Belarusian authorities restrict imports with temporary licensing
Due to rising real incomes, consumer goods imports have been on the rise amid an overall decline in imports. By introducing temporary restrictions on the imports of some goods, the government aims to improve sales of domestically produced goods and foreign trade balance. Countries outside the Customs Union may introduce reciprocal restrictions, thus minimising positive effects from licensing.
As of June 1st, Belarus introduces licensing on importing pasta, confectionery and their ingredients from outside the Customs Union.
In Q1 2014, the international trade deficit was USD 129.3 million. In Q1 2013, the deficit was USD 694.8 million. In Q1 2013, consumer goods trade surplus was USD 246.2 million, however a deficit occurred in Q1 2014. Due to pay rises and therefore consumer incomes growth, imports of fruit, vegetables, fish, chocolate, bread, and pastry products have increased.
The said licensing is introduced for a limited time-period – until November 30th, 2014. Similar restrictions on beer imports will be in effect until October 31st, 2014. With these restrictions, the government aims to protect domestic producers from competing with foreign producers, primarily Ukrainian. The devaluation of the Ukrainian hryvnia has made Ukrainian foodstuffs cheaper and increased their competitiveness on the Belarusian market. Amid falling profits in the Belarus’ food industry, import restrictions might improve the industry’s financial health.
However, the said measures might have little effect. The bulk of these goods are imported from Russia. For instance, in Q1 2014, Belarus imported USD 7.6 million worth of pasta, including USD 4.6 million worth from Russia. By restricting imports from countries outside the Customs Union, Belarus encourages Russian companies to take over current suppliers. As a result, instead of reducing imports, Belarus will change their origin. Import volumes subject to licensing are insignificant and would have no considerable impact on the trade balance.
Meanwhile, countries, which will be affected by the licensing, might introduce restrictions on Belarusian products in response. Ukraine may limit imports of petroleum products from Belarus, which is an extremely sensitive issue for Belarus, and demand restrictions on their products to be abolished. If so, the licensing will only have negative effects and the trade balance will not improve.
The Belarusian government has once again resorted to ineffective measures, which, given the open border with Russia, would not have the desired effect. Reciprocal actions against Belarusian products may lead to Belarus’ trade relations with major trading partners deteriorating and fewer exports to these countries.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.