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Belarus' accession to the WTO: pros and cons

Belarus will invigorate the negotiation process on accession to the World Trade Organization. This instruction was given on March 29 by President Alexander Lukashenko after the meeting to discuss Belarus' WTO accession.

There are 162 World Trade Organization members nowadays. Even Belarus' partners in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) are there. However, now they need to adjust EEU regulations to WTO rules.

Andrei Kobyakov, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus:
The head of state essentially agreed to the fact that this process should be significantly invigorated primarily by the Belarusian side. But we also expect that in the near future our WTO partners, too, finally formulate any of their proposals concerning Belarus' accession to the WTO so that we can immediately assess negotiation timing. And we would like to end the negotiation process in the nearest future. So Belarus does intend to join the WTO.

In recent years, Belarus, has been accused of reorientation to the West. The resumption of negotiations on accession to the WTO is another reason for such unjust reproaches. In fact, de facto the Republic is the last member of the Eurasian Economic Union who is not yet in the WTO. But when the customs integration associated was being constructed it was called a priority. It was stipulated that Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan would take a course into the WTO only after the creation of the Customs Union. In fact, it did not end up this way.

Alexander Lukashenko:
I very clearly remember the agreements between us. And we have always had a lack of understanding of the position of the Russian Federation and the silent position of Kazakhstan in connection with their accession to the WTO. And when well-known politicians (and this was Putin's primary economic program) offered the Eurasian Union, we sat at a table in the Kremlin and discussed this issue. We agreed that we would together create this organization and then we will join either together or having developed rigid criteria on sensitive points of the three states. Just a few months or a year later, Russia became a member of the WTO, having presented to us with their agreements, concessions. And they said it had been a great victory for them. Some time has passed. Then it was Kazakhstan, again, without informing us, joined the WTO and it lowered customs protection by yet another 6% or 8%. Am I right? And we were left alone outside the WTO. So how can we be accused of turning away and moving in the western direction?

Now, it turns out that Belarus is a hostage of the situation. At the highest level, our partners know that. But the media does not talk about it.

However, even if the circumstances are the best for the successful accession to the WTO, the accession itself does not guarantee that the country will benefit from this. Naturally it is necessary to defend interests from the consultation stage already. It took Russia 18 years and Kazakhstan 19.

Alexander Mikhnevich, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus:
Risks arise when we do something wrong. If today we put zeros on all of our obligations this will be a situation when risks will occur but no one is going to put zeros. This is a negotiation. All countries join on certain conditions. For ourselves, we have agreed these conditions, too. We will try to defend them in the negotiation process.

Experts have made preliminary calculations that Belarus can benefit from WTO membership in the near future.

Anton Kudasov, Deputy Minister of Economy of the Republic of Belarus:
Undoubtedly, we believe that our exports will increase. It is enough to present the facts within 20 years of the work of the World Trade Organization and our interaction with it. Our economy has grown 5 times, our foreign trade and exports have increased by 6 times.

Belarus applied to the WTO a long time ago and plans to finish the accession process in a reasonable time. Some experts believe that it can be finished in 2-3 years. The main objective of the country right now is to agree on the conditions that would meet the national interests.

Zhanna Kulakova, expert:
An important aspect is the ability to enter new markets. Now, in the situation of a crisis in the countries of our closest trading partners, it becomes especially important. Since this crisis hits our economy too. And we feel its effects. Entering new markets will make it possible to restore economic growth. I would treat it more as a positive thing since it would create an incentive for our companies to work more efficiently, review the business strategy, improve quality, and make products and services competitive.

Alexander Kondrashonok, expert:
Accession to the WTO has a number of risks for the country, a number of risks for the industry. When we join it our companies face competition from large international companies, which will cause additional problems and risks for our companies. Businesses that are not competitive compared with their Western counterparts because of present-day market the limitations, will have problems due to the fact that cheaper and better quality goods will be imported into Belarus.

A special negotiating team will be dealing with Belarus' accession to the WTO.

Belarus' accession to the WTO: pros and cons