[b]It determined the form and content of the press conference organised by the President of Belarus for Belarusian and foreign media representatives[/b]The press conference lasted for around five hours, with the President answering over 60 questions on Belarus’ social and economic development, its foreign policy and relations with Russia, the West and other countries and regions of the world. The media were also keen to learn about integration within the post-Soviet space and Belarus’ participation. As is traditional, some personal questions were also asked.
The press conference lasted for around five hours, with the President answering over 60 questions on Belarus’ social and economic development, its foreign policy and relations with Russia, the West and other countries and regions of the world. The media were also keen to learn about integration within the post-Soviet space and Belarus’ participation. As is traditional, some personal questions were also asked.
Hosted by the National Library, the event gathered over 350 journalists from 285 media sources. Of these, about 200 journalists were from 184 regional media outlets. Foreign journalists from seven countries were in attendance.
The President noted that just over a year ago, in this hall, and in approximately the same format, he answered your questions, including those which had a sharp edge. “I detailed the conditions under which socio-economic stability could be ensured for Belarus, while preserving the independence of our state. If you remember, I didn’t promise an easy life; however, I didn’t scare you with gloomy prospects either,” noted the Head of State. “2012 is now past, so we can draw some conclusions and see what has come true and what has failed to materialise,” added the Belarusian leader.
In particular, the President of Belarus detailed the following:
The results of 2012
We’ve achieved small but steady economic growth while raising people’s real incomes. We’re often criticised for low rates of GDP growth but it’s a very vague concept. When I ask the Government for explanations, they give me reports which show that certain areas of agriculture and industry have increased over and above our targets: agriculture has grown by 6.5 percent (instead of 5 percent) while industry is up around 8 percent (instead of the planned 6.5 percent). Most vitally, real incomes are up 20 percent.
We have not achieved every goal and opportunities have, no doubt, been missed but, over the past year (which brought complex situations), we’ve settled financial problems hanging over from 2011. In honesty, in dealing with these problems, we met the major task for our economy; without financial stability, it would be impossible to speak about further development or modernisation of production, let alone raising real incomes.
Of course, people always want more. The only way for us, Belarusians, to achieve this is through hard work. There’s no other way, as I’ve said before.
I’d like to give a simple but effective example. 2012 saw improvements over 2011, with measurable results. Vitally, we managed to expand exports and achieved a positive foreign trade balance (almost for the first time in our history). More currency came into the country than ever before, despite the unfavourable world market. Many, including journalists, criticised me, saying that the economy wouldn’t be able to cope with such a task. However, it has.
I’ve always asked journalists to remain objective. You’ve seen and heard, so analyse, draw conclusions and criticise as is deserved. I’ll listen to your opinions but please speak from the heart, with personal conviction!
Don’t confuse freedom of speech with irresponsibility and be careful not to encourage ignorance or disrespect your audience.
I`m ready, as ever, to answer all your questions sincerely and honestly in as much detail as you require.
We can ensure that our country enjoys the essential requirements of stability and peace, so that citizens can lead normal lives. I’ve been concerned by the potential for financial confusion on joining the Single Economic Space — and by related issues. You may remember that we introduced duties on vehicles, leading to our citizens’ spending $3bn on importing them. We’ve almost spent our gold-and-currency reserves. I felt that it was important to stabilise our financial situation and we’ve done so. Moreover, our gold-and-currency reserves have achieved $8.2bn. We have a deficit-free budget and, even, a small net surplus. We’ve financed all the measures we’d planned. No apocalypse occurred and the national currency didn’t crash on January 1st — despite SMS-messages designed to inspire panic. Economic stability has been the main priority. We’ve achieved this while remaining within our target figures, including for inflation. We’ve also created a reserve for this year.
I should tell you that what our ill-wishers and enemies predict won’t come true. This won’t happen. We’ll continue to exist as a stable and independent state!
Presence on Latin American, Asian and African markets
There was a time when we didn’t sell anything to Latin America; now, our trade turnover is worth $3.5bn, with our exports accounting for around $2bn: very much in our favour. This is my answer to those who were cynical about us entering this market. We should go anywhere we’re welcome! Looking at Venezuela, Brazil and other countries, it’s clear that we have many commodities which are in demand there. Venezuela is our stepping off point for sales to Ecuador, Cuba and the Central American countries — such as Nicaragua and, especially, Brazil. We’d like to gain a foothold there soon, aiming for at least $5bn of trade turnover on this continent. This will contribute greatly to our need for diverse export revenue.
As far as Central Asian states are concerned, we’re focusing on those formerly within the USSR, since we’ve always taken an interest in them, maintaining trade relations and working together to ensure production modernisation. In Kazakhstan, we’re taking part in about 20-30 projects, while building mining and refining facilities in Turkmenistan, where we also sell lots of our goods.
