Q: How deeply is Belarus integrated into the international trading system?
A: Belarus has an open economy. We export 65% to 70% of our GDP. We maintain trade and economic relations with 210 countries [and nations], and Belarusian products are exported to 185 countries.
We have established the most advanced trade and economic relations with partners within the Eurasian Economic Union [EAEU]. In 2014, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union, and we were later joined by Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The EAEU’s goal is the formation of a genuine economic union without exemptions and restrictions, and with common industrial, agricultural, transport, energy and other policies.
At the same time, we are deepening trade and economic relations with Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS] countries. In 2011, the CIS Free Trade Agreement [FTA] was signed by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine. Today, work is under way on an agreement on free trade for services and investment. Once it comes into force, this will complete the establishment of the CIS’s economic area covering the free movement of goods, services and capital.
We take an interest in the markets of different countries. Therefore, an EAEU delegation is working on concluding FTAs between EAEU members and third states. In 2016, such an agreement with Vietnam came into force – the EAEU’s first preferential trade agreement with a third country. In 2018, the EAEU Economic Co-operation Agreement with China and an interim agreement aimed at creating a free-trade zone between the EAEU and Iran were signed. These agreements are close to coming into force. FTAs with Serbia and Singapore are in the final stages of preparation. Work is under way to conclude similar agreements with Egypt, Israel and India.
Q: Tell us about Belarus’s plans to join the World Trade Organization [WTO].
A: Accession to the WTO is crucial for Belarus. The process began in the 1990s. Over the past three years we have managed to get to the final stage. Since 2017, five official meetings of the working party have been held in Geneva. By the end of this year we plan to hold one more meeting in Geneva. Bilateral negotiations are advancing. There have been several dozens of rounds of negotiations on market access for goods and services in Geneva, Brussels, Washington and Kiev, which have resulted in the signing of protocols with 10 WTO members.
Our legislation has been closely audited by key WTO members. Being a member of the EAEU, Belarus already follows most of the WTO’s rules and regulations. However, certain laws still need revision. We understand that the negotiation process is an opportunity for us to revise existing regulations. Improving individual elements of national trade policy will favourably affect the development of individual economic sectors and will have a positive effect on the development of the economy in general.
Q: What is the value for Belarus of joining WTO?
A: Membership of the WTO is associated with the strengthening of our economic security. The government aims to complete the negotiations by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in June 2020. So far we are on schedule. However, not everything will depend on us. The willingness of our negotiation partners to hear us and seek mutually acceptable solutions is also important. Belarus’s membership of the WTO will help to strengthen the entire multilateral trading system, build trade and economic ties between Belarus and WTO members, and between the EAEU and WTO members.