Established in 2016, the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulations and Trade aims to prevent monopolistic activities and promote competition on Belarusian commodity markets. It also regulates activities of subjects of natural monopolies, prices and tariffs, monitors and regulates the consumer market, public procurement contracts, advertising and consumer protection activities, in order to protect the country’s internal market by creating equal conditions for all participants. The Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulations and Trade, created on the basis of the Ministry of Trade, also includes the Pricing Policy Department of the Ministry of Economy. Responsible for trade control in the domestic market, the Ministry promotes fair competition and stimulates entrepreneurial activity to create comfortable consumer environment. Vladimir Koltovich, Minister of Antimonopoly Regulations and Trade, discusses the ministry’s priorities and activities, as well as main trends of the Belarusian market.
European Times: What were the main priorities and activities of the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulations and Trade in the past year?
Vladimir Koltovich: The main mission of the Ministry is preventing monopolistic activities and promoting fair competition in every sector of economy, thus signalling the establishment of a market economy in the country. Our initial activities were focused on improving the regulatory framework; we are currently working on harmonizing the legal system with those of EAEC and the EU. The “Law on Counteraction to Monopolistic Activity and Competition Development” was significantly improved in 2016. The reform of antimonopoly legislation continues, the government introduced in Parliament a bill with amendments to the Law in December 2016.
Furthermore, Belarus is now preparing a program of competition development for the next five years. The essence of the document is to make the development of competition in the market a priority for all governmental bodies; it will serve as a road map for development of every sector of the economy.
European Times: What are the main trends in the Belarusian retail industry?
Vladimir Koltovich: In general, the retail industry increased by 45% in the past five years, currently comprising 10% of the country’s GDP. Today, 15% of the active population works in retail. The main tendency in recent years is the increase in the number of trade networks – currently there are more than 40 food trade networks working in Belarus. It is even more interesting to see that the share of the large networks in terms of the country’s retail turnover is increasing. Significant increase was recorded in just two years; in 2014, the top 10 largest enterprises had about 22 – 27% share and in 2016 that share increased to 35%. It is precisely in this regard that our mission of establishing clear and fair rules on the market gains importance. Furthermore, there are 15.000 registered online retailers in Belarus, which represents only 2.8%; but we have registered an increase in this regard and we are focused on assisting the development of the online retail sector.
European Times: Your ministry is aiming to gather and use the best foreign practices. What are the most recent developments in this regard?
Vladimir Koltovich: As a relatively young ministry, we are still learning and gaining experience when it comes to developing antimonopoly practices. We have very stable cooperation with our colleagues from the Russian Federation (the Federal Antimonopoly Service) and other countries of the EAEC, EU and CIS. We also have good relations with OECD and this year we established cooperation with UNCTAD; we are grateful to all countries and institutions which are providing us with assistance in terms of antimonopoly regulation and practice.
In the past year, we signed memorandums for cooperation with the antimonopoly authorities of the Russian Federation, Kyrgyzstan and Serbia. Furthermore, an agreement for fair competition and development between Belarus and the Russian Federation is currently in procedural coordination and a memorandum of cooperation in the antimonopoly regulation sector between Belarus and Egypt is being prepared as well. Moreover, we prepared changes in the agreement of development relations and antimonopoly regulation between Belarus and Ukraine.
European Times: What actions have been taken by the Government to prevent monopolistic activities?
Vladimir Koltovich: With the establishment of the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade, antimonopoly and price regulation were transferred to one authority. After the reform, the regional departments of the Ministry came out from the subordination of local authorities to provide more independence in making their decisions.
Antimonopoly control over an acquisition of shares and over mergers and acquisitions, creation and reorganization of holdings occurs under certain conditions, and in those cases the consent of antimonopoly authority must precede the acquisition, merger or establishment of the holding. Furthermore, we created a commission for establishing facts of antimonopoly legislation violations, which serves as a filter and makes decisions on customers’ complaints. Moreover, we conduct analysis of the situation on the market and we also regulate tariff for public service, energy, transport, communication, and other sectors.
European Times: What is the role of the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade in improving the investment attractiveness of Belarus? In what ways is the Ministry improving the quality of its work?
Vladimir Koltovich: As I already pointed out, the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade serves as an instrument of the market economy. Such organ exists in every country, and the main purpose is to set transparent and clear rules for every participant in the economy. In other words, the Ministry is an instrument for protection of investors’ rights. Thus, our goal is improvement and harmonization of the legislation following the best-established practices in the region and worldwide, so that investors would feel comfortable in choosing Belarus as their investment destination.
With regards to improving the quality of work, as a young ministry we are constantly focused on learning and improving ourselves, which is why the Ministry invests significantly in professional staff training, mainly through education and internships. This year alone, 22 employees were sent to different countries, including China, Kazakhstan and Hungary, whereas more than 56 people did internships in the Russian Federation. Furthermore, Master Degree in Antimonopoly Regulations was established within the frames of the Belarus State Economic University; 13 employees of the Ministry are already studying in this program, which is going to be vital for improving the quality of work of the Ministry.