Surely and steadily, the Republic of Belarus has been undergoing a highly sensitive yet intriguing economic revitalization. And at a critical moment in world history where emerging economies, especially those from within Latin America and Eurasia, are not generating the confidence to encourage foreign investment, Belarus instead is taking its rightful place under the spotlight on the global stage.
A recent Investment Forum in London made clear the intentions of the nation’s Ministry of Finance – look beyond geopolitics. Look toward better capitalizing on the budding multilateral relationships with European nations and business partners. Moreover, work closely with the private sector in promoting a nation that is not only Information Technology (IT)-savvy and fiscally incentivizing for the Fortune 500 sect, but has long been an innovative hub for opulence with leading brands from across the world.
Indeed, as Minister of Economy Nikolai Snopkov recently remarked at the gala, Belarus is once more “on the radar screen”.
However, there is something to be said for a calculatingly subtle conversional agenda. It is important to note that there are, at present, nearly 275 British companies actively operating in Belarus. And perhaps contrary to popular, albeit uninformed belief, that figure is set to increase perhaps tenfold.
The nation’s gross domestic product has tripled since the dawn of the new millennium, presently playing host to nearly 10% of global agribusiness’ combine harvesters and 6% of its tractors.
Another instance: when one thinks of landlocked Belarus, bordered by Russia to the northeast, one rarely assumes it to be a regional and indeed continent-wide leader in the digital sphere. Yes, the country exports oil products, such as gasoline, which it produces from Russian crude, unequivocally making it “the world’s 3rd most oil-dependent economy after Libya and Singapore”, according to recent Bloomberg estimates. However, in the Minister’s words, the country is known not only for its energy and B2B (Business to Business) products, but Belarus presently stands second, behind only India, in the IT development and dissemination industry, interestingly having created the viral online sensation ‘World of Tanks’, in addition to the encrypted communications platform ‘Viber’, as a couple of examples.
Minister Snopkov also dwelled on the transportation infrastructure and its prospects within the country.
“This is a major element of the economic space for Belarus and an essential element of the European and Eurasian systems. [Transport] is in itself one of the major components of the renascent Great Silk Road,” the minister said. According to him, approximately 110 million tons of cargo go through Belarus annually; “…and this is only the 40% capacity. This market segment alone can double in scope,” stated Snopkov.
According to the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report, Belarus has been among the top legislative reformers over the few past years. There is potential here to buttress these determinations through greater transparency initiatives and via the development of new legislation on privatization. This framework is not unprecedented and can be wholly applied to the Belarusian model.
Minister Snopkov conversely believes that today and in the next one or two years to come (in the throws of aftermath from the global economic recession) would not be the best time for privatizing large state assets. Belarus, however, has been unwaveringly preparing for the time when the situation gets better and the country can pragmatically capitalize on the opportunities privatization brings.
“Under the World Bank technical project, we as a country have been testing the best world privatization practices at our National Investment and Privatization Agency. We are analyzing eight example companies in order to develop new laws on privatization, those which will be accountable and meet the best international standards,” Nikolai Snopkov said.
“In this way, we are preparing for a time when investors’ appetite and economic growth resume, steadfastly”.
The model works. As we have witnessed in China and its territories, in many Latin American emerging markets at the cusp of the BRIC echelon and indeed Africa’s economic steward, Nigeria, privatization can be the key to unlocking a budding nation’s potential; however, this transition must be one that is mutually beneficial and comfortable and attractive both for the nation and for the average foreign investor.
Unfortunately, even Sergei Rumas, Chairman of the Republic of Belarus’ Development Bank, admits that the nation currently faces many stereotypes ahead of its journey to prosperity.
“Businessmen and women do not know what [will happen] if they come to Belarus, or if they will get access to the entire market of the Eurasian Economic Union [Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan]. And so our task, the task of the officials and bankers, is to explain those benefits that foreign investors and financial institutions will get after coming to Belarus”.
And so it is clarity that is sacrosanct. It is promoting an understanding, an openness and the responsibility of government in not only attracting new business and making the climate for current more and more attractive as a permanent home, but in pragmatically offering insight and intelligence as to Belarus’ longstanding role as a trusted conduit for European integration.
Today, that role could be placed under no greater global microscope – time will tell if the Republic of Belarus is up for the challenge and can meet and exceed its ambitious, commendable roadmap ahead.