Visiting Belarus visa-free

The Article of Mr.Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, in the magazine «Baltic Rim Economies» (Finland), March 2014

Belarus and Finland – forging a brighter future

Over the recent years, Belarus and Finland have advanced their political dialogue and bolstered trade and economic cooperation.

Contacts at the ministerial level, establishment and subsequent expansion of reciprocal diplomatic presence have increased economic ties between the two countries. Today Belarus hosts 25 enterprises with Finnish investment with the authorized capital of $20.98 million and 5 representative offices of Finnish companies. Still, the existing potential has yet to be unleashed.

Sharing border with the European Union and being an active member of new powerful economic formations, such as the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, Belarus has practically become a “gateway” for foreign businesses. With the access to Belarus’s 10 million strong domestic market, foreign investors can now explore new opportunities within an ample Single Economic Space of the three states of 170 million people, with equal conditions for economic entities, free movement of goods, services, labor and capital.

Among the conditions created within the Single Economic Space to foster trade and investment are abolition of internal customs and transport control; duty-free import of technological equipment for investment projects; gradual harmonization of technical regulations, application of common sanitary and phytosanitary measures, etc.

Northern European states are rightly considered to be the source and engine of innovation on the continent and throughout the world. Despite the challenges facing international financial and economic systems, this region demonstrates positive growth rates.

Successful innovative development of Northern European countries has spurred the interest of Belarus seeking to expand bilateral relations, especially in trade and economy. Particular attention has been paid to Finland, the only country in the region that currently hosts a fully functioning Belarusian diplomatic mission.

Finnish authorities have consistently demonstrated their commitment to enhanced expert dialogue with their Belarusian counterparts and deeper involvement in the search for mutually beneficial ways to improve the EU-Belarus relations. Such an approach garners support from Finnish companies and their growing interest in the Belarusian market.

Trade could be another example of a developing pragmatic cooperation for the benefit of the people. Belarus-Finland trade has been on the rise since 2010. In 2012, bilateral turnover in goods has grown by 48.6 percent from 2011 to reach $297.3 million, an all-time high. The same year, trade in services totaled $17.6 million.

A stronger Belarus-Finland trade and economic interaction has contributed greatly to the implementation of bilateral projects. Special importance is attached to enhanced cooperation on mutually beneficial areas, such as energy, energy efficiency and biotechnology, forestry, biofuel, engineering, innovation, R&D.

Just one success story of Belarus-Finland cooperation is the acquisition by OLVI of a majority stake in Belarusian brewery LIDSKOE PIVO. Today LIDSKOE PIVO works at full capacity, holds a significant market share of beer (15%), kvass (67%) and juice (32%) in Belarus and exports its beverages to the Baltic States and Russia. In 2012, LIDSKOE PIVO was the most profitable OLVI’s subsidiary compared with its production lines in Latvia, Lithuania and Finland.

OLVI and other Finnish companies METSO-MW POWER, KESKO, INGMAN GROUP, TIETO, SCIENCESOFT operating in Belarus have brought about new opportunities and joint initiatives.

Traditional biennial forums attended by entrepreneurs from the two countries provide a good venue for establishing new direct contacts and enhancing the already existing beneficial links, for further promoting Belarus-Finland trade and economic relationship and for improving the whole atmosphere of bilateral cooperation.

The Fourth Finnish-Belarusian Economic Forum scheduled for April 8, 2014 in the ancient capital of Suomi – the city of Turku can become a significant inflection point for broader bilateral cooperation. The Forum could create a favorable environment for an active dialogue that might eventually evolve into concrete activities such as meetings, thematic workshops, exhibitions and other forms of business interaction. The Forum will hopefully trigger intensified cooperation in hi-tech spheres and creation of new joint ventures and production lines.

The potential of Belarus-Finland relationship is still underutilized. There are good prospects and grounds for improved bilateral cooperation in the future. The opportunities are there, and they are not to be missed.