Posted: 23.04.2024 14:33:00

Top priority issues

Technological sovereignty and import substitution are paramount tasks for vibrant economic development of Belarus

At the extended meeting on industrial development, the President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has clearly exposed both the strengths and problematic issues of the manufacturing sector that require increased attention and prompt competent solutions. A frank and profound conversation touched upon the current trends and necessary steps to enhance the situation. Thus, what is to be done?

THERAD 200 X-ray therapy system by ADANI. Oleg Klimkovich, Head of Production Development dept.

Basic principles

Some Western liberals criticise Belarus for limited market mechanisms arguing that the market will regulate itself what goods and services should be produced. Life has long refuted these superficial views. 
In fact, the approaches related to import substitution and technological sovereignty appeared neither in the USSR nor in China, but in the heart of global capitalism — the United States. American sociologist and economist Jane Jacobs, who survived all the horrors of the Great Depression and as a visionary thinker wrote the book Dark Age Ahead, put forward the import substitution concept as a prerequisite for self-contained development of a certain territory. According to her, if the state or even the region wants to pursue stable and sustainable development, it should be provided with all basic industries.   
Another American economist, Frank Graham, introduced the term ‘technological sovereignty’ as opposed to the technological colony concept, against the backdrop of the developing economic crisis in Western countries and the collapse of the colonial system in the 1970s. He claimed that the presence of enterprises and industries did not guarantee the state sovereignty since they can merely act like assembly shops whereas all the competencies and components for assembly are imported from abroad. In this case, the country and the people are only used for final assembly due to its location and cheap workforce, which makes it dependent on the technology owners. Only technologies and competencies in the hands of the state are the guarantors of technological sovereignty.   

Towards new horizons

In Soviet times, Belarus was rightly referred to as the USSR ‘assembly shop’. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had to look for partners, including in the West. However, back in the 1990s, after the sanctions had been imposed against our country, import substitution tasks appeared on the agenda. The fact is that dependence on components makes it possible for unfriendly states to undermine the operation of Belarusian enterprises through a range of various restrictions. Therefore, back in those early days, the Belarusian leadership began to implement projects in the field of civil and military engineering, as well as other technologies. As a result, Belarus received its own buses, trolleybuses, electric buses, combine harvesters and even Polonez multiple launch rocket systems.   
Today we are faced with the task of having basic competencies and integrated technological chains so that the flagships of the Belarusian industry do not depend on imports. The China–Belarus Industrial Park Great Stone can already boast positive cases of successfully created chains. Thus, the MAZ–Weichai joint project for the production of engines, gearboxes and assembly units for trucks has been implemented there. Previously, these components were purchased abroad. Another example is the release of electric batteries for Belkommunmash electric buses. Such facts point to the real import substitution potential and the achievement of technological sovereignty.   
In this aspect, it is imperative to strengthen co-operation between manufacturers and research institutions. At the meeting on industrial issues, the President of Belarus pointed out an insufficient level of co-operation in this area, which requires correction and intensified integration of science and production.
Product updates are very slow in a number of areas, and each critical position reveals our weaknesses. It is against them that our competitors have slapped sanctions. “It is necessary to take measures to ensure maximum technological independence and create conditions for the sustainable operation of the economy. This is a strategic task for our industrial complex,” Aleksandr Lukashenko urged.

X-ray inspection system by ADANI  

Technological ambitions

Technological sovereignty cannot exist without manufacturing means of production. Aleksandr Lukashenko made a stern statement at the meeting emphasising the necessity to accomplish this task. Our own machines, robots, electronic computing equipment, Belarusian software must ensure not only technological sovereignty but also national security.  
Import substitution is not a matter of one year or even a decade. China has been moving towards the results it has today for almost a century. It is true that Belarus does not set such ambitious goals as China. However, the use of the potential available in Belarus as well as new institutions of the multipolar world should become a certain pillar for the implementation of our country’s technological plans. Belarus will become a member of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) in summer, and has also applied to join the BRICS group. The potential of these international associations should stand Belarus in good stead in terms of import substitution, technological sovereignty and exports. It all depends on the quality of products, service, our assiduity, performance discipline and prevention of corruption.  

Safety and health systems production, assembly shop

Direct speech

At the meeting convened to discuss the country’s industrial development and the tasks ahead, the President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has outlined a number of areas that require special attention:

In general, the Ministry of Industry has been providing consistent growth in production volumes over the past few years — they have grown by almost 40 percent in three years. Significant results were demonstrated last year, as well. Industrial products were manufactured for nearly Br30 billion, while the growth rate reached almost 113 percent.

Manufacturing is all very well… But the major task is to sell the products and get revenue. The foreign trade of the Ministry of Industry enterprises in recent years has been characterised by increased export supplies on the one hand, and by forced withdrawal from Western markets on the other hand. In 2023, the industry ensured a record $6.5 billion in exports over the past decade. Despite the fact that more than 90 percent of products go to the Russian market, Belarusian manufacturers are losing positions in traditional goods there.  

It is required to take measures to ensure maximum technological independence and create conditions for a sustainable economy that does not depend on any sanctions. This is a strategic task for our industrial complex. Projects to achieve technological sovereignty should become a driving force for the renewal of Belarusian industry.

Officials will not be punished for making a mistake. They can reach out to the President and explain the mistake. Yet, if anyone steals and worsens the financial situation of labour collectives and flagships of Belarusian industry, there will be no forgiveness. 

In the Year of Quality, as well as at all times, the products manufactured must be at the highest level, and no other way. It is not a whim but a harsh necessity of life. It is the question of the future of the country and its people. 

Everything is important — investment, technology, discipline, product quality. Still, the most important thing is personnel. Cadres decide everything and deal with all these issues. A highly qualified specialist will solve any problem, whereas an underachiever will fail the task.

By Piotr Petrovsky, political expert

Photos by Vitaly Pivovarchik