Belarusian government may fulfil GDP growth forecast at 1.7% in 2017
The industry became the main driver of the Belarusian economy in 2017 and made the main contribution to GDP growth at 1.6% in January - August. Belarus’ socio-economic development forecast for 2017 based on a low price for oil, growth was expected due to new economic sectors. A higher oil price has led to an increase in Belarusian exports, while the implementation of oil agreements in the case the oil price retains or goes up would ensure GDP growth at 1.7% in 2017.
According to Belstat, in January-August 2017, Belarus' GDP grew by 1.6% compared to the same period in 2016. The main growth was ensured by the industry, the added value of which increased by more than 5%. Earlier harvesting season as compared with 2016, has demonstrated growth in agriculture; reduced subsidies to the economy enabled to increase the indicator of net taxes on products. Construction was the only major economic sector which performed worse than in 2016.
In 2017, the Belarusian government drafted two socio-economic development forecasts. The first assumed low oil prices – at USD 35 per barrel, which should have deterred industry performance. At this oil price, economic growth was projected at 0.2%. The ‘optimistic’ scenario envisaged economic growth at 1.7%, mainly due to the new economic sectors.
Currently, the price of oil is higher than the forecast. In January – July 2017, the average price for Russian URALS oil totalled USD 50 per barrel, which boosted economic growth in Russia and led to an increase in Belarusian exports by 24% in January – July 2017. Thanks to an increase in production, Belarusian enterprises were able to raise wages, which let to growth in retail trade turnover by 1.9% in January – August 2017. Simultaneously, Russian industry growth rate has slowed down, which could lead to a production slowdown in Belarus.
In the given circumstances, one of the key factors which would help fulfilling the ‘optimistic’ forecast for economic growth in 2017, would be oil supply agreements. Belarusian refineries are unlikely to process all envisaged 24 million tons of oil in 2017 due to the limited capacity and a cut in supplies in Q1 2017. Should Belarus receive all oil as planned, she is likely to resell circa 6 million tons of Russian oil and keep the oil export duty. This would improve the wholesale trade. Belarusian refineries would process 18 million tons of oil in 2017, which would be the same volume as in 2016.
Additional budget revenues could be spent on pay rises in the social sphere and would lead to an improvement in retail trade. Altogether, these factors would ensure GDP growth in 2017 at 1.7%, even if the Russian economy somewhat slows down.
Overall, high oil price has been the key factor which ensured the economic recovery in Belarus. Russia's compliance with the oil supply agreements in 2017 at 24 million tons would guarantee additional budget revenues and ensure implementation of GDP growth forecast at 1.7%.
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.