This could be called a traditional meeting of the president with Belarusian diplomats. This year the meeting was held in the Palace of the Republic, probably the biggest hall of the country: the Presidential residence could not have seated all the participants. Besides the diplomats and other officials with the Foreign Ministry, attending the meeting were representatives of Belarus’ top administration and directors of the largest companies. This seems quite logical: the minister, ambassador and businessman have all a lot to do with the foreign economic and political efforts of the country, so they all should be involved in the development of the state foreign economic strategy.
One should be certain that the foreign economic priorities were set long ago and are being followed by everyone, and President Alexander Lukashenko reminded the diplomats that the two main tasks they had were to increase exports and ensure multi-vector foreign policies. This is what the powerful Belarusian diplomacy is based on — the consistency and predictability of its position on the world scene. These are the most valuable qualities in any type of international relations.
It could have been a false impression, but it seemed to me that it was easier for the president to hold this meeting compared with previous “diplomatic sessions”. The basic strategy had been worked out long before, and no hard thinking was required to adjust the foreign policies, I thought. More importantly, the spirit of emergency was not felt at this meeting, unlike those that took place ten years ago, because the main objective now is not to help the country’s industrial giants survive, but upgrade them to a new level and boost exports. The Palace of the Republic seemed to play host to a large business meeting, where successful directors considered ways to further improve good and excellent indicators. I guess something of the kind takes place in large transnational corporations, where top managers gather for regular and spontaneous brainstorms and “thought showers”.
“We have done a lot to move along the priority directions,” the president said in his opening speech. “Belarus has been developing fast and efficiently and is definitely on the rise. We cannot lose this pace, otherwise we might lose not only the momentum, but also the incomes of our people who will consequently get dissatisfied with the authorities. As a result, Belarus’ international status will weaken.”
There was another peculiarity of the meeting that is definitely worth mentioning. The range of issues that were addressed by the head of state and other participants in the annual meeting was very wide, and the exclusive diplomatic approach seemed to have been forgotten, as economic matters prevailed. Small wonder: Belarusian diplomacy is based on the principle “economics is the best politics. Belarus is one of the most open economies of the region and the world, as most of its output is exported. This is why it is essential to promote the goods marked “Made in Belarus” on the world market. Economic issues here are almost purely political.
In his speech at the meeting Prime Minister Sergey Sidorsky noted that in 2005 exports exceeded imports for the first time in Belarus’ history. Exports hit a record $16 billion high in 2005, and January-June 2006 saw an increase of 34% over the same period last year. However, the premier warned that the pace would be very hard to keep up, unless relevant measures are taken. The focus should be shifted to the development of the commodity distribution network, assembling facilities and service centers.
Belarus’ presidential envoy to Russia Vasily Dolgolev is of the same opinion. In his report about the relations with Russia he noted that although Russia remained the key consumer of Belarusian goods, not a single trade and service center has been established there. The volume of exports is growing, but it is clearly not enough to catch up with the Russian economic growth that is promoted by exports of raw materials. Trade between Russia and Germany was just a couple of million dollars ahead of Belarus-Russia trade two years ago, at $22 billion, however, this year Belarus is expected to hit an $18 billion record, while Germany is getting ready for an impressive $40 billion trade with Russia.
Alexander Lukashenko said the current strategy should be altered, and commodity distribution networks should be established worldwide to ensure sustainable development. He appreciated the efforts of Belarus’ tractor maker MTZ, which, according to its Director Alexander Pukhovoi, has exported $290 million worth of commodities to over 70 countries of the world in 2006, a rise of 30% over the same period in 2005.
Vladimir Senko, Belarus’ permanent representative in NATO and Ambassador to Belgium, urged Belarusian ambassadors to be more aggressive, while Ambassador to China Anatoly Tozik focused on regional cooperation.
This was a constructive and efficient conversation, just like Alexander Lukashenko wanted it. The ambassadors, directors and ministers left the meeting with specific tasks and ways to resolve problems.
by Igor Kolas