Meeting to discuss Belarus’ priorities in foreign politics at the present stage
Belarus should assert itself on the world stage, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said at a meeting to discuss Belarus’ foreign policy priorities at the current stage on 11 July.
“At the modern stage of development, the Belarusian state needs to build its foreign policy and foreign economic activities in a new way, a more ambitious and aggressive way. I believe that the time has come for Belarus to assert itself on the world stage, to promote and protect the national interests more actively. It is not to satisfy some ambitions but to strengthen our sovereign and independent state, both politically and economically. First of all, economically,” the head of state noted.
The president said that the effective interaction of Belarus with the outside world is the domain of not only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “This is a job for all of us present here: the president, parliament, government, ministries and departments, local authorities, economic actors. On all fronts: political, economic, humanitarian, security, culture, education, sport,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Speaking about the role of Belarus in the international politics, Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined that there are all the preconditions for strengthening it. “Indeed, for the most part of the world, we are a young sovereign state. But the process of our state shaping its sovereignty is running for more than one century. The states which preceded the modern Belarus were full-fledged participants in the events taking place in our region, and sometimes were a pace-setter. Therefore, we have certain historical experience of active foreign policy,” the Belarusian leader said.
“It is not only us who have this experience. We are not isolated from the rest of the world. In this respect we can learn from others,” the president added. The head of state outlined a number of priorities for action in the international arena. These include enhancing the role of Belarus in world politics, improving the efficiency of foreign trade, a new export strategy based on improving its quality structure and also increasing the export services.
On relations with West and East
“Today we need to find more business partners and reliable allies in order to strengthen our standing. We do not need to confront anyone. We need to make friends with everyone. It is fundamentally important to develop cooperation with the East and the West without making a choice between them. We need to find new contacts everywhere to be known, understood, and recognized in the end. This is when we will be able to establish mutually beneficial relations,” the head of state noted.
Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out Belarus has been successfully pursuing this policy for a long time. “Multi-vector policy is among Belarus’ most important priorities in foreign policy. It has become an indisputable fact,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.
Speaking about the Eastern vector of the Belarusian foreign policy, the president remarked clear tasks and approaches to work have been outlined. “Russia has been our strategic partner and will remain so. We are coordinating our foreign policy and cooperation in security. We have been also successfully addressing a number of social and humanitarian issues,” Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined.
He recalled that Belarus has co-established the Eurasian Economic Union together with its partners within a very short time. This project is one of the largest integration associations set up recently.
We have been filling the Belarus-China strategic partnership with concrete content, too, the Belarusian leader said.
“We have made certain headway in our Western vector of foreign policy. We have made a long way towards the normalization of relations with the EU. Our cooperation with the U.S. has been gradually gaining momentum, too,” the president added. Aleksandr Lukashenko also spoke about another vector of foreign policy: proactive search for new partners and expanding cooperation with the leading countries of the so-called “distant arc” around the world.
“As a result of such multi-vector policy, we have achieved a new perception of Belarus in the world. Belarus is viewed as an independent, peaceful country, a kind of a donor of security in the region. Belarus has initiated and co-authored various initiatives in such essential international organizations as the UN, the OSCE, and other important and reputable regional organizations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko summarized.
On Belarus’ Helsinki 2 initiative
This step should not be viewed as an ambitious international initiative for the sake of an initiative. First of all, it reflects our vision and concerns over the negative developments in the region,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.
According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, holding the 26th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk meant obvious recognition of the new role of Belarus. That was the first time Belarus hosted such a large-scale international political forum.
The president also called for promoting, as much as possible, the Belarusian idea of cooperation between various integration associations keeping in mind the Chinese initiative. This initiative is useful both for Belarus and Russia, and also for the countries of East and West.
“I expect that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will carry out an in-depth analysis of the ongoing global processes and specific initiatives to strengthen security in the region and enhance the image of Belarus in the international arena. We need to be seen, and out position should be taken into account,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
On ‘Minsk format’
“There are many people wishing to reap political dividends from participation in the process of promoting peaceful settlement in Ukraine. They think the Minsk format has become outdated and that they can do without it. But they do not offer any new initiatives to replace it. Therefore, the Minsk process should remain in place, but it should be stepped up,” the head of state noted. Aleksandr Lukashenko said that Belarus is affected by the standoff in eastern Ukraine that damages regional security, restrains trade and increases the migration load.
On importance of ‘seizing the moment’
“I am now addressing all the participants: the government and the major exporters as well as representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ambassadors. We should not overlook the moment to promote our products when the global economic situation gets better. We should not rush into the markets that are not looking for us and ignore the most beneficial neighboring markets,” the president noted.
