Report of Belarus’ Trade Minister Vladimir Koltovich

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The Trade Ministry should become more efficient, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said as he heard out a report of Trade Minister Vladimir Koltovich on 9 February.

“I am going to pay much more attention to the Trade Ministry like to no any other ministry,” the head of state said. “What are the main areas of focus for me? I do not navigate by any copybook maxims, economic and scientific rationale, although they are very important. What is most important is that our people want honesty and justice.”

The President said that in the Soviet Union trade was controlled by the government. “Trade was the face of the state. It remains so today because people do some shopping every day. When the economic system was ruined, when we started developing the so-called market economy, we decided that, in fact, we did not need trade as such: we had enterprises, and trade was expected run based on demand and supply,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

In his words, the outcome was as follows: trade started dictating terms to manufacturers on the one hand and charging extra from consumers on the other. “Just look: people working in the trade system are the richest today. I am not against entrepreneurs; I am not against the elements of the trade system we have now. But I am absolutely against unearned money,” the President stressed.

“I believe that money belongs, first of all, to those who manufacture products. Trade is entitled to a profit margin, but it should not charge rip-off prices. I would like to say that whatever surveys we conduct, people always say that they are most of all concerned about price growth. The growth of prices is the biggest concern,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The President noted that he knows the trade system very well and does not approve of the current trends. “We should create the system in Belarus and prove that trade can be quite honest. It was not honest in the Soviet Union where it was under strict control. It will not be easy today either. But we must do it, it is a priority. You should create this system in the country,” the head of state demanded.

Addressing the trade minister, Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized: “No matter what you are told, you will be directly accountable to me and to our people. Everything we are doing today should be aimed to address the concerns of people. There should be no populism. I have always said openly that we need to create jobs for people and then make them accountable for the work they do. If we do not give anything to people and, first of all, jobs, what do we demand from them? We will be the ones to blame for the outcome.”

The head of state said that measures must be taken this year to enable equal operation terms for all the traders in Belarus including state and private ones.

“Make the terms equal for state-owned retailers and private ones as well as foreign and domestic ones,” the head of state demanded.

“Don’t mind the strikes staged by some self-employed market vendors or someone else. Last year we reached a clear-cut agreement! We are not kids to be fooled, moreover, I am not the one to be fooled. We have reached the agreement and should follow this policy,” the President said.

“It is necessary to understand that those, who import all kinds of clothes to Belarus, including good quality products if they come from Turkey, China, Russia and so on, do as much damage to our economy, the light industry. It will not grow like that. Moreover, without documents and certificates. Unimaginable! We are legalizing bandits and criminals like that! We give a go-ahead to some people and yet we put in prison other people for doing the same things,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“And then they have to understand that merchandise certification is but the first step. We are going to take all the steps this year. Retailers will be allowed to sell merchandise only if they have all the certificates and papers. They will not be able to trade without those,” the head of state stressed.

The President noted that from now on this kind of business will be under control. “Then the light industry and the retail industry in Belarus will have equal terms for everyone — for self-employed businessmen, other private enterprises, and state-run enterprises. They always demand equal treatment. Here is some equal treatment for you,” concluded the head of state.

“It is essential to create a normal trade system in our country. It is not bad if you adopt something from the Soviet trade system. You can always count on my support. If you think it is necessary to revise the functions of anti-monopoly bodies, go ahead. I am not against this. Because the Economy Ministry is overloaded with functions. Soon they will not have enough time to deal with concrete issues. Therefore, it will be good if you take charge of the anti-monopoly service, if you take pricing and the organization of trade under control,” the President remarked.

Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that trade is an important sector of the economy and deems it necessary to step up control in this field.

The new trade minister should organize an efficient system of communication between manufacturers and consumers, the head of state said.

The President advised the minister to create a normal system which would enable its participants to organize private and public trade. “Nothing is forbidden. But what we need is normal regulations which no one will violate,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

He instructed the minister to pay special attention to the work of mediators. In his words, there have been serious violations in this field recently. The President stressed that the ministry should not neglect export and foreign trade.

Vladimir Koltovich, in turn, said that 14% of the able-bodied population in the country is concentrated in trade. Trade accounts for 12.5% of the GDP. Private companies account for 75% of all traders, state-run companies for only 8%. Big retail networks account for 64% of the trade turnover. According to the minister, the share of market places fell from 37% to 18% in the past 10 years.