 17 percent in the first eight months of the year, according to Russian Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin.

“There are economic indicators that demonstrate that Russian-Japanese relations are developing in a positive direction. The beginning of the year, maybe was not so good, but in the eight months, according to our data, the growth in trade turnover is 17 percent,” the Russian minister said at a meeting with Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry in Vietnam.

Seko said Russian small and medium businesses have achieved excellent results over the past year and a half. “The private sectors of our countries have signed a hundred documents, about 40 percent of them have moved to signing contracts,” the Japanese minister said.

Next year, Russia and Japan will hold a cross-cultural year.

The countries have been trying to build up economic relations despite territorial disputes over the Kuril Islands. Japan hopes to recover the territories lost after WWII, but Russia has repeatedly rebuffed Japanese claims.

However, Russia and Japan have agreed to develop tourism in the disputed areas. Since August, Russia has allowed Japanese citizens, arriving in Sakhalin on a ferry from Hokkaido, to stay in the country without a visa for 72 hours. The countries plan to develop fishing, tourism, healthcare and ecology in the region.

Moscow has also suggested building a road and rail bridge from Russia’s Sakhalin to Hokkaido, linking Japan with the continent.