According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the export growth and diversification will be the main criteria of the effectiveness of Belarus’ foreign policy in general and Belarus’ foreign diplomatic missions in particular. In January-May 2017 the Belarusian export went up by over 20% or nearly $2 billion. Without including oil, oil products, potash and nitrogen fertilizers the export has grown by almost 30%. “This is the non-resource-based export indicator which our ambassadors and relevant public executives are in charge of,” the head of state remarked.
Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined Russia remains Belarus’ major trading and economic partner. The countries are working out common approaches to the key economic goals. The exports to Russia accounted for half of the $2 billion growth Belarus had in January-May 2017. “We see that despite all the obstacles arising in this market, including the artificial ones, our products are in demand in Russia. This demand will be growing. If Russia is saying today that the embargo and sanctions are a chance for its economy, you should understand that this is a chance for our economy, too. This is due to Belarus-Russia close economic relations and cooperation,” the Belarusian leader highlighted.
The current situation requires calm, confident, and persistent teamwork with the Russian side on addressing specific economic issues.
On removal of barriers
Barriers in the common economic space represent the main problem, Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Efforts to remove the barriers need to produce better results across the board. He urged the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Economy Ministry to secure a real effect in these matters.
“Enabling equal conditions for commercial entities within the framework of the Union State of Belarus and Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union is a strategic task for us. We should accomplish it in a resolute manner as soon as possible,” stressed the head of state.
“I am not talking about prices for oil and natural gas only. Securing the pursuance of a coordinated policy in the manufacturing sector and agribusiness is as important. It is necessary to dismantle the obvious barriers that prevent access to markets and to take care of other measures that discriminate against Belarusian companies,” stated Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that CIS states are traditional economic partners of Belarus, however, it does not mean that the CIS market is fully mastered and can be classified as a simple one. “Creating a barrier-free trade environment is an important point for applying our common efforts. We have the key element — the agreement on the free trade zone. Building a common market of government purchases and forming the foundation for a market where services will be freely traded represent the next step,” stated the Belarusian leader.
In his words, it is necessary to do everything possible to accomplish these tasks and bring about new common points of economic cooperation on principles of manufacturing, investment, and scientific cooperation.
“Our membership in the Eurasian Economic Union and the signing of EU association agreements by a number of CIS states should not separate us. Contrariwise, it should stimulate us towards creating a common product and pushing it to the most appealing markets,” stressed Aleksandr Lukashenko.
On protection of domestic market
“I would like to reiterate thast the task of protecting the domestic market is still on the agenda. Private companies and businessmen submitted me a report about some parallel imports, and therefore I ask the government to seriously tackle the problem of parallel imports,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
“We have the Horizont producer, Atlant and other companies. You argue that we are part of one association and so forth. You need to look for the ways and methods to protect the domestic market, no matter how difficult it is for us,” the Belarusian leader added.
On trade with EU, United States
“Our neighbor, the European Union, is going through tough times. It is facing a number of serious challenges. I believe the EU will tackle them successfully. I have mentioned many times that we need an economically and politically strong European Union. The EU is one of the pillars of the multipolar world. That says it all,” the head of state noted.
Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that sanctions imposed on the enterprises have been removed. There are no quotas on imports of Belarusian textiles anymore. Progress has been achieved in Belarus’ cooperation with the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and in the WTO accession process.
“These circumstances open up new opportunities for cooperation with the European Union. We cannot fail to seize the moment. We should carve our niche in the European market that is very solvent and technology-savvy. This is the task for all,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.
He said that in this way, Belarus can continue the systematic work to step up the economic cooperation with the United States. “We are interested in a stable and unimpeded access for Belarusian goods and services to the high-capacity solvent market of the United States. Besides, we would like to attract U.S. investments, technologies, and establish manufacturing cooperation with this country’s companies. I should say that we do not just underperform in this respect. Our performance is awful. I can say that we do not work there at all,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
On Belarus’ participation in Silk Road
The Belarusian leader said that the current high level of trust-based all-round strategic partnership and mutually beneficial cooperation with China requires increased attention to the implementation of bilateral projects and the interaction in large international associations. “This is of particular relevance to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. Belarus should seize the historic chance and become an important transit, logistics, production, and technology hub of this new transcontinental integration project,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.
The head of state believes that the industrial park Great Stone, which Xi Jinping named as ‘the pearl of the Silk Road Economic Belt’, should become an effective tool. “It should be used to attract cutting-edge technologies and advanced manufacturing companies from around the world. I stress: from all over the world, not just China! The conditions for this have been created. We do need warehouses there. We need state-of-the-art technologies that will help us make products of tomorrow. We should make sure that the park becomes home to the most advanced enterprises from around the world,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.
