Belarusian exports hit the bottom
On October 31st, Belstat published the January – September 2013 foreign trade data.
Belarus’ foreign trade is highly dependent on a narrow range of exported goods. Export growth potential is insignificant. Although modernization has partially improved export opportunities, any positive effects have been offset by growing exports of equipment and ill-conceived business plans.
In September, the foreign trade in goods deficit was USD 484.5 million. The main reason for this was a decline in exports to USD 2.925 billion, the lowest level since February 2011. The decline in exports was due to the drop in Belarus’ main export items – petroleum products, potash fertilizers and machinery. Production of petroleum products directly depends on the volume of supplied raw materials for processing, and in the case of Belarusian-Russian conflicts, the latter exerts pressure by limiting the oil supply to Belarus. Exports of potash fertilizers have suffered after the breakup between Uralkali and Belaruskali and will not be improved because the market prices keep falling. Mechanical engineering is dependent on the Russian market: the drop in investment demand from major customers has resulted in a sharp drop in sales, which cannot be compensated by sales in other markets. Other export items are too insignificant to affect the overall picture.
For instance, Belarusian dairy products are in great demand on the Russian market in 2013. Dairy exports are constrained by the shortage of raw materials to produce milk powder, casein, and cheese. Sugar has high export growth potential due to poor harvest in Russia. In addition, Belarus has started producing Chinese cars – Geelly, with a clear orientation on the Russian market in the future. However, even if Belarus increases exports of these items and earns up to USD 200 million per month, this will not be enough to remedy the situation.
The industrial modernization was held to expand the range of export products and their exports on foreign markets. In some cases, it worked out: for example, with some Grodno Azot products or chipboard exports. However, these are rather exceptions than a rule. Most often, modernization has resulted in increased imports of production equipment and negative output.
Modernization in Belarus has failed to diversify exports. Belarus needs not only new technologies, but also new managerial approaches, which are not feasible in the current environment.
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.