Belarus may encounter foreign trade deficit by late 2016

December 05, 2016 9:11

According to the National Statistics Committee, in October foreign trade deficit was the highest in 2016. The overall decrease in exports of Belarusian goods to foreign markets was due to a slump in prices on key Belarusian export items. Considering expected growth in consumer imports in November and December, current foreign trade surplus may not be enough for keeping overall foreign trade surplus after year-end.

According to the National Statistics Committee, foreign trade deficit in January-October 2016 was USD 2 965 million. In the same period in 2015, the deficit was USD 2 274 million. In October 2016, foreign trade deficit reached its maximum volume and totalled USD 545.5 million. The deterioration in foreign trade in October was due to the increase in natural gas supplies in connection with the beginning of the heating season, and cuts in oil supplies from Russia to Belarus entailing a decrease in petrochemicals export.

Belarus' foreign trade in 2016 was hit by a slump in prices on exported goods (by 16% compared with 2015), while import prices reduced by 9%. Exports of petrochemicals in January-September 2016 reduced by 38% or by USD 2 billion, due to the cuts in oil supplies from Russia from 2 million tons to 1.2 million tons per month. Negative trends also affected the second most important export item, Belarusian potash fertilisers. The average price for potash decreased as compared with 2015 by 25% and totalled USD 220 per ton, export volumes fell by 11% to 6.7 million tons, which led to an overall reduction in potash exports by USD 724 million. Exports of other Belarusian products could not compensate for these losses.

Thanks to exports in transport, construction and IT sector, Belarus managed to retain surplus in foreign trade in January-September 2016 at USD 390 million. In November and December consumer imports are likely to increase, reduced supply of oil will continue until early 2017, which means that export of petrochemicals is unlikely to increase. Re-exports of vegetables and fruits to Russia were scrapped; and import of natural gas will increase due to the winter season. Low prices on the potash market are likely to retain, which means that potash exports will not compensate for the increase in imports.

Overall, the seasonal increase in imports of natural gas and the negative price trends for key Belarusian export items have led to a sharp deterioration in foreign trade in October 2016. Foreign trade surplus in November and December 2016 is unlikely to compensate for the overall deficit of foreign trade in 2016.

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In 1996-2011, the Belarusian economy was growing most rapidly, average GDP growth rate was 6.9% per year. In 2011, amid emission injections in the economy, disproportionate growth of wages against the background of low productivity and significant financial aid for loss-making agricultural, construction and industrial enterprises, the Belarusian rouble depreciated by three times. The absence of economic reforms and significant relative weight of state in the economy amid deteriorating external economic environment led to a sharp economic slowdown – circa 1% per year in 2012-2014; the slowdown was followed by the recession, caused by a slump in the prices for basic exports from Belarus and cuts in soft loans issued to maintain production volumes.

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The Belarusian economy has been in recession for two consecutive years. Amid anticipated decline in retail trade, construction and unresolved dispute over energy supplies from Russia, economic recession is likely to persist in 2017 and the economic recovery may be postponed until 2018.