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 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.