Alexander Semeshko, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
of Belarus to the United Arab Emirates, shared plans on projects to be jointly implemented by the two countries
Belarusian manufacturers’ search for new foreign economic markets is inspiring stronger co-operation with this Arabian Peninsula state. The UAE boasts the highest standard of living across the Middle East and South Asia and the best economic potential.
Dear Mr. Ambassador, for most Belarusians, the UAE is commonly seen as a popular tourist destination, and is known for having the highest tower in the world and prominent oil mining. It continues impressing the globe with its unique achievements. In the quite short period since Belarus gained independence, the UAE has risen to be a key trading partner. Can you elaborate on how our bilateral relations are developing? What are the main features and what benefits do we gain?
Diplomatic relations between Belarus and the United Arab Emirates were established on October 20th, 1992, but active work began only in 1999 — when our country opened an Embassy in Abu Dhabi. Some time later, the Arab Emirates opened its Embassy in Minsk.
I’d like to stress the high level of political interaction resulting from the Belarusian President’s visits to the UAE. Co-operation within international organisations has been established, while our position regarding major foreign political issues coincides or is very similar. We enjoy mutual support on promoting initiatives within the UN and other structures, with top ranking and inter-parliamentary contacts already regular.
The UAE is keen to promote co-operation with Belarus in the field of counteracting human trafficking. At the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly, the UAE co-authored the Belarusian resolution: ‘Improving the Co-ordination of Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking’. It also supported our resolution on prohibiting the development and production of new weapons for mass destruction.
We’ve achieved good results in forming legislation to govern our bilateral co-operation. A package of documents oversees our trade and economic collaboration, including aspects of technical co-operation, assistance and mutual protection of investments, and avoidance of double taxation. In addition, agreements have been signed regarding the media, air transportation and the military-technical sphere. The Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry enjoys co-operative agreements with chambers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and elsewhere.
Mr. Ambassador, how did the Emirates view the results of the presidential elections in Belarus last December?
I have a short and clear answer. The President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, congratulated the Belarusian Head of State on his winning the elections.
What are the fruits of Belarus-UAE trade-economic co-operation so far and what are our further prospects?
I believe that rising sales of our products on this market are evident; we hope that Belarusian exports to the Emirates will meet their full potential. In 2010, Belarus exported $7.9m of products to the UAE, while importing $5.5m. Belarus primarily sells bearings, fibreglass, tyres, joinery, construction materials and dairy products. In 2011, sales of x-ray equipment, cosmetics and chemicals were added, while exports of optical equipment more than doubled.
Favourable conditions for doing business have been established in the UAE, especially regarding export-import operations. Few entry duties exist and, where they do, they stand at just 5 percent (excluding alcohol and tobacco). Moreover, there are no taxes (excluding companies engaged in oil mining and tourism). Huge construction works are underway, so there is great potential for us to sell our construction materials and machinery, timber, trucks of all sizes, and tyres. There is a demand for those both in the Emirates and across other countries of the Gulf. Sales of our complex technology will require further provision of spare parts. Analysis of the UAE market and foreign producers’ work indicates that commodity distribution networks (an office, consignment warehouse and maintenance services) are the defining factor in gaining a firm niche.
The markets of the UAE and other countries of the Co-operation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf also require food and raw materials for production. These states import up to 90 percent of consumed food and, with a growing population, in the UAE, the need rises annually by around 12 percent. Moreover, unlike machine building, no further service maintenance is required, making food a simple export for Belarus. Meat and dairy products, fish, canned goods, groceries, confectionery and beverages are our main focus, with dried milk also enjoying demand.
The Embassy has been holding talks with major food distributors regarding supply of food and other agricultural products. I’d like to note that, this year, exports of dairy products to the UAE have been steadily growing (as seen from the first four months of the year): supplies of cheese and cottage cheese have risen 28-fold while those of yoghurt and kefir are up 40-fold. We are pleased to see Belarus’ ‘Savushkin Product’ sour cream in Abu Dhabi shops; our Embassy staff and I love to buy it. Sunflower seeds are a new export article.
