[b]International trade routes have long passed through Grodno Region, alongthe Polish and Lithuanian border. The advantageous geographical position of the area ALONG the Nieman River continues to arouse enhanced interest among businessmen from various countries, despite the echoes of the recent global financial crisis.[/b]
the Polish and Lithuanian border. The advantageous geographical position of the area ALONG the Nieman River continues to arouse enhanced interest among businessmen from various countries, despite the echoes of the recent global financial crisis. Previously, turnover and investment was concentrated primarily on Grodno’s major enterprises but regional areas are now playing a more active role in attracting capital and promoting trade. The trend was obvious at the Northern Vector fair, recently held in Smorgon and demonstrating goods from 70 Belarusian companies. Simultaneously, the city hosted the International Economic Forum, gathering guests from ten countries.
Smorgon is one of three district centres situated in the north of Grodno Region, being home to 115,000 people. They reside over an area of 4,300 square kilometres, including Ostrovets and Oshmyany districts.
The warm ‘northern’ meeting was being organised for the second time, having been hosted by Oshmyany last year. A great deal of funding was spent on its organisation, to ensure worthy representation of the area’s products. The Deputy Chairman of Grodno Regional Executive Committee, Alexander Rusanov, notes, “Grodno Region’s northern lands are unique in their geographical position, while boasting strong enterprises with well qualified staff. International motorways and railways pass through, connecting Minsk and Vilnius. However, analysing the economies of these three districts, we believe that more foreign investments could be attracted. There are 87 large buildings and facilities which are currently unused for various reasons and are ready for sale or rent. Strong impetus is needed to inspire the speedy development of border liaisons. We decided to organise a fair and an economic forum in the northern districts to address this and, although the finals results are yet to be seen, I’m convinced that we’re moving in the right direction. Figures speak for themselves. Last year, just 69 companies with Lithuanian capital were registered in Grodno Region; in 2011, their number reached 120. We’re also closely liaising with Polish businessmen; there are now 129 firms with their participation, against 78 in the past. Importantly, the initiative to attract investors has been demonstrated at district level — including in Smorgon, Oshmyany and Ostrovets.”
This time, the Northern Vector fair featured 54 projects. Smorgon District awaits investors to construct a mini-TPP, poultry yards, lines to produce framed residential houses and ice cream and to reconstruct a cereal workshop. Oshmyany District, in turn, proposes an orchard for development, with the building of a fruit warehouse, and the industrial farming of cranberries and blueberries. Other projects include construction of windmills and a hotel complex, in addition to joint manufacture of lighting equipment and development of road side services along Minsk-Vilnius motorway. Ostrovets has some interesting projects on offer to investors in the trade and banking sector, in addition to agro-tourism.
During the fair, foreign guests were able to view ‘northern’ proposals at their leisure, although some agreements were actually signed at the event. For example, Syrian businessmen are to build a cheese making plant in Smorgon District while Oshmyany has joined Lithuanian Ukmerge in signing a draft co-operative agreement to ensure safe traffic. The Deputy Head of Lidzbark Warmiński District of Poland’s Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, Jarosław Kogut, signed an agreement with Ostrovets District, explaining, “It’s my second time at the Northern Vector. I initially simply intended to study potential projects but am now ready to commit to definite projects. One proposal deals with construction of a package making facility; there’s a businessman with me who’s keen to study the opportunity. We’re also interested in joint ecological and cultural projects, in addition to exchanging delegations of young people and teachers. I hope we’ll establish close contacts with Ostrovets Forestry in the near future.”
The Forestry’s export-oriented activity benefits the company itself and its numerous foreign partners. Over 60 percent of its processed timber is bought by Germany and Lithuania while France, the Scandinavian states and Germany purchase its eco-friendly fuel pellets.
Meanwhile, Ostrovets is an attractive venue for foreign hunters, organising 15-20 shooting tournament annually. Guests enjoy relaxation in natural surroundings, staying in two hunting lodges. Success is aided by releasing caged wild animals into the forest. More capital investments and holidaymakers are expected in coming years. On another note, a nearby settlement is being built for those soon to work at the Belarusian nuclear power station, with much infrastructure required. Wealthy investors are sure to find mutually beneficial projects.
In 2012, the Northern Vector fair and the International Economic Forum are to take place in Ostrovets, with the setting up of a free economic zone currently being debated; Grodnoinvest FEZ would be an example for Grodno Region’s enterprises. Interestingly, a significant share of its members has been attracted via annual economic forums — in Grodno and Lida. The Northern Vector is now set to fulfil this task although business development has a far greater scope. Grodno Region’s southern districts are ready to join a new FEZ (with Slonim as its centre). Accordingly, the region starts working under new economic conditions.
The Ambassador Extraordi-nary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Lithuania and Finland, H.E. Mr. Vladimir Drazhin, is optimistic about the future development of these border businesses, saying, “Established traditions are unique to the economic life of Grodno Region and Belarus. I’m glad to see that Lithuanian territories are widely represented here, focusing on development of bilateral trading relations and investments in Belarus and Lithuania. In 2010, our two states enjoyed turnover of $1.1bn; we expect to see this figure rise by at least 50 percent this year, with business co-operation in the regions playing a special role. Work is underway regarding 52 agreements, in various economic fields. Figures well confirm that Belarus and Lithuania demonstrate mutual interest. In Belarus, there are 450 companies with Lithuanian capital, while 300 firms with Belarusian money are registered in Lithuania. We’ve actually established parity in capital investment: last year, our Lithuanian partners invested $49m into the Belarusian economy, while we injected $50m. These sums are ever growing, which is very inspiring. Our present task is to expand trading borders. The multi-vector policy of our economy well contributes to the process.”
By Iosif Popovich