Belarusian government may fulfil GDP growth forecast at 1.7% in 2017
The industry became the main driver of the Belarusian economy in 2017 and made the main contribution to GDP growth at 1.6% in January - August. Belarus’ socio-economic development forecast for 2017 based on a low price for oil, growth was expected due to new economic sectors. A higher oil price has led to an increase in Belarusian exports, while the implementation of oil agreements in the case the oil price retains or goes up would ensure GDP growth at 1.7% in 2017.
According to Belstat, in January-August 2017, Belarus' GDP grew by 1.6% compared to the same period in 2016. The main growth was ensured by the industry, the added value of which increased by more than 5%. Earlier harvesting season as compared with 2016, has demonstrated growth in agriculture; reduced subsidies to the economy enabled to increase the indicator of net taxes on products. Construction was the only major economic sector which performed worse than in 2016.
In 2017, the Belarusian government drafted two socio-economic development forecasts. The first assumed low oil prices – at USD 35 per barrel, which should have deterred industry performance. At this oil price, economic growth was projected at 0.2%. The ‘optimistic’ scenario envisaged economic growth at 1.7%, mainly due to the new economic sectors.
Currently, the price of oil is higher than the forecast. In January – July 2017, the average price for Russian URALS oil totalled USD 50 per barrel, which boosted economic growth in Russia and led to an increase in Belarusian exports by 24% in January – July 2017. Thanks to an increase in production, Belarusian enterprises were able to raise wages, which let to growth in retail trade turnover by 1.9% in January – August 2017. Simultaneously, Russian industry growth rate has slowed down, which could lead to a production slowdown in Belarus.
In the given circumstances, one of the key factors which would help fulfilling the ‘optimistic’ forecast for economic growth in 2017, would be oil supply agreements. Belarusian refineries are unlikely to process all envisaged 24 million tons of oil in 2017 due to the limited capacity and a cut in supplies in Q1 2017. Should Belarus receive all oil as planned, she is likely to resell circa 6 million tons of Russian oil and keep the oil export duty. This would improve the wholesale trade. Belarusian refineries would process 18 million tons of oil in 2017, which would be the same volume as in 2016.
Additional budget revenues could be spent on pay rises in the social sphere and would lead to an improvement in retail trade. Altogether, these factors would ensure GDP growth in 2017 at 1.7%, even if the Russian economy somewhat slows down.
Overall, high oil price has been the key factor which ensured the economic recovery in Belarus. Russia's compliance with the oil supply agreements in 2017 at 24 million tons would guarantee additional budget revenues and ensure implementation of GDP growth forecast at 1.7%.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.