China and India came on our radar a decade ago. You probably remember my first trips. Jiāng Zйmнn and I (the third president after him is currently in power) set the task of reaching at least $500m in trade turnover. We’ve already at least tripled this figure. We enjoy effective collaboration with this empire. It’s the second most powerful country in the world so, thank God, we enjoy good relations. They’ve helped greatly, having given us a credit line of around $16bn for specific projects. Svetlogorsk may serve as an example in this respect, where a bleached pulp plant is being built with Chinese loans of about $1bn.
The same is true of India, which is keen to share experience in the sci-tech field. We enjoy good relations with India, although perhaps not as developed as those with China.
Vietnam is also becoming a close ally. This rapidly developing state boasts a population of around 80m. They’re almost like brothers, welcoming us as friends and being forthright in letting us know what they’d like to buy from us. They’ve also helped us interact with Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
You’re aware of a visit by our governmental delegation to Bangladesh and India, with a successful trip previously to Myanmar. Now, a major visit is being planned to Indonesia and Singapore, at top level. We continue to see success on these markets and are also establishing relations with Mongolia, which is keen to buy our agricultural and mining machinery. They’ve already purchased some from BelAZ.
Role of neighbouring countries in relations with EU
Lithuania may chair the European Union but this doesn’t give it the power to control affairs. I don’t cherish any hope in this regard.
We can’t choose our neighbours: they are given by the Lord, so we should live in peace with them. In fact, 30 percent of Lithuanian state revenue comes from Belarusians. In 2015, the EU’s subsidies to Lithuania will be reduced (it currently gives 2-3bn) which may bring some problems. They can’t afford to lose their partnership with Belarus; only small minded people in Lithuania would disagree. We ship up to 10m tonnes of cargo via their ports, which they rely upon. We’ve told them honestly that we’re looking at alternatives in the Leningrad Region and in Ukraine, to find the best rates, but we won’t put ‘all our eggs in one basket’.
As long as our partners in Lithuania and Latvia treat us as we deserve, we’ll be happy to continue ‘giving them money’, shipping our goods from there and providing work for people. If they behave with gratitude towards Belarus, we’ll co-operate with them.
We’ll be guided by Lithuanian and Latvian domestic and foreign policy towards us, treating them in a similar fashion. We’ll develop co-operation accordingly.
Prospects for the Union State
Regarding the Union State, we’ve made progress with human rights and the co-operation of our foreign ministries and military forces, creating integrated systems — as in a single state. The Union State will be! We function quietly within it, without any cutting-edge innovation but perhaps we are yet to reach that point of radical solutions.
I’m without worries regarding our relationship with Russia within the Union State. We just need to gain a foothold on the heights already reached.
I see nothing wrong in Russia gathering other states around it in a civilised way. Speaking as a participant, we are building our relationship based on our own interests. I know that all the states involved are taking the same position. Recently, Tajikistan decided not to join the Customs Union, choosing the WTO instead. With Kazakhstan, part of the Single Economic Space, we are negotiating to join the WTO, in Russia’s wake. We haven’t joined yet but our time will come. We are already following WTO guidelines, since our main partner within the Single Economic Space is doing so.
Preparations for IIHF World Championship in 2014
The event will shake up the capital and create a spirit of excitement, while promoting sport. We may not win; in fact, we probably won’t. We may not even receive a prize but we’ll benefit in other ways. A great many people will arrive for the event, so we’ll improve infrastructure and ensure that we have another site for hosting games. Besides Minsk Arena, we’re building a new rink at Chizhovka. It will be ready in time, I’m sure.
We need to increase the number of hotels but need to pace ourselves. We can adapt sanatoriums and we’ll control prices. We don’t want to be criticised, as the Poles and Ukrainians were over the Football World Cup, when prices rose through the roof. Everything should be decent, pleasant and comfortable for players and tourists.
The Prime Minister has reported eleven spheres of work in preparation for the World Cup 2014, which seem to be being solved more or less successfully. I’ll return to these in September for serious analysis and Presidential input.
If someone wants to invest $100m into our economy, they can meet the President and sign a contract but terms will differ depending on the sector, the purpose of the investments and the creation of jobs. We used to make employment a mainstay of investment terms but it’s less important now, as there are barely enough job seekers to occupy the places on offer. Most important is modernisation, even if this means employing fewer people.
There have been occasions when we’ve been offered a decent sum to buy an enterprise — such as $13bn. However, investors might be seeking one of our key companies. We have to look at the advantages of each investment. If you want to buy our Belarusian Potash Company, it costs $30-32bn; don’t bother offering less. Some have complained of my refusal to accept less but I won’t sell our nation’s assets for a song. We should ensure that investments are performed honestly and transparently, so that people trust us!
The shorthand report of the President’s press conference is available at the following websites: www. sb.by and www. president.gov.by.