Session to discuss measures to remove ban on import of Belarusian products to Russia

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It is necessary to resolve the situation regarding the supplies of Belarusian products to Russia within ten days. President of the Republic of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko gave the relevant instruction at the government session held on 3 December to discuss the measures to remove the ban on the import of Belarusian products to Russia and the transit of embargoed commodities.

The Belarusian head of state recalled the backstory of the issue. It arouse because of the Ukraine crisis in which the Western countries blamed, first of all, the Russian Federation and set forth a number of conditions and imposed economic and financial sanctions against Russia

“Russia does not consider itself to be part of the conflict in Ukraine and pushes the Ukrainian government to engage in a dialogue with the people’s republics of Lugansk and Donetsk. It is imperative to engage in a dialogue and to stop killing innocent children and the elderly. Here I absolutely support Russia’s position. Using manly terms, I would say that if someone wants to punch someone or go on a shooting spree, there is the Donetsk airport there for this purpose. Let them gather at the airport and fire at each other,” the President said.

“It did not take the Russian Federation long to respond to these sanctions. Naturally, their response was asymmetrical: Russia banned the import of certain products from the countries which imposed the sanctions against Russia,” the Belarusian leader noted.

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the day before the Russian government made the corresponding decision, Russian President Vladimir Putin had called him and informed him about this. “The conversation was long, and, of course, I was surprised by this move. Nevertheless I told the President that it was up to the Russian Federation to decide. Although our arrangements in the Customs Union provide that the sides must be forewarned about such sanctions and must harmonize such steps, neither Belarus nor Kazakhstan opposed this decision of Russia,” the Belarusian head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said that in the phone conversation with Vladimir Putin he pledged that Belarus would fulfill its obligations on the external border of the Customs Union to prevent the import of sanctioned goods to Russia. “But I also warned the President that Belarusian companies which had concluded or would conclude agreements on the delivery of products to Belarus with Western partners would continue implementing these agreements. It means that we would not join Russia’s sanctions (and Russia did not demand it) and continue to work in the same mode. For example, if we imported meat, milk, vegetables, fruit and fish, processed them on the territory of Belarus and then sold these products in the Eurasian space, including in the Customs Union, we would continue to do so. The Russian President said that he did not mind it,” the Belarusian leader remarked.

The head of state stressed that Belarus was told to use its customs, border and other services to prevent direct import of sanctioned goods to Russia. “No one said that the transit of commodities to Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China and other countries via Belarus must be stopped,” the President said.

Speaking about the delivery of Belarusian foodstuffs to the Russian market, Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that since the embargo was imposed Belarus’ export of food to Russia has increased by only 2 to 5%. Belarus did not even fill the export quotas which were harmonized with Russia at the beginning of the year.

“As for today, with the year 2014 coming to a close, we have not yet supplied the agreed amount of food in full. Why are we reproached for supplying something from outside? We have an agreement allowing us to deliver another 10-15% of goods, including dairy products, meat and fish, to the Russian market. Why are there complaints that we have increased supplies above the quota, dumping the prices in the Russian Federation? There should not be any complaints,” the President stated.

“Even if we wanted to, we cannot import more meat and milk from the West than we did before the Russian sanctions and process them here because we do not have extra technical capacities,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

“We have been strongly against dishonest practices with Western food deliveries to the Russian market. Someone thought they could replace labels and sell these products in Russia. We will not allow this. But we will process the products we want on the territory of Belarus,” the President said.

“Belarus gets much more contraband goods from its partners in the Customs Union, goods originating from Turkey, China, not necessarily foodstuffs because those foodstuffs cannot compete in Belarus. Non-foods are abundant! And we have never complained about it to the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan,” the President stressed.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said that Russia’s move to prohibit many Belarusian companies from selling their products in Russia was an indecent one.