On ‘distant arc’ countries
South Asia, a massive market with a capacity of almost two billion people, can and should be used as a springboard to the distant-arc countries. “The countries of the region have been demonstrating sustainable economic growth for the past several years. They are actively upgrading their industrial facilities and agriculture, implementing large-scale projects in road-building, transport, resource production, and energy infrastructure. All this generates a natural demand for Belarusian goods and services. It is high time to turn the well-developed political dialogue with such leading countries of the region as India, Iran, and Pakistan, into economic dividends,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
He pointed out that the agreement on a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and Vietnam that has already come into force is a reason to consider this country as a bridgehead for promoting Belarus’ national interests in ASEAN countries. “The visit of the Vietnamese president and our agreements to raise our trade to $500 million – this task should be fully fulfilled,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.
Belarus also needs a comprehensive long-term strategy for cooperation with African countries.
“We need to stop using a fragmented, visit-to-visit approach,” the president said.
here is no reason to think that Africa is totally poor and they have nothing to pay with. Nothing of the sort! Without the resources of the continent, the world would not be able to develop dynamically today,” the head of state underlined. “We must not miss our opportunities in the competition for African markets. Much hard work lies ahead of us on this front,” he noted.
Speaking about Latin America, Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that over the past 16 years the Belarusian export to the region has increased more than five times. The foreign trade deficit in 2000 turned into a surplus today. “This is a good example of how the focus on the development of relations with the countries of ‘distant arc’ has worked out. It contributes to regional diversification of Belarusian export,” the Belarusian leader said.
On improving quality structure of export
The president stressed it is necessary to work out a new export strategy based on improving the quality of Belarusian exports. “Raw materials and semi-finished products still represent over 80% of our export to Europe. That won’t do. It is necessary to put efforts into setting up joint enterprises with a share of Western capital. It is necessary to assimilate cutting-edge technologies and practices. It is necessary for our exporters to become part of international manufacturing chains of well-known European and global corporations,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.
According to the head of state, reducing the materials and energy intensity of the manufacturing sector, raising labor productivity should become part and parcel of the Belarusian export policy. And, certainly, innovations and high technologies are getting more and more important.
“Instead of ‘What can we make today?’ it is necessary to think along the lines ‘What can we make that will sell well tomorrow?’ It is a pressing problem for the manufacturing sector, which represents the core of our economy. It is a problem not only for the manufacturing sector but for our scientists, too. We are going to talk about it during a large congress of scientists this autumn,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko. “We cannot allow Belarus to lag behind our trade partners and developed economies as a whole as far as technology is concerned. Instead of creating one IT park we should create an IT country. We’ve talked about it many times.”
The head of state instructed the ambassadors together with the Economy Ministry, the Industry Ministry, and other organizations to put more efforts into finding investors with cutting-edge technologies. “Do you need new laws for that? Make your proposals,” added Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked: “The government should revise export efforts of every industry. It is necessary to find out, who makes products that sell well and who can only add to the stock in storage. It is the key to renewing our manufacturing enterprises. It is necessary to upgrade enterprises and bring foreign investors here taking into account tomorrow’s priorities instead of going for modernization that will become outdated before it is done. Then investors will pour money only in promising enterprises.”
On Belarusian NPP
“When developing new technologies and production programs we need to take into account the upcoming changes in Belarus’ energy balance related to the commissioning of the first BelNPP unit in 2019,” the head of state said.
He also highlighted the need to think of future energy consumers after the BelNPP is commissioned. The president said he is looking for relevant proposals from the government.
He stressed that the BelNPP is being constructed by Russia, an energy superpower. The country has achieved great successes in this field. Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked there is competition between the world’s major countries that can also build nuclear power plants.
On increasing export of services
“I want the top officials of the Sports and Tourism Ministry, the Industry Ministry, the Healthcare Ministry, and Belarusian embassies abroad to hear me. In addition to promoting the Made in Belarus brand it is necessary to promote education in Belarus, recreation in Belarus, doing sports in Belarus, and other ones,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko. “It is necessary to use capabilities of our country as much as possible to attract foreign tourists. We could do so much more in this regard.”
The president noted that there are worthy places of interest for tourists in Belarus. However, in his opinion, there are goals to reach and there are things to learn in this sphere. “It is necessary to work hard in this regard. Oblast governors and municipal government agencies should be the ones to take care of it,” stressed the head of state.
Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that Belarus had been granted the right to host the European Games and the ice hockey world championship. “I’ve said it many times: sport is not only diplomacy, sport is also business with massive amounts of money in circulation. Then there is the image of the country to think about. I have no doubt that these competitions will be held in Belarus up to the highest standards and as many fans as possible will turn up for them,” he said.
On cooperation with Belarusian diaspora
The president said he wanted more efforts put into advancing interaction with the Belarusians, who live abroad and not only in Russia since they are ready to back their native country. “It is necessary to pay more attention to Belarusian diaspora,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.
The head of state pointed out that Belarusian embassies had been opened in various countries to take care of needs of Belarusian citizens among other things. “Not a single application from our citizens outside Belarus and inside the country can be thrown away or shuffled onto subordinates or forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is necessary to help people. It is our job,” stated Aleksandr Lukashenko.