Belarus nieuws

Belarus joining to WTO: now is the turn of internal economic work

In 2001 -2002 Belarus managed to begin full-scale negotiations on joining to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to involve 15 WTO member countries in negotiating process with Belarusian delegation. Next the fourth round of negotiations on Belarus joining to the WTO is planned to carry out at the beginning of 2003. However, a certain loss in the pace of negotiations set in the last year is shown by the fact with what difficulty the coordination of terms of this round is being reached.

The reason is clear: we do not manage to attach negotiating process with the WTO to economic processes in the republic, to the real sector of economy. In fact we have passed that stage when the question stood in the light of: "to enter or not to enter". Now it is formulated as: "what is necessary to be done for development of some or other particular sectors of our economy, particular manufacture, particular enterprises".
If negotiations with the WTO are not accompanied by and based on the deliberate internal transformations, positive effect from the joining to the WTO and progress in the negotiations is not possible.

The major task for promotion of negotiations
The main task of negotiations for 2003 is to begin preparation of the draft Workgroup Report on Belarus joining to the WTO. Thus, we will be able to determine contours of Belarus future obligations. The major direction of work is to adjust our legislation and practice of economic regulation in accordance to the WTO requirements. An appropriate Plan on regulative and creative works is approved by the resolution of the Council of Ministers and of Belarus National Bank ? 1127/ 22 dated 21.08.2002. As far as the terms of legislative works are concerned, we all should understand, that the term "till 2005", established for introducing necessary projects for the Government, should "be met". After all it is the basis for the whole negotiating process.
Main principles of the new legislation, for example in the field of standardization and certification, should be: minimization of mandatory requirements to products (obligatory requirements should be provided only with the purpose of safety or protection of particular social groups of consumers), adoption of mandatory requirements only in the republican legislation (laws), by granting opportunities for the interested parties to comment on such legislation at the stage of its development. It is only one of the numerous directions in legislative work. Their realization is of great significance, because today it is important for us "to feel" a member of the WTO, to simulate our participation in international trade on the basis of these requirements and, if you want, to check ourselves. It means, that to apply protective measures, which break the WTO norms, is not allowed.

The analysis of the formed foreign trade legislative base and also the questions addressed to the Belarusian side by the WTO member countries show a number of weak points of Belarus foreign trade policy and, hence, suggest a way of its improvement.
First of all, it is necessary to note, that the state of Belarus economy hardly justifies a certain existing skew towards non-tariff regulation methods. Licensing of such spheres as flour trade, import of margarine and soap, additional requirements for beer import - all these examples show how some state structures approach to the solution of our enterprises problems. Moreover, these problems frequently do not have direct relation to foreign trade, which means, that other measures are necessary to solve them. And in our case the foreign trade measures are initiated by different ministries.
If to consider the resolution of Belarus Council of Ministers ? 440 dated 08.04.2002, according to it nearly 20 departments have rights of coordination on quotas and licenses. Efficiency of these measures has always been and will be insufficient. As a result, the Government should constantly strengthen them by creation of more and more complicated, unwieldy mechanism.

Motives, which dictate this approach, are clear. First of all, it is an attempt to provide reliable fiscal control over the republics customs territory, to constrain currency outflow from the country. However, it's time to carry out rigid revision of our regulative and creative works with emphasis on economic, i.e. tax-tariff, methods of regulation. These methods, unlike non-tariff, create conditions for investment attraction. Besides we sometimes forget, that "struggle" against import does not give growth, but decrease of the national income. These are the methods that the WTO demands.
During the legislation reforming process the function of monitoring and examination is crucial to ensure that each new document is really aimed at efficiency increase of economy and at the same time meets the WTO rules. It is supposed, that in this case the Ministry of Economics should become the key department. This ministry is the head developer and co-executor of all standard acts in the field of economy and also in all branch development programs, including structural matters, privileges and subsidies, anti-monopolistic policy etc.
This work has been precisely developed in Russia long ago, where the Ministry of Economic Development is the main coordinator of legislative works on the WTO. Besides the Ministry of Economics in Belarus is the head executor of the basic sections of the Plan on joint activities of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation concerning formation of common free market zone and introduction of the unified monetary unit, and this process should be interconnected with the WTO. We hope, that the National centre of draft bill activity under the President of the Republic of Belarus will take part in this work.

