Priorities of useful actions
[b]Optimistic messages have recently appeared, saying that our foreign trade balance has begun to level out, even becoming positive. This is pleasing, since foreign trade and the export of domestic produce have always been a ‘trump card’ of the Belarusian economy. Many well-established and well-known enterprises are now struggling to ensure our exports meet the high quality of old, worthy of the ‘Made in Belarus’ trademark, to ensure good sales. The Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BelCCI) is among those guiding our export success. It plays a vital role in attracting foreign investments into the country while influencing the efficient development of joint industrial co-operation. Chairman Mikhail Myatlikov tells us about its readiness to make efficient, contemporary and bold decisions [/b]
The Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is known to be one of the leading business communities in our country. How great is its potential?
I’d like to say that the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry unites the whole range of domestic entrepreneurship: from representatives of small business to large enterprises and holdings. At present, it boasts over 1,800 members.
The Chamber is a connecting link between business and power, being a reliable assistant and a stable partner for business circles liaising with state apparatus. Moreover, it defends enterprises’ interests - both in Belarus and within the international community. At present, the BelCCI is a member of the International Chamber of Commerce, of the Association of European Chambers of Commerce, of the International Council on Co-operation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, of the Economic Chambers of Eastern and Central European Countries, and of the Council of CCIs for the Central European Initiative and the Hanseatic Parliament.
I should mention that the Chamber’s representative offices are operational in China, Russia and Germany. Moreover, we have thirty public representatives in more than 17 countries, who are ready to provide assistance to anyone wishing to collaborate with Belarus.
The BelCCI has signed over 700 agreements and memorandums on co-operation with national and regional chambers from CIS and non-CIS states. Moreover, taking into account the increasing role of the Chamber in the economic life of the country, business co-operation councils have been set up jointly with over 13 states. The BelCCI is actively liaising with the Belarus-EU Business Council, headquartered in Brussels. Since 2008, the Chamber has annually conducted financial and investment forums.
The BelCCI is also a member of three working parties of the Foreign Investments Advisory Council at the Council of Ministers of Belarus. From time to time, the Chamber publishes proposals on investment projects, familiarising foreign companies with opportunities for working in our Republic.
Since October 2010, the BelCCI has been a participant of the Advisory Council of Heads of CCIs of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. We believe that the Chamber’s potential as Belarus’ leading business community is far from being fully realised. World practice shows that the Chamber should be everywhere where business exists - so one of our tasks is to expand our business community. Only those who boast sufficient representation can truly speak on behalf of business.
Undoubtedly, it’s vital to intensify the work of the entrepreneurial community, which now unites the BelCCI. Accordingly, in the near future, we plan to set up a range of branch and thematic committees at the Chamber, whose activities will support interaction between public, non-commercial and entrepreneurial structures and bodies of legislative and executive power. They will deal with various issues of entrepreneurial activity and will guide us in improving conditions for doing business in Belarus. We aim to form a favourable investment climate and develop private and state partnership.
Undoubtedly, the export orientation of the domestic economy envisages activity from the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. What aspects of your work are most vital?
Promoting the development of Belarusian enterprises’ export supplies is one of the major tasks of the BelCCI, which is also reflected in the Law of the Republic of Belarus and the Chamber’s Charter. At present, this topic is especially acute, since the development of export potential and ensuring a positive balance for Belarus’ foreign trade are essential. Demand is an important factor guiding the development of domestic products; meanwhile, we aim to maintain a high level of employment and ensure economic growth.
The final goal of most areas of our work is dynamic promotion of Belarusian goods and services to foreign markets. To achieve this, we are organising visits by our business circles to foreign states, while receiving delegations from other countries. Our enterprises and organisations are taking part in various exhibitions, international forums and workshops, while training specialists in various branches, including in areas of foreign economic activity. Last year alone, we organised over 500 events — more than one daily. Clearly, the BelCCI is working intensively.
We should add that we organise training programmes, while studying how best to enter foreign markets. We issue certificates, verifying goods’ country of origin, without which exporting would be extremely difficult. Protecting intellectual property rights and mailing commercial proposals to our partner organisations is also important, as is the upholding of the interests of Belarusian legal entities at the International Arbitration Court of the BelCCI. We also hold foreign language courses at the Chamber; at first sight, these don’t appear to directly raise exports but, without knowing foreign languages, it’s almost impossible to conduct export activity.
