Smuggling to rescue Belarus’ international trade
In January – May 2014, the foreign trade deficit persisted, regardless of some improvements, compared with 2013. The slump in production has resulted in reduced commodity imports and, consequently, Belarus’ gross imports. International trade indicators might improve due to potash sales and new trading schemes for petrochemicals.
In January-May 2013, the trade balance deficit was USD 1.6 billion. In January - May 2014, Belarus’ foreign trade deficit was USD 0.7 billion, i.e. there was a certain improvement over the previous year. These improvements were due to shrinking imports of goods, compared with Belarus’ exports. Exports reduced by USD 0.36 billion compared with 2013, while imports – by USD 1.2 billion. The state of affairs in the Belarusian industry explains the above-mentioned misbalances.
Imports have curtailed mainly due to the industrial sector. Imports of internal combustion engines for trucks, ferrous metals, natural gas, and equipment for modernisation have reduced. Simultaneously, imports of consumer goods have increased. Higher incomes have resulted in an increase in imports of fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy products, and confectionery. The state is trying to fight against consumer imports with licensing and other restrictions, but their efficiency in the context of an open border with Russia, is low. Foreign trade has improved due to the growth in sales of potash and compound fertilisers on foreign markets.
In its attempts to overcome the international trade deficit, the Belarusian government lays its hopes on potash sales and on the petrochemicals. Belarus has managed to restore oil product sales (up to 2013 standard), and increased exports of bituminous mixtures and antioxidants. The latter are exported to the United Kingdom and might be a modification of the solvent and lubricant schemes, used in 2011-2012. Back then, these schemes enabled Belarus to report about foreign trade surplus in goods, for the first time in several years. In 2014, the export scale is more modest, but given the growth in potash sales and provided that restrictions on imports remain in place, Belarus might reach a surplus in international trade.
Now the main issues is whether Russia agrees to these schemes, which is quite likely, due to the agreement reached within the Common Economic Space and further integration processes.
Thus, Belarus’ foreign trade has demonstrated some improvements, at the cost of production slowdown in some industries. Before the year end, Belarus might achieve the international trade surplus, if she continues to sell potash fertilisers on foreign markets and increases supplies of petrochemical products through new ‘innovative schemes’.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.