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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.