Devaluation in Kazakhstan will negatively impact Belarus’ international trade
Kazakhstan’s National Bank has devalued the tenge, Kazakh currency, to pre-empt potential problems in the economy. For Belarus, consequences of this decision will be losses in foreign exchange proceeds and reduced international trade. Belarus will have to devalue its ruble to restore the domestic goods’ competitiveness, which has been lost when Belarusian Customs’ Union partners devalued their national currencies.
On February 11th, Kazakh’s tenge was devalued by 19%.
Kazakhstan’s National Bank decided to raise the upper margin for the tenge exchange rate against the U.S. Dollar from 150-155 tenge per USD 1 to 185 tenge per USD 1. The decision was made to address the Kazakhstan’s emerging problems with current accounts, i.e. growing imports. Coupled with weakening of the Russian ruble, devaluation expectations started growing in Kazakhstan, requiring the National Bank’s intervention. With this decision, Kahzakhstan anticipates to enhance its industry’s competitiveness on the Customs Union market and increase revenues. The decision came as a surprise, provided that Kazakhstan has accumulated significant international reserves – as of February 1st, they exceeded USD 95.6 billion.
In 2013, Belarus’ international trade with Kazakhstan was USD 785.9 million, with Belarus mainly supplying tyres, tractors, harvesting machines, and furniture. As of December 1st, 2013, Kazakh corporate debt to Belarusian enterprises was over USD 200 million. Losses from tenge devaluation are assumed to be negligible, since the bulk of the contracts was in U.S. dollars. Most problems will occur with payment deadlines because of the uncertainty over the stability of the tenge exchange rate. Belarus’ main concern is the loss of Belarusian goods’ competitiveness and reduced exports due to higher prices for imported goods on the Kazakh market. For instance, Belshina plans to offer some discounts to dealers in Kazakhstan to maintain sales. Other Belarusian enterprises exporting to Kazakhstan consider similar measures.
Devaluation in Russia and Kazakhstan on the one hand, and significant international reserves and a more stable economic situation in these countries, on the other, may prompt Belarus to devalue her national currency. Belarusian exporters require weak Belarusian ruble to reduce production costs to revenues ratio. A weak ruble could fix the chronic international trade deficit.
In the past, when the Belarusian government was raising prices on some goods on the domestic market, it argued that it was harmonising prices with its major trading partners. A similar argument could be used regarding devaluation, i.e. linking it with the devaluations in the Customs’ Union partners. The need for devaluation is no longer a question, Belarus only has to choose the way – either to hold a one-time devaluation as in Kazakhstan, or gradual, like in Russia.
For Belarus, maintaining a strong ruble is impractical, given the devaluation in other Customs Union partner states. The optimal solution would be a smooth devaluation, which could solve some problems in the economy and preserve the domestic products’ competitiveness on the foreign markets.
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.