Long-view and wise approach essential
Belarus is invigorating negotiation process on the country’s accession to the WTO
The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is eager to drive forward negotiations on Belarus’ accession to the WTO. Speaking at a session to discuss Belarus’ WTO membership, the Head of State underlined, “On the one hand, it’s obvious that Belarus must integrate into the global trade network, having an export-oriented economy which makes us subject to external market conditions. However, entry into the WTO should not be an end in itself. Observing national interests during negotiations is the key principle.”
WTO membership envisages global trade system
The Head of State wishes to know whether Belarusian producers will be able to operate under WTO terms, i.e. when most existing non-tariff regulation measures and state support are cancelled. Moreover, he is keen to know what else needs to be done at Government level to protect the country’s economic interests under WTO membership. “The main thing is to decide whether we’ll benefit under current conditions,” he asserts.
Belarus’ main partners, Russia and Kazakhstan, are already members of the WTO. “We have to take this into account. Nevertheless, we retain a certain degree of freedom, not being bound by WTO rules and regulations. Do we need this degree of freedom? Will we benefit from accession to the WTO or will we gain nothing, just having certain obligations imposed upon us?” Mr. Lukashenko asked meeting participants.
The President noted that partners should observe principles of transparency and consistency. “Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have conducted intensive negotiations. I remember our past agreements,” noted the Belarusian Head of State, recalling Russia’s previous declaration that the three states would jointly determine their criteria of WTO accession, after the formation of the Customs Union. According to the President, some time after Russia became a member of the WTO, it suggested that its partners establish the Customs Union, based on WTO principles. Later, Kazakhstan joined the WTO and reduced customs duties without informing its partners. “In fact, Belarus is the only country of the three that has not joined the WTO,” said the Head of State.
He believes that Belarus must protect its interests, taking into account its agreements with partners. The process of globalisation is multi-faceted, so it’s almost impossible to determine the full advantages and disadvantages without taking time to analyse. As they say, you need to measure three times before cutting. It’s an approach very much suited to Belarus’ decision-making process in joining the WTO. The negotiation process has been ongoing for more than twenty years, with mixed success. Over this time, the global geopolitical and economic picture has changed significantly. Accordingly, we must again weigh the pros and cons, continuing our negotiations on WTO membership. It’s been a marathon and reaching the finishing line won’t be easy.
Undoubtedly, WTO membership offers a good opportunity to integrate into the global economy, and to use its protective instruments. According to WTO rules, all members are ‘equally favoured’, with preferences given equally to all members, making it easier to trade, and making members more attractive to foreign investors.
In opening borders, reducing customs duties and liquidating non-tariff regulation measures, our market is likely to be flooded by foreign goods. We must consider whether our factories and farms can hold their own in such a situation. We wish to take advantage of WTO membership without leaving our domestic market unprotected.
The world economy is built upon competition, using the principle of survival of the fittest. Belarus is known for occupying a good position on the world market across various industrial and agricultural commodities, but remains wary of having to face off too many rivals. It’s only fair that Mr. Lukashenko should have some remarks to address to colleagues from Russia and Kazakhstan, which left behind the EAEU to prioritise the WTO, without consulting Belarus. Our hope was that our integration partners would be more consistent, since the Eurasian Economic Union was set up to counteract external challenges.
As always, the President takes a wider global view. He believes that the two most powerful unions are the one in the West and the one in the East: towards the Atlantic and Pacific. In future, these two largest structures are unlikely to take into account the rules of the WTO, aiming to protect their own members. We shouldn’t ignore this, tying our nation to economic obligations in someone else’s favour, to the long-term detriment of our own welfare.
By Vasily Kharitonov