Dialogue between Minsk and Brussels: mutual stand-by mode
Relations between the EU and Belarus are at the minimally acceptable level for both. The reduced interest of Minsk to the European External Action Service representatives visit meant to demonstrate that the Belarusian government had no intent to meet the EU’s political demands and re-start a dialogue in the near future.
On June 11, Head of Directorate for Europe, Mr. Romanovsky met with representatives of the European External Action Service. One of the EU delegates was Head of the Eastern Partnership Department of the European Commission Mr. Kjaer.
European officials also met with the EU ambassadors present in Belarus, Belarusian opposition politicians and civil society representatives.
The visit did not attract significant attention from the Belarusian authorities, which signals that they are generally pleased with the “truce” and do not intend to strengthen political cooperation. This trend occurred in April 2012, when the EU ambassadors returned to Belarus, overcoming the most acute phase of the diplomatic crisis.
Both sides, Minsk and Brussels, maintain their relations in a standby mode, without increasing the level of cooperation. In contrast with the February visit of Director for Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia of the External Relations Directorate General of the European Commission Mr. Wiegand, who was received by Foreign Minister Martynov, representatives of EU delegation visiting Belarus on June 11-13 met with lower level Belarusian officials.
An appropriate meeting level would be at least a Deputy Foreign Minister, for instance, Mr. Kupchina, who took part in an informal Eastern Partnership Summit on June 5 in Chisinau. However Mr. Kjaer met with a Foreign Ministry directorate head. The low involvement and coverage level for the visit demonstrates that today Belarus regards Eurasian foreign policy cooperation as more important.
The most relevant factors for Eurasian cooperation are two loan programmes between Belarus and Russia. In particular, firstly, the third tranche of the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund loan (USD 440 million), which, following long negotiations, was disbursed on June 15. Secondly, a more important factor is the upcoming consultations between Belarus and Russia regarding the nuclear power plant construction. It is anticipated that a general contract will be signed and a credit line will be opened by the end of June. Moreover, Belarus is expected to start negotiations with Russia about compensation to the Belarusian economy for Russia’s accession to the WTO.
Since the EU had no proposals regarding economic cooperation on a comparable scale, the Belarusian authorities continue waiting, hoping the EU will make the first step (eg, reducing or lifting sanctions).
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.