Belarus’ government projects GDP growth at 2% in 2015
On October 31st, the government issued a statement projecting GDP growth forecast for 2015 at 2%. This somewhat constrained optimism is due to the fact that Belarus will only be able to fulfil her projections if the external economic environment is favourable. However, so far, the external economic situation is not in Belarus’ favour and she has no means influence that.
In January-September 2014, Belarus’ economy grew by 1.5% (annual forecast is 3.3%), which was mainly due to growth in retail trade and industry. The retail trade grew thanks to nominal wage growth (compared with 2013) and industrial performance at Belaruskali and Belarusneft. Growth in sales of potash and petroleum products had a positive effect on the wholesale trade performance. The construction industry had a negative impact on GDP due to the completion of several major modernisation projects.
In 2015, the government projected GDP growth at 2% (IMF and WB – at 1.5% and EBRR – at 0.5%). The growth is projected due to greater proceeds in the modernised industries, i.e. woodworks and metallurgy. Potash production in 2014 has reached its capacity and has limited opportunities for further growth. Oil refining may count on larger production capacity only by 2016, thus will be unable to show substantial growth in 2015. In 2015, the government is planning to launch new projects in the pulp and paper industry; however, the demand may be lower than projected. In addition, people’s real wages are not projected to grow considerably in 2015, which will restrict growth of trade and consumer goods production.
The economic forecast for 2015 may not be fulfilled also due to external factors, such as the situation in the Russian economy. US and EU sanctions have led to the devaluation of the Russian ruble and the decline in real incomes. Russia’s investment activity is limited. Banks have problems with accessing financial markets, which has reduced Russia’s ability to finance the economy. For Belarus, it means a drop in demand for consumer goods (furniture, appliances, and cars), machinery (trucks, mining and road construction equipment) in 2015. To improve the profitability of export supplies, food producers will have to increase prices, which may lead to a decrease in exports of goods instead of the projected increase.
In 2015, the Belarusian economy will not have many sources to ensure growth, and everything will depend on the favourable external economic situation. If Russia continues her self-isolation policy, Belarus’ economic growth plans may be hampered, so as it would reduce the demand for Belarusian products in Russia amid fluctuating Russian rouble exchange rate.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.