Speaking of economic co-operation with the UAE, I must stress that significant prospects exist for onward export of products — to the Gulf States, Asia and Africa. This is due to developed warehouse, port and airport infrastructure, integrated into numerous free economic zones and technoparks.
Mr. Ambassador, what opportunities do the UAE free economic zones provide? Are they convenient for Belarusian economic entities?
The country has a well-developed network of free economic and special zones, where residents enjoy certain advantages. To set up a company within such a zone, no Emirate partner is needed (usually, firms operating in the UAE must have 51 percent of their shares owned by a local partner). Within a free economic zone, companies can keep 100 percent of their foreign capital and are allowed to send all capital back to their home country, with customs privileges granted.
Being practical, how can Belarusian producers find partners in the UAE? Do any mechanisms exist?
Firstly, there is significant potential for the establishment of direct ties between business circles from our two countries; the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) interacts with the UAE in this sphere. Each emirate has its own CCI and they are all efficient in representing its members’ interests, improving economic development countrywide. Collaborating with governmental structures, free economic zone administrations and business promoting organisations, the UAE CCI assists in establishing contacts. It also provides information, organising forums and conferences and actively participates in hosting international events.
We have positive experience of co-operation between our chambers. Last October, we helped organise the 2nd Belarusian-Emirati Business Forum, with support from the Belarusian Embassy to Abu Dhabi. Meetings were scheduled at the Dubai CCI and with local business circles. Our Embassy is now negotiating the hosting of a business forum in Minsk, jointly with the UAE regional CCIs.
Secondly, we participate in specialised exhibitions, which help establish business contacts. The UAE is a large regional centre for business, trade and international fairs. Exhibitions organised in this country attract visitors and participants from the Gulf States, the Middle East and far beyond. In November 2008, Dubai hosted Belarus’ national exhibition, which aroused huge interest from local businessmen.
The activity of our Embassy in the UAE is another efficient mechanism. We help find potential partners, sending information to corresponding ministries and Belarusian companies. This year, we plan to set up a joint Belarusian-Emirate committee to oversee trade-economic collaboration; this intergovernmental structure should help develop our trade and economic liaisons.
The UAE is developing quickly; it is rich and boasts a solvent market and huge re-export possibilities. Although the market and region remain new for our enterprises, there are already quite substantial grounds for enhancing our interaction. Our economic entities and exporters should clearly make use of the opportunities before them, with the Embassy rendering all possible assistance.
Evidently, trade is at the heart of your work at the Embassy. Is there room for spiritual fulfilment via humanitarian collaboration?
Last year, our Embassy initiated its Week of Belarusian Culture in Abu Dhabi, enhancing our cultural co-operation, supported by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. It was the first time that such a major event had been organised in the Emirates and the Persian Gulf. It was officially opened by the Head of the Administration of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
As part of the Week, residents of the Emirates were able to enjoy the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Belarusian State ‘Khoroshki’ Choreographic Ensemble and the Chamber Orchestra of the Belarusian State Music Academy’s Republican Musical College. We also had exhibitions of modern Belarusian fine arts and photography, with samples of Belarusian cuisine offered; food is an integral part of the culture of any nation. I’m proud to admit that, this year, the Abu Dhabi cultural season (usually starting after the sacred month of Ramadan) also opened with our Week of Belarusian Culture.
We view this event not only as the beginning of cultural exchanges but as a forum allowing our two states’ business, political and artistic circles to meet. It strengthens and promotes co-operation in various spheres, while helping initiate new joint projects. I hope a similar cultural Emirate event will be organised in Minsk; our Embassy is now actively working on this, with the Emirate side.
Thank you for the interview!
By Nina Romanova
Right mood for business
[b]Alexander Semeshko, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to the United Arab Emirates, shared plans on projects to be jointly implemented by the two countries [/b]Belarusian manufacturers’ search for new foreign economic markets is inspiring stronger co-operation with this Arabian Peninsula state. The UAE boasts the highest standard of living across the Middle East and South Asia and the best economic potential.