Regulation No 666: yet another attempt to restrict imports in Belarus
As of August 27, an extensive list of imported products was subjected to examination each time when crossing the border. For importers, this means an increase in costs when supplying products to Belarus. This measure is a non-tariff restriction on imports, which contradicts the EEU single market rules and therefore will be abolished or substantially amended in the near future.
The Council of Ministers Regulation No 666, which took effect on August 27th, envisages that virtually every batch of imported products should be subjected to a sanitary-hygienic examination. The regulation lists a wide range of commodity items, including food products, children’s goods, perfumes, cosmetics and other produces as listed in the Council of Ministers Regulation No 635 of July 7th, 2012. The regulation is not applicable to products manufactured in the EEU.
Previously, importers had to undergo sanitary and hygienic registration, which was valid for three years and did not require examination of every batch. Due to the new regulation, each batch would be supplied with almost one month delay, because about 15 days is required to prepare all relevant documents and then lab tests will take up to 14 days and will cost from BYR 600,000 to several million Belarusian roubles for each product type, depending on the complexity of the tests. During the tests, product samples are usually destroyed.
Following the adoption of this regulation, activities of some importers were paralyzed. In addition, there are still no clear instructions and explanations from the relevant services of the Health Ministry. The stated purpose of this measure was to enhance protection of the domestic market from poor quality imports, which could increase following Armenia and Kyrgyzstan accession to the EEU. Yet the real purpose was to restrict imports to Belarus and to raise their costs due to additional costs of examination in accordance with the new rules.
As a result, Belarus might experience some trade deficit and supplies of some products may be suspended. In addition, the new regulation contradicts the EEU single market rules because of the requirement to undergo additional examination in Belarus even for already certified imported products. In response, Ukraine, Germany, China and other countries may introduce reciprocal restrictions on Belarusian products. The regulation in its current form is counterproductive; it will require amendments and clarifications, if not full abolition following reactions by foreign partners.
Belarus has adopted measures aiming to restrict imports in order to protect the domestic market. However, the new regulation is not well-thought through and contradicts the EEU single market rules. It will be either amended, or abolished in order to eliminate these contradictions.
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.