Belarus and Poland share a long common history, perhaps not as much over the six decades since the Second World War or the Great Patriotic War, but definitely throughout the centuries before that, when Belarus was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania which formed a union with the Kingdom of Poland.
Today, although the two countries share a border of over 400-kilometres long, as well as the famous Belovezhskaya Pushcha, there is still a lot of room left for raising awareness and knowledge about one another. Belarusians travel to Poland often and I believe Belarus could be an interesting destination for Poles as well.
However, today, I would like to focus on the economic aspects of the Belarusian-Polish relationship, which our country would like to enlarge. The 20th Belarusian-Polish Economic Forum Good Neighbourhood 2016, took place on 24-25 of October in Minsk, and was an excellent platform for mutual engagement to grow significantly.
The Belarusian Head of State, Alexander Lukashenko and the Head of the Government, Andrei Kobiakov, together with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Development and Finance of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, discussed their joint interests and the need to increase the collaboration. This was concurred with by the numerous businesses from both countries, including over 150 entrepreneurs from Poland.
It is important to emphasise that Belarus has recently been sending very clear positive signals to European business. Our country was hit by the recession that was caused by the economic crisis in Russia, but now it is opening up for foreign investors; offering the best investment opportunities, in free economic areas or in small settlements and towns. It is also now permitting an increase in the participation of private capital in the economy. In addition, since July 2016, investment projects can be conducted within the framework of public-private partnerships, which considerably enhances the possibilities.
In the coming couple of years almost 60 state-owned enterprises are to be privatised. During his visit to Minsk, Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister discussed how Polish companies could participate in the privatisation process and in which companies Polish firms could potentially invest. Mr Morawiecki believes Belarus could also benefit from Polish know-how in the insurance and banking sectors. Also, during the Forum, the Warsaw Stock Exchange signed a memorandum of understanding, the goal of which will be to encourage Belarusian firms to look for financing at the stock exchange, through initial public offerings (IPOs).
Today’s Belarus very much resembles most of the CEE countries in the mid-90s when there were still plenty of large state-owned companies with huge potential that were looking to be restructured and modernised. There is good access to a well-qualified labour force; there are lots of developmental perspectives and a huge demand for new technologies, innovations and foreign investments.
Poland’s transformation to a market economy has been very successful and a large number of Polish companies already compete on the global market. The Polish capital market has grown to be one of the biggest in the region. In a similar way to several other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland has been a member of the European Union for over a decade now. Taking all that into account, Belarus’ cooperation with the countries of the region could be mutually profitable.
We are very happy that there are already plenty of Polish firms operating in Belarus. At the end of 2015, there were over 350 companies with Polish capital in Belarus, which meant that Poland ranked seventh among the largest investors in the country. At that time, Polish companies had invested $195 million.
During the Forum, the Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that during the first seven months of 2016, Belarus’ imports amounted to $790 million (four and half per cent higher than in the same period in 2015), and exports — $490 million (seven per cent more than in the first seven months of 2016). He believes that growth can be sustained in the coming years and that the value of bilateral trade should exceed $4 billion, in 2018.
The Forum was focussed on new openings in Belarus for Polish companies and it would be a great privilege for me to welcome more Polish investors in Belarus. In the end, the two countries have been very close to one another for centuries. It is high time to bring them even closer, both by raising awareness about one another as well as through trade and investment.