There are so many areas that it’s difficult to distinguish the most important but, tactically, the greatest effect is reached by exhibitions of Belarusian manufacturers abroad and tкte-а-tкte negotiations. Other areas, as mentioned above, have a strategic effect, depending on how well enterprises use the opportunities we offer them.
How has the Chamber’s activity changed in view of difficult economic conditions, complicated by a whole range of financial problems?
Alongside helping our enterprises to pursue a more aggressive (in the best sense of this word) export policy, we are focusing on working with foreign partners more purposefully. In particular, we are guiding foreign businesses (arriving upon the invitation of the BelCCI) to negotiate sales, while encouraging them to search for joint ventures, injecting money and sharing technologies with Belarus. We are inviting specialised organisations involved in importing to visit our Republic. A recent successful example of such interaction has been the visit of the Korea Importers Association (KOIMA).
Recently, we’ve been introducing consulting services at the Chamber. In particular, we can offer assistance to Belarusian companies seeking foreign business partners - checking their reliability. We can also provide pricing information, as well as data on imports of definite commodities, showing their country of origin — especially where they have come from a nation where the BelCCI has a representative office or public representatives.
The attraction of foreign investment into the Belarusian economy is the second most vital task for the BelCCI. As well as our central office, our regional structures are taking part, annually organising investment forums or conferences jointly with regional executive committees. Potential investors receive full information on investment opportunities in the Belarusian regions. This year, investment forums have been hosted by Gomel, Vitebsk and Lida.
The Central Machinery of the BelCCI, jointly with the Belarus-EU Business Council, annually conducts investment and financial forums in Minsk. Of course, most foreign economic events organised under the auspices of the BelCCI involve giving foreign partners complete information on Belarus’ investment climate. This includes information on state property sites subject to privatisation, as well as preferences and privileges.
Additionally, we’re launching the latest training technologies on how to conduct business under contemporary conditions. A bright example is the ‘EAST-INVEST’ international technical assistance project, which began this summer as a pilot project by the BelCCI and the European Chamber. It’ll become the first event of the EU’s ‘Eastern Partnership’ programme, aiming to develop business ties between Belarusian small and medium-sized businesses and those of EU states. The project’s major task is to train specialists in providing help to enterprises regarding EU export issues.
Representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises who have passed theoretical training will take part in exhibitions in Europe (financed by the project) alongside those from organisations promoting entrepreneurship - from January 2012 to September 2013. This will enable them to solidify their knowledge and skills, seeing foreign economic activity in practice.
How is the Chamber changing its work to reflect today’s economic conditions?
Taking into account the dynamic development of the economy, expansion of export supplies and inflow of injections, the Chamber has begun introducing a range of innovative moves, while preserving its traditional services.
It’s well known that many economic successes are rooted in partnership. However, it’s not easy for a modest company head or an entrepreneur to find a reliable and long-lasting partner. How efficiently does the Chamber act as an intermediary in these matters?
During the years of its existence, the Chamber has accumulated huge experience, embracing wide business ties and contacts. It has gained the trust of BelCCI members and partners, while creating its own unique methods of working.
Taking into consideration the modern requirements of mastering new sales markets, collaboration has been launched with various foreign chambers. Belarus’ traditional partners are Indonesia, Qatar, Malaysia, Mongolia, the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the Philippines, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Congo, the SAR, Greece, Israel, Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. The Chamber is conducting a well-directed search for investors and business partners, while doing marketing research and offering consultations (at the request of Belarusian and foreign enterprises).
The efficiency of our efforts is confirmed by the fact that, last year, 14 companies with foreign capital were set up with help from the BelCCI. In turn, the Chamber is to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for foreign firms wishing to work with our country, helping them find reliable business partners and easily and quickly implementing each stage on the path to trade and investment.
How does the Chamber manage to represent the interests of different groups from the Belarusian community abroad? What role do its foreign representational offices play?
According to the Belarusian law ‘On the Chamber of Commerce and Industry’, we treat every member equally, not distinguishing any groups but assisting everyone who addresses us. However, in some cases, choices have to be made. For the ‘East-Invest’ programme, the BelCCI had to select representatives of small and medium-sized business in six promising areas, showing them how to export their manufactures to EU states. It’s impossible to provide training to every company, so the European Commission project heads joined the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce in Industry in selecting those six areas: agriculture and processing of agricultural products, transport and logistics, tourism, ecological construction, alternative energy sources and energy efficiency, and textiles.
