Analytics, Belarus, Direct Speech, EU – Baltic States

International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Thursday, 18.10.2018, 21:55

Belarus – EU: reliable neighbourhood turning stable partnership

Andrei Kobyakov, Prime Minister The Republic of Belarus, Baltic Rim Economies,, 12.06.2017.Print version
Since gaining sovereignty and independence a quarter of the century ago Belarus has made wide strides in its political, social and economic development against very heavy internal and external odds.

The country boasts a well-performing economy. Its voice sounds loud and clear in international fora. We list a growing number of countries worldwide as our partners and keep reaching out to new promising markets.

Modern Belarus draws from centuries-old state and cultural traditions of Eastern Europe ascending to Slavic principalities of early Middle Ages and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with its sophisticated society, rich philosophic and legal heritage.

In the Soviet times, Belarus rightfully prided itself on its highly advanced human potential, research and manufacturing.

Belarus as a state turned a new page of its history in the early 1990s. Peace and social harmony became prime objectives of a new sovereign nation.

In Belarus, just like elsewhere across the ex-Soviet Union, the first years of independence were marked by a painful struggle with social and economic crisis. But the country’s economy was one of the few in the region that emerged from this struggle stronger than ever before. Since 1994, its GDP, industrial output and export have multiplied.

By 2000, the economy reached its pre-crisis level thus substantially boosting prosperity of its countrymen. Average wages in dollar terms grew by 5.5 times, while real salaries – by 7.3 times. The UN rates Belarus among countries with high Human Development Index. Its GDP per capita is one of the highest in the region. The export-to-GDP ratio makes Belarus the most open post-Soviet economy, as confirmed by the World Bank’s “Trading Across Borders” scoreboard.

This small but open economy finds itself increasingly exposed to numerous external shocks in recent years, including the Ukraine conflict and the drop in energy prices. Their knock-on effect shows both directly, through shrinking markets and downward price pressure on our key exports, and indirectly, through mounting investment risks and borrowing costs.

These challenges demanded urgent macroeconomic response by the Government. External shocks were effectively contained through a range of conservative fiscal measures, tighter monetary and lending policies, flexible exchange rates and Belarus regained its firm standing both domestically and abroad.

Slower inflation and recovering currency markets bolstered public trust for the rouble. Balanced external trade and budget surplus contributes to the country’s credibility with foreign lenders and investors. Belarus asserts itself as a reliable and diligent partner that meets its obligations timely and in full.

We pursue a multidimensional foreign policy with its European focus a longtime priority to us. The EU is Belarus’ second biggest market and an important source of investments, cutting-edge technologies, know-how, modern marketing and managerial techniques. The EU accounted for 43% of the overall foreign investment inflow in 2011-2015.

Belarus, for its part, has a lot to offer. First and foremost, a wide array of quality products that goes far beyond the traditional segments of oil refinery, woodworking and potassium fertilizers. The country’s hallmark export at present is machine-building.

Thanks to its sophisticated industry Belarus enjoyed for decades the reputation of USSR’s main “assembly plant”. Nowadays one in almost every ten tractors in the world is made in Belarus. The country ranks the 5th as an exporter of dairy products globally, including the 4th biggest exporter of cheese, and number three supplier of whey and butter.

Second, the nation of just 9.5 mln but featuring 55 high schools and universities with up to 500 thousand graduates per year can be considered as fairly rich in intellectual asset and home-grown talent.

A fast-growing IT sector increasingly spearheads research and innovation. A Hi-Tech Park operational in Minsk since 2005 is home to 165 companies that are frequently contracted by world’s giants like Western Union, Google, Microsoft, Airbus, etc. In 2016 alone the Park’s export to its clients in 67 countries surpassed USD 820 mln, Western Europe accounting for almost 50 % of the volume.

Third, Belarus offers a conducive business environment. To launch a company here is easier than some may think, as proven by successful examples of reputable European companies like Stadler Rail Group and Kronospan Holding East Ltd. The country ranks the 37th among 189 countries on the ease of doing business, reports the World Bank’s flagship publication “Doing Business 2017”.

Fourth, Belarus contributes significantly to European security. With 1250 kilometres of shared border Belarus and the EU have a long history of successful synergies to suppress smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal migration.

Belarus is well aware of its interests in Europe and actively pursues them. Responsibility and pragmatism are at the core of our policy vis-a-vis the neighbouring EU with whom we have a lot in common.

Now that the EU has lifted its political barriers, our relations are gaining in terms of substance and mutual trust. Since 2016 a Belarus – EU Co-ordination Group has been acting as a platform for a structured political dialogue. To make it more systemic in the years to come, bilateral “Partnership Priorities” are negotiated. Sectoral dialogues are ongoing in areas of mutual interest. Project activity under EU assistance schemes has intensified and new opportunities emerge for international investment and borrowing.

Belarus seeks to put in place a new contractual framework with the EU, join the WTO and progressively integrate into the European political and economic landscape with due account of our commitments under the Eurasian Economic Union.

Neighbourhood is but a stepping-stone to a deeper kind of relationship. If, in the words of EEAS head Federica Mogherini, “my neighbours’ weaknesses are our own weaknesses”, then the opposite is also true: my neighbours’ strength makes me stronger. To Belarus and the EU this implies a natural and urgent imperative of upgrading their relations beyond a simple neighbourhood to a substantial, equal and sustainable partnership. 

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