“The question is why it happened,” the Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “All kinds of cheats in Russia are bent on profiteering from the Russian market by inflating prices. Supplies of Belarusian goods considerably slow down the growth of prices in the Russian Federation and naturally we know those, who frown upon it. But it is their problem,” he added.

“I wonder why Russia has violated all the agreements we have reached within the framework of the Customs Union. Yes, it can be explained by some security considerations, terrorism and so on. All things like that can be contrived and labeled,” the President noted. He added that Belarusian products enjoy good recognition and sell well in other countries.

“If we ask Belarusians or Russians which products are safer – Belarusian or Russian ones – the question will make them laugh. With all due respect to Russia, they are 50 years behind Belarus in terms of food safety,” the Belarusian leader said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that Belarus has preserved the Soviet system of stringent state standards, the so-called GOSTs. "Any Russian who uses our products, both foodstuffs and other kinds of goods, will speak in favor of Belarusian goods," the head of state noted. This is evidenced by the facts that fairs and exhibitions in Russia sell thousands of tonnes of Belarusian goods within 3 to 4 hours. "People vote with their wallets," the President noted.

"Our goods are easily recognized in Russia, Kazakhstan and other countries. Furthermore, we choose the best products to export to foreign markets, particularly the Russian Federation, that there should be no complaints about the quality. And in this regard I do not accept the complaints about the quality of our products,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized. He admitted that Belarus has certain problems, which means that the country should not "become complacent and rest on laurels."

“Why whip up tensions, create problems in this situation?” the head of state wondered.

“I am outraged not only by Russia’s actions but also by the lack of backbone in our government, who once again bring dead problems for the president to handle,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The head of state remarked that one week before he had given specific instructions for the government to promptly work out effective measures in order to settle the situation and remove the prohibitions and restrictions on supplies to Russia and transit via Russia. Back then the matter of counteracting similar policies of the Russian Federation had been raised.

“I am astounded by the sluggishness and passive attitudes in our ministries, heads of enterprises, oblast governors, and the central government! What have you been awaiting for three months? Why didn’t you invite our partners to look into the essence of the problems right away? Why didn’t you promptly address those issues? Your reports sprightly brush away all the accusations targeting you but where is your spirit when you have to negotiate?” the President asked those present.

He underlined that he expected the officials, who are directly responsible for the state of affairs in this sphere, to answer when the 23 Belarusian companies affected by Russia’s import restrictions will be able to resume their export to Russia and how Belarus will honor its international commitments regarding merchandise transit. The head of state also stressed that he was interested in learning how the government had taken care of the instruction to occupy the market niches that had been vacated.

“If Russia doesn’t want some goods to reach Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Mongolia, Turkey and other countries in transit via Russia, then it is up to Russia to stop this transit. It is not our job!” the Belarusian leader stressed.

“We are a transit republic. We earn money from transit albeit not a lot. We cannot forbid the transit of commodities to other countries via our territory. It would be a violation of all norms of international law,” the head of state said.

“We understand that by doing so Russia tries to get us to stop this transit. Meanwhile, they are increasing transit via the Baltic border and border checkpoints in other areas,” the President noted.

“I wonder whether Russia wants to deprive Belarus of transit revenues. We cannot allow it!” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. He pointed out that Belarus has proper procedures in place and all the transit cargoes are escorted to the Russian Federation. “We hand them over to Russia and it is up to them to allow transit or not. But once again I would like to underline that we don’t want to get involved in violations of all norms of international law,” the Belarusian leader believes.

“We have reached an agreement with Russian partners that Belarus will not suffer from the reciprocal economic sanctions against America and Europe. We’d like to get rid of the sanctions that have been applied to us already. We cannot face more sanctions since we have enough problems to deal with as it is,” the President added.

The head of state raised the issue of product quality control inside Belarus, order at Belarusian enterprises, the observance of processing technologies and all the regulations starting with the border, transit, the prevention of re-export and the establishment of smooth deliveries of Belarusian products.