Updated at 20:11,29-10-2020

UK ambassador says that Belarus needs more open market to attract investors

By Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

Belarus’ investment potential will increase if its market becomes open, UK Ambassador Bruce Bucknell, whose diplomatic term expires on January 15, said in an interview with BelaPAN.

With Belarus’ economy experiencing a crisis, its government is understandably eager to keep the financial sector under control and minimize risks, Mr. Bucknell said. However, Belarusian authorities have taken a number of unhelpful measures, including the issuance of Directive No. 666, which requires importers of a wide range of goods to submit a sample from each of their shipments to health authorities for an examination of its compliance with Belarus' national safety standards, he said.

“Although I can understand your willingness to protect the social model, the price you’re paying for its preservation is way too high,” he said. “I believe that economic reforms in Belarus are unavoidable. But when they will be carried out is difficult to predict.”

If Belarusian authorities really want to draw in more investors, they should give more freedom to businesses, Mr. Bucknell said. Belarus could be of interest to investors, but changing business rules and the high rates of customs duties keep them away, he said. “You want to supply something to other countries, but foreign companies want to supply their goods to your country, this is a two-way street,” he said.

Although Belarus receives little investment from the United Kingdom, the two countries do have some positive experience in this area, Mr. Bucknell said. For example, Britain’s LINPAC Packaging has built a food packaging plant not far from Orsha, Vitsyebsk region, and supplies 90 percent of its output to Russia, he said. Belarus’ IT and retail trade sectors also get investment from the United Kingdom, he said.

According to Mr. Bucknell, raw materials such as petroleum products and potash account for the lion’s share of trade between the two countries. He warned that excessive dependence on foreign demand for these commodities makes the Belarusian economy vulnerable. The UK government would be happy to do something to increase trade with Belarus, but private companies decide for themselves who will be their partner, he said.

Speaking about Belarus’ economic downturn, Mr. Bucknell said that the country had fallen on hard times because of its close ties with Russia, whose economy depends heavily on oil prices and relations with other countries.

“Russia has made its own choice, opting for investment in the defense industry and the armed forces,” Mr. Bucknell said. “Protectionism and embargos do more harm than good to Russia. However, this Moscow’s its strategic choice. The countries that isolated themselves socially and economically lose more than they gain. And the fact that Belarus is sandwiched between the European Union and Russia is not helping you in the current situation.”