Q: How would you describe the current state of the Belarus economy?
A: Our current situation can be described as balanced, sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Our actual economic growth corresponds with our potential economic growth. We have financial and budgetary stability. We estimate economic growth will be about 2.9% in 2019, and the projection for 2020 is 2.5%. When it comes to inflation, our target for the current year and next year is 5%. After that, we’re planning an inflation target of 4%.
These objectives are similar to those of our neighbours in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. It is a common consensus among politicians and academics that 4% inflation is a reasonable target in developing countries because there is a need to align certain prices and work towards eliminating certain benefits, for example, housing and utility tariffs.
When talking about growth, it is important for Belarus to ensure that it catches up with countries such as Poland, and this can be achieved through structural changes. We are working with international organisations such as the World Bank to achieve these goals. We have a clear understanding of the need to attain precisely balanced sustainable growth. In addition, we’re co-operating closely with the UN to ensure that our economic growth means inclusive growth and that we adhere to its 17 sustainable goals.
Q: How are you supporting World Trade Organization [WTO] accession plans?
A: We are actively participating in negotiations, and I don’t see any problems in terms of the issues that fall within the National Bank’s competence and which could be the cause of stumbling blocks. We’ve been involved in bilateral negotiations with the European Community and the US, and I would anticipate that, based on progress so far, WTO membership could be achieved by 2020 or 2021. This is important to us because it is not simply about the development of exports but export diversification as well, which is key for Belarus. It is a well-known fact that we are very dependent on our neighbours for exports, so the task for export promotion is to achieve a reasonably even three-way split of about 33% of exports to each of Russia, Europe and places further afield.
Q: What is your message to potential investors?
A: Belarus has been doing a lot to improve the investment climate for a number of years. You can see from our World Bank Doing Business ranking and our [work on the UN's] Sustainable Development Goals that we are continuing to improve the investment climate.
Our economic potential has been slightly underestimated. It is clear that in the past, certain events such as high inflation and devaluation contributed to this image. Investors assess risks, but we want to demonstrate that the macro-economic stability that we’ve achieved is a long-term [matter].
It is worth remembering that in 2014, when we were going through an extremely difficult period due to financial crisis, [currency] devaluation and sanctions with Russia, the National Bank and government worked together to implement policies aimed at achieving price stability of 5% to improve the investment climate. At the time, people called us dreamers for aiming for this target, but we achieved what many thought was impossible. That’s why I would encourage investors to believe in the ongoing improvement in Belarus's business environment.