Belarus may encounter foreign trade deficit by late 2016
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.
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.