On the international arena, Belarus is promoting the “Integration of Integrations” initiative aimed at strengthening the cooperation of various integration projects in the European arena, the rapprochement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the European Union (EU) and the creation of a common market “from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” With the Russian Federation maintaining its position as Belarus’ strategic ally, on the Western vector, Belarus’ priority is intensification of the cooperation with the EU and the United States, while simultaneously developing its relations with the countries of the ‘far arc’ in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs, discusses the country’s priorities and foreign relations.
European Times: What are the main priorities of the foreign policy of the Republic of Belarus?
Vladimir Makei: The traditions of the Belarusian statehood, the centuries-old experience in building relationships with our neighbours, and the export-oriented nature of our economy have predetermined the multi-vector nature of our foreign policy. Belarus strives to balance its interests between the different poles of power; to build mutually beneficial relations both with the East and in the West, without forgetting about the North and the South.
At the same time, in the context of strengthening the economic security, our strategic task is the systematic diversification of foreign trade with an equal distribution of exports between the three major markets: the EAEU, the EU and the “far arc”. Our priority is to develop partnership with our neighbours – above all with our strategic ally, the Russian Federation, as well as our relations within the EAEU, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
European Times: How would you describe the cooperation between Belarus and the Russian Federation?
Vladimir Makei: With the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State, the Russian Federation remains Belarus’ strategic ally. The dynamics of the Belarusian-Russian relations are reinforced by intensive contacts at the highest level, as well as various formats of intergovernmental and intersectoral cooperation. The Russian Federation is the largest market for Belarusian goods and services and, at the same time, our leading trade and investment partner. Belarus is also Russia’s most important transport and transit corridor.
European Times: What about the relations between Belarus and the EU?
Vladimir Makei: The trend of developing cooperation with European partners inspires optimism. Letting go of the past, our relations have become truly neighbourly, embracing new spheres of cooperation.The decision of the EU in February 2016 to abolish most of the restrictive measures against Belarus was an important stage in the normalization of relations, and it opened new opportunities for expanding the cooperation with European partners, primarily in trade and investments. Opportunities are expanding with the presence of the European Investment Bank and the launch of the European Sustainable Development Fund, and there is progress in the negotiations for accession to the World Trade Organization.
Minsk and Brussels have launched sectoral dialogues on key areas of cooperation: trade, customs, economy and finance, and environment. The bilateral Belarus-EU Coordination Group has been gathering twice a year since 2016 to maintain comprehensive dialogue and intensify mutually beneficial cooperation. All relevant topics are discussed within the framework of the Human Rights Dialogue and the Eastern Partnership. Today, the EU remains the second most important market for Belarusian goods, and the leading source of investments and credit resources for our economy.
Belarus remains are liable partner of the EU in combating modern challenges, overcoming dividing lines, and resolving conflicts. As an “island of stability” in Eastern Europe, Belarus is aware of its responsibility to maintain and consolidate the stability both within the country and in the region. The border of Belarus serves as an effective barrier against illegal migration and cross-border crime. We intend to further promote long-term peace, restore confidence and overcome dividing lines in every possible way.
We remain open to start negotiations with the EU regarding a new agreement.
Moreover, within the WTO framework, we will work together with the EU to eliminate unnecessary procedural, regulatory and technical “bottlenecks” in mutual trade, which would facilitate the access of our enterprises to the EU market and vice versa.
We are convinced that today a direct dialogue between the Eurasian and European integration blocs is needed more than ever in order to secure harmonious, long-term coexistence and foster economic growth, prosperity and conflict-free development of the whole continent.
European Times: Why should investors choose Belarus as their investment destination? What is your personal message to the foreign investors interested in cooperation with Belarus?
Vladimir Makei: Belarus is a reliable and responsible trading partner. We always fulfil our obligations. Moreover, our reliability lies in crucial aspects, such as security and political stability, peace, and low crime rates. Belarus has numerous investment advantages – well-developed industry, highly qualified workforce, an advanced ICT sector, etc. Furthermore, Belarus has direct access to the markets of partner countries for the Eurasian Economic Union – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Creating a favourable business environment is one of our priorities, hence our Government is focused on implementing reforms in all areas of business, taking into consideration the recommendations of the World Bank and the positive experience of other countries. Many global reports, including the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2017” rating, place Belarus ahead of the other countries in the region in many fields, recognizing our position as one of the world’s leading reformers.
Special attention is dedicated to building and maintaining close cooperation with our European partners. The economic forums and events, such as the Belarusian-European Economic Forum in Luxembourg, provide opportunities for establishing promising contacts, agreements, and mutually beneficial investment projects. Belarus offers an open economy, a diverse culture, and unique natural beauty, and I invite all those interested in traveling or doing business to visit and get acquainted with our country’s potential.