This week, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development has published a report which estimated the trade restrictions lifted from other countries in 2018. In total, Belarus applied 13 restrictive measures against Russia and was on the 4th place after the EU countries, Ukraine, India.
However, according to the Russian Ministry, the Belarusian limitations did not harm Russia much, in contrast to those of the United States and the European Union. For comparison, it mentions figure of 2,4 billion — it is this much that the Russian economy is losing as a result of EU sanctions.
Why are the Belarusian authorities treating the closest ally like that? Should one expect a change?
“Our government would have found more [restrictions imposed] on Belarusian goods. So, we seem to be friends and have a free hand, but in reality, this fact is a proof of Belarus and Russia being sort of nomenclative and monopolistic Klondike, in which lots of money are earned by those who have access to resources,” Yaraslau Ramanchuk, Director of the Minsk-based Mises Centre.
According to experts, Belarus has a number of non-tariff barriers. They were imposed not on Russia or any other state, but to protect domestic state-owned enterprises. For example, government orders or the agricultural machinery market is practically closed to foreign players.
The package that is now being discussed apparently includes Russia’s demand to give full access to the Belarusian market to its manufacturers, Belarusian political analyst Ales Lahvinets believes.
But in context of restrictive measures, Russia does keep pace with Belarus. For example, meat and dairy wars that break out from time to time require due consideration on the part of the countries’ leaders. Taking into account that more than a third of Belarusian exports go to Russia, it is not surprising.
“You should remember that we will never deliver bad vodka or bad food products,” Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka said.
The shady market’s involvement in supplying Belarusian goods and the issue of sanctioned products cannot but get on the ally’s nerves,independent experts say. However, the Russian side also make profit of such schemes.
“This is a matter of principle related to geopolitics. The Russians want to have as strong presence in Belarus as possible. They will jump at every opportunity. And seeing that Belarus is among the five countries that imposed the most restrictions on them, it is obvious that they will raise this issue,” Lahvinets stressed,
And the issue will be pressing not only due to Russia.
“When the are negotiations on Belarus’ accession to the World Trade Organization, Belarus will have to change the trade regime, as well as the way of subsidizing agriculture and other branches. At the same time, Russia joined the organization, but it still remains a protectionist state,” Ramanchuk said.
In fact, Belarus and Russia, members of the Union State, resort to the same measures to protect domestic markets from excessive foreign influence, which is indicative of of the actual state of the integration process.
On the one hand, there are vows and assurances of strategic partnership, on the other – a whole bunch of restrictions slapped on each other. Or has Belarus backed the wrong ally?