Since gaining independence, Belarus has faced a range of opportunities, but also challenges. One of the main challenges, in my view, is Belarus’ economic dependence on Russia. This did not appear overnight – rather, it has developed gradually, largely due to our country’s history and geographical location. Russia is Belarus’ largest trading partner – and we have become heavily dependent on this partnership.
Exports to Russia account for 38.4% of all exports, while imports from Russia account for 58.9% of all imports. Such high dependence on one trading partner can have serious implications: experience has shown that any fluctuation in Russia’s economy (the 2015 recession, for example), internal changes (the “tax maneuver”) or claims regarding the quality of Belarusian groceries (the “dairy wars”) can strongly affect Belarus’ economy and the welfare of Belarusians.
The solution, I believe, is to diversify sales markets and to search for new suppliers. It sounds easy, but it is difficult to implement. Indeed, with this strategy, Belarus could do something about exports, but the situation with imports is more complicated. The basis of imports from Russia is oil and its derivatives, yet nobody will sell these commodities to Belarus at below market prices, as Russia does. Moreover, our infrastructure will not allow it. This does not mean, however, that we should stop looking for solutions.
I should also mention the problem of attracting direct investment into the country. Over the last few years, foreign investment in Belarus has been growing, but very slowly. There is an explanation for this: poor investor support and unstable tax legislation.
I would suggest the following solutions to this challenge: prohibiting the nationalization of an investor’s property, reducing the responsibility for economic violations (the process has already been triggered), and putting the state’s share in large, steadily profitable and growing enterprises onto the market.
Last but not least, I would say that many citizens appear uninterested in what is happening in their country, which has led to the absence of robust political and economic discourse among the population. This problem will not be solved overnight, but steps can be taken to increase people’s interest in the political and economic life of the country as a whole.
One of the first steps could be a reduction in the minimum number of members required to register a political party (currently it is 1,000 persons). With this, interest groups could grow and promote their ideas, and – most importantly – get other people interested. Thus, they will be motivated to rethink, reason and discuss issues related to their country’s development.
Moreover, I believe it is important to start encouraging people’s interest in social and economic development early in life – at school, for instance. This could include holding debates among students. Or, at history or social studies classes, one could touch upon different trends in the economy, which will help generate interest, and later enable young people to form their own opinion and vision about the country’s development.
These challenges will certainly shape life in Belarus over the coming 20 years, or more. That’s why starting to address them now is the direction I want my country to take. Whatever path leads to improving my country and allows us to be optimistic for the future is the best way forward.
Viachaslau Kananovich is a student from Minsk, Belarus. He is a winner of the essay writing competition held by the World Bank office in Belarus. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the World Bank.