As regards foreign representational offices, their services are certainly in demand by many Belarusian enterprises. They provide information on foreign economic legislation, on statistics of foreign trade (including physical and monetary volumes of exports and imports, regarding certain countries and products), and on exhibitions, while organising presentations, conferences, roundtable discussions and seminars. Moreover, they arrange visits for Belarusian business circles to exhibitions and targeted business trips, while providing information on companies (including sales prices).
Representations help find potential partners, including with the purpose of realising investment projects, while assisting in organising and hosting advertising campaigns for Belarusian products and training courses for Belarusian business circles. They are ready to accompany talks, conduct market research on certain groups of products and branches, and assist in booking hotels and organising fairs and exhibitions.
An important aspect of the Chamber’s work is its organisation and hosting of exhibitions. What are its recent achievements?
It’s worth mentioning that, in 2010, the BelCCI and its exhibition company — Belinterexpo — organised 11 expositions of Belarus abroad, gathering 494 enterprises and companies of various forms of ownership. Belarusian exhibition stands were visited by 20,000 foreign specialists. The national expositions of Belarus at the 43rd International Exhibition in Cairo, the International Hannover Industrial Fair and the 10th International Industrial Fair in Tehran, the 2nd National Exhibition of Belarus in Azerbaijan, the 1st National Exhibition of Belarus in Serbia, and the National Exhibition of Belarus in the city of Dnepropetrovsk were the most significant events.
Of course, the National Exposition at Shanghai’s EXPO-2010 was a landmark event. Having united the efforts of many Belarusian enterprises and organisations, we managed to prepare a pavilion representing the Republic of Belarus to the global community at a high modern level. A record number of visitors came - over 5m people; it’s a figure which is unlikely to be surpassed ever again. We hope that our accumulated experience of participating in such major events will be applied again in future.
National exhibitions organised by Belarus considerably contribute to strengthening of economic co-operation with foreign countries. The National Exhibition of the Islamic Republic of Iran was held last December, serving as a fresh example. The event gathered 90 firms, representing a wide range of industrial fields — including aviation and folk crafts.
The BelCCI is now involved in a new form of national exhibition activity abroad, with Belinterexpo Unitary Enterprise being the largest exhibition operator dealing with the organisation of Belarus’ national exhibitions across the CIS and beyond.
In recent times, we’ve also focused on mastering Belarusian regions. At the initial stage, we plan to arrange events in regional centres which have been previously common exclusively for the capital.
Does the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry enjoy strong ties with its partners from other post-Soviet republics? Does the ‘old friends’ network help in such practical matters?
Naturally, it’s impossible to assert that the BelCCI boasts equal partner relations with all post-Soviet chambers. However, since 2002, annual sittings of the CIS chambers have been organised. The heads of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have participated as observers in the past five years. The Belarusian Chamber enjoys business and often friendly relations with its colleagues from Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Moldova, Lithuania, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Not long ago, we welcomed representatives from Kyrgyzstan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, organising — at their request — acquaintance with the Belarusian Universal Commodity Exchange. Kyrgyzstan is studying this with the aim of establishing a similar exchange itself.
Every year, the BelCCI takes part in the International Spartakiada for Belarusian, Moldovan and Ukrainian chamber workers. Sporting events and informal meetings are the best way to build friendly relations, significantly helping in our work.
Which regions are being viewed by Chamber experts as most promising — regarding production co-operation, trade and investment collaboration?
Belarus’ foreign economic ties are an important factor in our economic stability and development. Historically, our Republic has collaborated with many countries worldwide, including with assistance from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Pleasingly, in 2010, Belarus exported to over 150 states, while receiving foreign investments from the CIS (primarily, Russia) and non-CIS states — such as the UK, Austria, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the USA, Lithuania and Latvia. To ensure entry to new foreign markets while maintaining our niche on traditional markets, our domestic enterprises have developed production co-operation with many foreign partners.
In our view — as reflected in the 2011-2015 National Export Development Programme - the most promising regions for the development of foreign economic ties include Latin America, Africa and South-East Asia (both from the point of view of traditional trade and production co-operation development). However, we won’t be neglecting our well- established partners -within the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, the EU and China.
The BelCCI is currently preparing to set up a representational office in Australia and New Zealand. We think this region groundlessly lacks attention from Belarusian businesses and we can and should co-operate — not just in matters of trade but in attracting investments. We could also share technologies, setting up joint industrial production for domestic and foreign consumer markets.
By Victor Mikhailov