Industry may help Belarusian government to meet GDP growth forecast for H1 2017
In Q1 2017, industry provided for GDP growth at 0.3%. Since the drop in oil prices, GDP has grown for the first time in the past three years. Amid insignificant fluctuations in oil price, the settlement of the oil and gas dispute and the lifting of trade restrictions on Belarusian produces on the Russian market would enable meeting the government's GDP forecast at 1% in H1 2017.
According to the government's quarterly plan, in Q1 2017 GDP should have declined by 0.4%. GDP has grown mainly thanks to industry, only in 4 out of 16 industries reported a decline in output as compared with 2016; freight turnover in transport has increased, so as the agriculture’s performance. The most difficult situation was in construction, only 994 thousand square metres of housing had been commissioned, which was 12% less than in the same period in 2016.
The last time quarterly growth in GDP was reported was in 2014. The devaluation of the national currency, the drop in oil prices and sanctions against Belarus’ leading economic partner, Russia, had had a negative impact on the economic development in 2015-2016. Belarus had no funds to support the economy through cheap loans, financial assistance from Russia reduced, and the absence of economic reforms prevented FDI. As a result, in 2015 GDP reduced by 3.8% and in 2016 by 2.6%.
The situation in 2017 is more favourable. Higher oil prices, as compared with those anticipated, have boosted Russia’s demand for Belarusian produces. The settlement of the oil and gas dispute and the resumption of the oil supply at 24 million tons per year in 2017 would facilitate improvements in the oil refining performance. Additional oil cargo would improve freight turnover in rail transport. Removal of trade restrictions would step up Belarusian exports of foodstuffs and engineering goods. An increase in wages amid curtailed inflation would have a positive impact on retail turnover. The situation in construction could only be improved with substantial loans, however its negative performance would be compensated by successes in industry. Hence, if oil prices remain above USD 50 per barrel, the government’s GDP growth plan at 1% in H1 2017 would materialise.
Overall, for the first time in the past three years the Belarusian economy has demonstrated GDP growth, mainly thanks to industrial performance. Thanks to the projected oil supply at 24 million tons and the settlement of trade conflicts with Russia, the government's plans to increase GDP by 1% in H1 2017 are likely to materialise, provided, that current oil prices retain.
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.