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  BELARUS

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,297,200

Principal ethnic groups
Belarusians 77.9%
Russians 13.2%
Poles 4%

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka

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Background:
After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration but, to date, neither side has actively sought to implement the accord.

UPDATE January 2002

President Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus is bunkering down. He is Europe's last dictator and knows he is being targeted for removal by the West. Meciar in Slovakia and Milosevic in Serbia are amongst the snows of yesteryear, because they believed that they were genuinely popular and could win elections. They were genuinely popular - but only with a minority.
Lukashenka is not deluded in this regard, he saw their fate and determined to avoid it. He knows he is immensely unpopular so elections for the presidency in September were patently rigged.
The main prop of his regime is Russia. Putin has his own uses for Lukashenka. When upbraided recently for associating with such a rogue, he replied: "I know he is a scoundrel; but he is our scoundrel."
Indeed, he is. The one goal of his regime is that Belarus should rejoin Russia in a sort of mini-USSR, although given the size of Russia it would not be so mini as all that.
Putin is playing along with the idea for his own reasons. It keeps the communists and nationalists in the Duma happy. Who knows he might end his career after two terms as president by becoming president of the Belarus-Russia Union, as Milosevic moved up to the presidency of Yugoslavia when his constitutional term ran out as President of Serbia.

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AGRICULTURE

Belarusian minister laments losses in farming sector


The profitability of Belarusian agriculture is expected to decline by 2.9 per cent in 2001 [presumably by comparison with the previous year], Belarusian Agriculture and Food Minister Mikhail Rusy said during parliamentary hearings on the problems of the agro-industrial complex at the House of Representatives [lower house of parliament], Belapan News Agency has reported.
He said that the entire sector would lose 147bn Belarusian roubles. In particular, the minister noted, the livestock industry was making losses even at those farms which had reached European output levels.
Rusy said that during the past 10 years, the cost of producing agricultural goods steadily exceeded sale revenues. In 1991, the difference between cost and sale price was 12 per cent, while in 2000 sale prices amounted to 69 per cent of production costs.
As a result, the Belarusian agro-industrial complex lacks the necessary means to renew fixed assets, more than 54 per cent of which are obsolete including 70 per cent of motor vehicles and tractors. The sector has had to borrow 500bn to support operating costs and is now paying 300bn Belarusian roubles in annual interest.
At the same time, Rusy said, the year-on-year decline in the profitability of production continues. In 1991, it was 45 per cent; in 1999, 12 per cent; and in 2000, 3 per cent. In addition, 49 per cent of farms operated at a loss in 2000, the minister said.
Rusy said that one of the main reasons for the crisis in the agro-industrial sector was the administrative fixing of prices for agricultural goods. He called for "serious changes in the pricing of agricultural produce." 
The minister also reported that over the first 11 months of 2001, Belarusian farm exports amounted to US$240m, a 45.6 per cent rise on the same period in 2000. During the above period, Belarus imported fresh agricultural produce, materials and components worth US$242m, 29 per cent less than in 2000.

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FINANCIAL NEWS

Belarus reports 4 per cent growth in GDP


Belarusian Prime Minister Henadz Navitski held a staff meeting at the House of Government, which was aimed at discussing preliminary economic results in November, Belarusian Television has reported.
It is believed that industrial and agricultural output in the first 11 months of 2001 grew by almost 5 per cent on the same period last year and the volume of GDP rose by more than 4 per cent over the same period.

Belarusian premier pledges vigorous reform to attract Russian capital

Belarus intends to embark vigorously on economic reforms, Prime Minister Henadz Navitski said during his working tour of Mahilyow Region, Belarusian Radio reported on 13th December
The prime minister commented on the prospects for the development of relations between Russia and Belarus.
Navitski said: "Belarus intends to make a vigorous start on economic reform. Conditions are being set up for attracting Russian investments into our economy. Along with this, I stress once again: the Belarusian economy is now in working order. This is very important. And the current historical period of attracting these investments is most beneficial to our country, our national interests, and so on. This is the basis on which we are going to specify the terms of our legal framework and our regulatory framework to create genuinely equal economic conditions for Belarusian and Russian businesses."

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FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS

Belarus, Turkey agree trade priorities


A meeting of the Belarusian-Turkish intergovernmental economic commission in Minsk on 13th December ended in the signing of a protocol setting out cooperation priorities for 2002, Belapan News Agency has reported. 
The protocol provides for an increase in deliveries of Belarusian lorries and machinery to Turkey, closer cooperation in the area of tourism, transportation, agriculture and investment. The Belarusian government pledged to create favourable conditions for the operation of Turkish construction companies in Belarus. The countries also plan to sign a co-operation accord in the area of science and technology. 
During a meeting of the Belarusian-Turkish business cooperation council, Belarusian officials promised to simplify entry procedures for Turkish business people. Belarus plans to open a consulate-general in Istanbul for that purpose.
At a news conference after the meeting, Turkish Minister of State Yilmaz Karakoyunlu said that Belarus and Turkey had a very low trade turnover (US$30.9m in the first 10 months of 2001, according to Belarusian statistics). He expects the Minsk talks to expand trade and economic ties and boost mutual trade to the desired level. Karakoyunlu said that Turkish construction companies are carrying out nine projects worth US$350m in Belarus...

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FOREIGN LOANS & AID

World Bank considers Chernobyl relief aid for Belarus


Belarus may receive the first funds for its Chernobyl-affected areas at the end of 2002, under an economic and medical relief programme that is now being developed, World Bank director for Ukraine and Belarus, Luca Barbone, said on 7th December while visiting Homel, the Belarusian region worst hit by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Belapan News Agency has reported.
Barbone confirmed that the bank may provide up to US$250m in aid to Belarus if the Belarusian authorities deliver on their promise of economic reform. According to him, Belarus is now the only place in Europe where small and medium businesses have decreased in number over the last five years. In 2002, the World Bank will closely watch the Belarusian government's policy towards the private sector, Barbone said.

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