Belarusian government may fulfil GDP growth forecast at 1.7% in 2017

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September 25, 2017 11:13
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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%.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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