A high-level delegation from Belarus led an investment forum in London in November, following a similar event in New York in September. The message that the country is taking on the road is that despite the geopolitical tensions swirling around it, sanctions still being in place against some entities and individuals in the country and competition for FDI projects showing no signs of letting up, improving its investment climate and wooing investors is at the top of the government agenda, as minister of economy Nikolai Snopkov explains.
Q: In your view, what are the most significant developments that have taken place in the Belarusian economy in the past year and what is your outlook for the next year?
A: One good achievement – perhaps not the best one, but in my opinion a very important one – is an achievement by the company Belaruskali, which has acquired a stake in the terminal at Klaipeda [a seaport in Lithuania]. This means that Belarus now has access to the sea. This is a very symbolic deal. In principle, Belarus, as a trading nation, will continue developing port infrastructure.
The second landmark moment is also associated with Belaruskali. The situation last year with Uralkali [a Russian company that in 2013 pulled out of a potash exportation joint venture with Belaruskali, resulting in the shares of potash companies falling rapidly, and, eventually, the CEO of Uralkali being arrested] had a negative effect on the market, but at the same time also led to Belaruskali working independently in foreign markets. As results from 2014 show, it has been very successful.
The third important event is the creation of a working group between the Ministry of Commerce of China and the Ministry of Economy of Belarus [for the planned] China-Belarus Industrial Park. This working group will give greater impetus to the process of creating the park, something that we are particularly looking forward to. We believe that a new economy for our country will be formed from this project. Forecasts for the next year are moderately optimistic.
Q: How do you see the current geopolitical situation – such as events in Ukraine and tensions between Russia and the West – affecting Belarus?
A: The situation has its disadvantages as well as its advantages. Yes, the drawbacks mainly consist of the fact that there is a probability that the demand in Russia will shrink, thus the demand for investment goods will shrink accordingly, which will consequently affect our exports. The reduction in oil prices is affecting us but not in a critical way. In the meantime, there are a lot of positive elements, such as substitution of EU goods for our goods, which in turn will boost exports to Russia.
The second element is investors' very active interest in establishing European joint ventures to process agricultural produce in Belarus, which is also a positive. Therefore, overall, if we consider the situation, I would say that we have many more advantages than disadvantages associated with geopolitical changes in the region.
In general, however, this situation is bad for the economies of countries affected, and for the global economy. This situation is not positive. In spite of the fact that Belarus is neutral in this conflict, we would obviously like the conflict to run out of steam in the near future.
Q: Belarus has been quite active now for a few years in promoting foreign investment. Do you think that investors are starting to pay attention?
A: They do listen. But we need to keep on doing what we have been doing more intensively, because [we could do] even better. Most importantly, we need to constantly improve the investment climate in the country, because global competition for investors is continuing. One way or another, countries are coming up with new, interesting features that attract investors. Therefore, working with investors on [improving the investment] climate, attracting investors and improving market dynamics is an ongoing process. I cannot say that we have already reached that goal but we will work even harder for Belarus to become a mecca for investors.