Due to absence of oil supply agreement Belarus’ forecast for 2017 could be failed

November 28, 2016 9:13
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Belarus is attempting to reintroduce higher tariffs on the Russian oil transit as an argument in the gas and oil dispute with Russia. Financial and reputational losses from the dispute have already exceeded the benefits from the conflict prolongation, and the absence of solution may lead to problems with the implementation of Belarus’ development plans for 2017.

Belarus intends to increase transit costs for the Russian oil through Belarus in 2017 by 20.5%. This step is yet another attempt to resolve the oil and gas dispute with Russia. Due to incomplete procedures regarding additional terms to the new agreements on gas supplies (the price of natural gas for Belarus may be reduced from USD 136 to USD 100 per 1000 cubic metres) and the lack of due payments for previous deliveries (USD 300 million in total), Russia carries out reduced oil supplies to the Belarusian refineries.

Belarus’ attempt to increase the transit tariff is yet another attempt to strengthen the negotiating position in the dispute with Russia over the terms of gas and oil supplies. As regards oil, Russia insists on the compliance with the commitments on counter-supply of gasoline and the reduction in tariffs for processing Russian oil, and Belarus - on reducing prizes for Russian companies for the oil supply. In early October 2016, Belarus unilaterally doubled the oil transit tariff. In a week, the parties reached an agreement on the terms of debt repayment, after which oil supplies would be resumed in the higher volume. As of early November 2016, the debt was still circa USD 300 million, i.e. Belarus did not confirm the intention to repay the debt with a transaction, hence, Russia did not resume the oil supply in set volumes.

The only advantage for Belarus to delay the payment for gas is that it preserves her international reserves. As of November 1st, 2016, Belarus’ international reserves totalled USD 4.8 billion. In order to meet commitments within the credit programme with the EFSR, as of January 1st, 2017, Belarus’ international reserves should be at least USD 4.9 billion. Amid negative trends in Belarus’ international trade, if she makes the payment of USD 300 million, she may be unable to meet the EFSR requirement on the key date, which may lead to the suspension of the remaining tranches. Due to curtailed oil supply to Belarus, Russia may save circa USD 400 million (an equivalent of 5 million tons of oil), while Belarus will lose a lion’s share of foreign exchange earnings. In addition, her ability to mitigate rouble exchange rate fluctuations will be reduced, and she will suffer reputation losses as a consumer country, which does not pay for the delivery of products at prices below market rates.

Further delay with the settlement is likely to delay the resumption of oil supply in agreed volume, to lead to budget losses from uncollected petrochemical duties, to reduce petrochemicals production, and finally, Russia may adjust possible compensation for gas supplies. As a result, Belarus’ forecast with 1.7% economic growth in 2017 could be in jeopardy and the currency shortage may prompt the authorities to search for additional sources to service the increased public debt in 2017.

Overall, the transit tariff for Russian oil is one of the few arguments Belarus can use to improve her position in the oil and gas dispute with Russia. Belarus is prompted to find additional external sources to repay the gas debt, so as the delay with the settlement of the oil and gas dispute could derail Belarus’ socio-economic development plans in 2017.

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Economic growth in Belarus may be delayed until 2018
January 23, 2017 11:13
Image: Novy Chas

The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row, in 2016, by 2.6%. Before 2015, the Belarusian economy was growing for 18 consecutive years. In order to stop the economic slump, Belarus needs a favourable international market situation and to settle all trade disputes with Russia. The Belarusian economy is unlikely to recover before 2018.

According to the preliminary reports, in 2016, Belarus had a 2.6% GDP decline. The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row – a 3.8% decline in 2015. Most economic indicators in 2016, except in agriculture, had negative values. Wholesale trade had the most negative impact on GDP due to falling exports of potash fertilizers and petrochemicals, as well as construction, due to reduced investment in fixed assets by enterprises and decreased housing construction volumes.

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.

Belarus’ budget for 2017 is based on anticipated 0.2% growth. The expected decrease in the construction volume is circa 17% in 2017, which is unlikely to allow industrial growth with the renewal of fixed assets by legal entities. Even if wages grow, they will be offset by the 15% increase in utility tariffs by late 2017. Wholesale trade is largely dependent on the potash market situation and the oil processing volume at the Belarusian refineries. In view of the planned reduction in Russian oil supply in Q1 2017 to 4 million tons, wholesale growth is only possible provided the potash market situation improves. In late 2016, engineering output increased significantly, but amid the trade conflict with Russia, she may prioritise purchases from domestic manufacturers. In the given circumstances, Belarus’ GDP would only grow in 2017, provided the Russo-Belarusian dispute over energy supplies was fully resolved, Russia removed barriers for Belarusian exports and the potash market situation improved. That said, Belarus’ GDP in 2017 is likely to decrease by 0.5% - 1% and is likely to be followed by an attempt to overcome the recession in 2018.

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.