Publically announced reason for delay of Lukashenko's annual message: a signal to the West that he wants to resume dialogue
On April 17, Presidential press office announced the indefinite postponement of the Annual Address of the President to the Parliament and the nation, previously scheduled for April 19. Lukashenko ordered further work on the substance of the message.
The main reason behind the shift is the issue of privatization of Belarusian enterprises. According to presidential press service, Lukashenko demanded to amend the “too liberal” approach to this cornerstone issue for Belarus in the address.
The country’s leadership seeks to circumvent the conditions of cooperation with the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund, which envisages annual sale of state assets at USD 2.5 billion. It is also clear that managers of Belarusian enterprises increasingly fear for their future and, therefore they attempt to form various privatization lobbies. For instance, on April 12, Minister of Transport and Communications Mr. Scherbo said that the Belarusian air carrier “Belavia” could be sold to foreign investors after 2012.
Most likely, after losing in a conflict with Russia on air traffic parity, which has demonstrated Minsk’s incapability to defend its interests, President Lukashenko requires more time for coordination of means to protect Belarusian companies, as well as to neutralize dangerous for the country’s leadership initiatives, such as the one voiced by the Minister Scherbo.
Official reasons for putting off the address confirm our earlier assessment, that there is an acute shortage of exit strategies from the ongoing political and economic crisis.
Alternatively, the amendments to the text would have been made on a working level and not voiced publicly, or referred to different reasons behind the postponement (for instance, President’s working visit, as before).
Therefore, this move looks like a very adventurous and desperate attempt to enlist the support of the West in a trade conflict with Russia. The Press Office also emphasized that the foreign policy section would be amended as well, namely, the rhetoric in respect of foreign partners will be mitigated.
According to Decree No. 221 of June 23rd, 2017, deadlines for the completion of foreign trade operations have been extended from 90 to 180 days for exports and from 60 to 90 days for imports. Delayed payments entailed a fine up to 2% of the transaction cost for each day of the delay, but could not exceed the total cost of the transaction. Most companies, when working with new counterparties, require a deferred payment for a period of three to six months. Due to the new regulation, violations are likely to reduce in number, so as the fines. Trade enterprises are likely to expand the assortment list due to the supply of new products in small lots, and the assortment list of exported Belarusian goods could expand, too. The new terms for completing foreign trade transactions would enable medium and small companies on the foreign trade market, exporters and importers are likely to grow in number and the geography of export-import operations could expand.