Smuggling to rescue Belarus’ international trade

April 22, 2016 18:53

In January – May 2014, the foreign trade deficit persisted, regardless of some improvements, compared with 2013. The slump in production has resulted in reduced commodity imports and, consequently, Belarus’ gross imports. International trade indicators might improve due to potash sales and new trading schemes for petrochemicals. 

In January-May 2013, the trade balance deficit was USD 1.6 billion. In January - May 2014, Belarus’ foreign trade deficit was USD 0.7 billion, i.e. there was a certain improvement over the previous year. These improvements were due to shrinking imports of goods, compared with Belarus’ exports. Exports reduced by USD 0.36 billion compared with 2013, while imports – by USD 1.2 billion. The state of affairs in the Belarusian industry explains the above-mentioned misbalances.

Imports have curtailed mainly due to the industrial sector. Imports of internal combustion engines for trucks, ferrous metals, natural gas, and equipment for modernisation have reduced. Simultaneously, imports of consumer goods have increased. Higher incomes have resulted in an increase in imports of fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy products, and confectionery. The state is trying to fight against consumer imports with licensing and other restrictions, but their efficiency in the context of an open border with Russia, is low. Foreign trade has improved due to the growth in sales of potash and compound fertilisers on foreign markets.

In its attempts to overcome the international trade deficit, the Belarusian government lays its hopes on potash sales and on the petrochemicals. Belarus has managed to restore oil product sales (up to 2013 standard), and increased exports of bituminous mixtures and antioxidants. The latter are exported to the United Kingdom and might be a modification of the solvent and lubricant schemes, used in 2011-2012. Back then, these schemes enabled Belarus to report about foreign trade surplus in goods, for the first time in several years. In 2014, the export scale is more modest, but given the growth in potash sales and provided that restrictions on imports remain in place, Belarus might reach a surplus in international trade. 

Now the main issues is whether Russia agrees to these schemes, which is quite likely, due to the  agreement reached within the Common Economic Space and further integration processes. 

Thus, Belarus’ foreign trade has demonstrated some improvements, at the cost of production slowdown in some industries. Before the year end, Belarus might achieve the international trade surplus, if she continues to sell potash fertilisers on foreign markets and increases supplies of petrochemical products through new ‘innovative schemes’.

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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.