Belarus has achieved foreign trade surplus by restricting imports and devaluing rouble
In January 2015, Belarus marked foreign trade surplus – its highest since July 2012. Devaluation of the Belarusian rouble and a ban on price increases have led to a decrease in imports to Belarus. This result is only temporary – soon the trade balance deficit will return.
In January 2015, trade balance surplus was USD 244.7 million. Imports of goods decreased to USD 1821.9 million or by 36.5% compared with January 2014. This is the minimum value since January 2011. Exports have reduced too – supply fell to its lowest since January 2012. Imports have reduced more rapidly than exports, which led to trade balance surplus.
Imports have fallen thanks to devaluation of the Belarusian rouble and tighter pricing policy. Wage cuts have resulted in reduced imports of cars from Russia. In December 2014, Belarusians imported 48,000 vehicles from Russia and in January 2015 – only 8000. Consumer spending has reduced, entailing a reorientation towards greater domestic consumption of food. Price control introduced by the government has resulted in some exporters seizing operations. Many companies have reviewed downwards their investment programmes for 2015, which has already led to a decrease in imports of equipment. Compared with December 2014, in January 2015, imports of machinery fell by USD 500 million.
Foreign trade improvements are unstable. The positive results of January have led to a sharp reduction in the range of products and problems in both, retail and whole sales. Refining and fertilizer production are among relatively stable industries in Belarus. Devaluation was insufficient to solve the problems in the food industry, mechanical engineering and rubber industry. In addition, businesses continue to have troubles with supplies to the Russian market.
Diversification of exports is now a priority task for the government, but developing new markets requires considerable time and might take years. In the short term, trade balance surplus is unlikely to sustain, however, in 2015, foreign trade performance should improve as compared with 2014 due to the economic slowdown in Belarus.
Trade balance surplus was only achieved thanks to devaluation and tough restrictive measures against imports introduced by the government. Import volumes might be restored and trade balance deficit might return to the level of USD 50-150 million per month.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.