The tariff
We should more objectively consider the problem of tariff protection, instruments of tariff protection and sensitivity of tariff positions of our economy, since we form common free market zone with Russia. Besides, Russia experience shows, that the exchange rate is the most effective and economically sound protective instrument. For example, indirect (rate) rise in price of the rouble has negative effect on export and creates additional competition on the part of importers in the home market. The basic advantages of the exchange rate over tariff protection are the facts, that it cannot be evaded, unlike customs duties, and besides it does not create price disproportions between exported and imported goods.

On the given direction of negotiations it is possible to state that an essential part in this way has been overcome. In the current year the Ministry of Communications, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Transport, the National Bank and other republican state bodies have developed a new version of the draft obligations of Belarus on access to the market of services taking into account the requirements of the WTO member countries.
The position of the Belarusian side is based on the necessity of gradual liberalization of the market of services in the field of telecommunications and post services, on the necessity of preservation of relative protectionism on access to the insurance and bank service markets for foreign companies and banks respectively, and also on the necessity of the foreign capital attraction into other segments of the market of services in Belarus.

The main tasks in preparation for the next round of negotiations concerning Belarus joining to the WTO in the field of agriculture, planned for the beginning of 2003, are the following:

maximum detailed determination of volumes and mechanisms of agricultural support, substantiation of their application from the point of view of criteria of the WTO Agreement on agriculture;

a clear position concerning acceptability or unacceptability for Belarus of obligations within the WTO on the maximum level of the state support at 5 % from the gross agricultural production (for one year in value terms), and also concerning refusal of export subsidies.
Deepening of work on joining to the WTO, the analysis of consequences

The issue of Belarus joining to the WTO, terms of this joining, the legislative norms, which are being adjusted in accordance with the WTO, affect each Belarusian enterprise, and it means, that such matters should not be the concern only of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moreover, the number of participants in this process should be greater, including not only the bodies of republican management.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs already works in this direction. The workgroup concerning the legislation has been created and is headed by T.Bykova, a member of the Republican Council of the National Assembly. We undertake and we shall undertake measures on increasing openness of negotiating process for the public. Problems of development of the national economy sectors and enterprises in terms of joining to the WTO have been considered within the Belarusian Scientific Industrial Association (BSIA). BSIA working group has been created and operates on a constant basis interacting with the republican state bodies, the National Assembly and also the Russian union of manufacturers and businessmen (RUMB) to consider problems of Belarus joining to the WTO. In the period since January till November 2002 representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held more than 20 meetings with directors of Belarusian enterprises, business associations and enterprise unions, branch organizations in order to explain the position of the Belarusian side concerning joining to the WTO and maximally full consideration of opinions of Belarusian manufacturers at development of terms of Belarus joining to the WTO.

Each ministry should foresee consequences of our participation or non-participation in the WTO for a subordinated branch. And, it is necessary not only at a branch level, but also for the definite enterprises. This counting should give an answer to the question, what effect joining to the WTO will have on such production factors as labour productivity, techniques, markets, raw materials base, personnel etc. Such analysis will be especially actual for our light industry, medicine and agriculture and for such sectors of services as insurance, bank services, and communications. It is also important to realize, that the WTO conditions presuppose equality of access to our market for all suppliers and investors, including those from China, from dynamically developing countries of Southeast Asia and other regions.

But certainly, the final analysis of consequences should be not for a branch, but for economy as a whole, as far as the national interests are of the same scale. Branch and common economic effects do not coincide, and sometimes even compete.

It is necessary to bear in mind, that except for enterprises, there are 10 million consumers, who have their own important interests. Therefore a conclusion should be made about the final balance of advantages and losses Branch priorities should be determined not on the basis of today's share in the gross domestic product, the budget etc., but on the basis of essentially new methods and criteria which take into account all factors of long-term forecasting, first of all estimation of competitiveness.

In July 2002 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concluded the Agreement on scientific and practical cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in order to involve our economic science into this work. The Institute of Economics of the National Academy of Sciences has already prepared a preliminary version of research on economic consequences of Belarus joining to the WTO. The Academy develops the Complex program on preparation and joining of Belarus to the WTO.

In conclusion I would like to note, that it would be wrong to consider joining to the WTO as a certain diplomatic breakthrough contributing to increase of our international prestige (which is, certainly, important). Experience of some CIS countries, which have already become the WTO members, shows that without binding to internal reforms serious advantages for national economy should not be awaited from joining to the WTO.

Hence, today it is important to support our foreign-policy activities by urgent measures in the national economy. Therefore, it is necessary to make a fundamental choice in favour of such an approach to the WTO joining which will further contribute to the structural reorganization of Belarusian economy. It will lead to the further strengthening of Belarus positions in the international division of labour; will expand our niche in the world market.

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