Visiting Belarus visa-free

Annual Review of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Belarus and Activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2018

Geopolitical outcomes of the year 2018 have demonstrated a systemic crisis of the global environment that is gaining momentum.

The situation in the world was characterised by enhancement of instability and unpredictability with a tendency toward permanent deterioration. The list of major challenges included: enhancement of rivalry and deepening of a credibility gap between leading international players and centres of power; “simmering” regional conflicts and emergence of new instability hotbeds; intensification of economic contradictions, “trade wars”, imposition of sanctions and counter-sanctions; danger of collapse of the international system of arms control and return to the arms race; emergence of fundamentally new threats to international cybersecurity.

All these factors place the world on the brink of a new “cold war” – global geopolitical, economic, military, ideological standoff, escalate the danger of a “global conflict” with the participation of leading states.

In 2018 Belarus was subjected to risks of growing confrontation. Under such uneasy circumstances our country managed to preserve and strengthen the course toward ensuring its sovereignty and territorial integrity, conducting an independent and balanced multi-vector policy, development of integration processes in Eurasia, their connection with other associations and projects, security building on regional and global scales.

Maintaining its commitment to strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, Belarus continued building up constructive dialogue with the European Union, its member and other western states, e.g. the United States of America, providing such a dialogue with a robust content.

Cooperation with the states of Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America was reinforced and was targeted at the promotion of cooperation on a wide range of issues of mutual interest, at diversification of foreign economic activity and development of new markets.

“Economic diplomacy” remained one of the priorities in the international arena, aimed at ensuring economic security, gradual achievement of equal export distribution between three markets – EAEU, EU and the “far arc” regions.

Belarus being one of the initiators and an active participant of integration processes in Eurasia continued to exert efforts towards achievement of the principal integration priority at EAEU level – formation of the union without exemptions and restrictions.

Belarusian initiative “integration of integrations” was gradually promoted internationally and gained great traction in 2018.

Belarus backed up its status as a country that is able to generate and realize uniting initiatives, first and foremost in the domain of regional security. Belarusian idea of non-confrontational cooperation and opening of the comprehensive international dialogue, aimed at overcoming current contradictions in the relations between states in common Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian region, gained analytical content in the course of major international events held in Minsk in 2018: forum of the expert initiative “Minsk dialogue” on “Eastern Europe: in search for security for everyone” (May 23-25); international conference under the auspices of OSCE on “Preventing and Countering Terrorism in the Digital Age” (October 9-10); the Munich Security Conference Core Group Meeting (October 31 – November 1).

Thus the ambition of Minsk to become an international platform for negotiations was confirmed in practice by hosting discussions on the most challenging global and regional problems and offering proposals for their solution.

Minsk agreements continued to remain one of the key mechanisms of dispute settlement in the east of Ukraine. In 2018 Belarus hosted more than 20 meetings within the framework of Trilateral Contact Group.

Remarkable dynamics of the international top and high level contacts was preserved in 2018: 13 visits of the President of the Republic of Belarus made to foreign states, seven visits of the Belarus Prime Minister and six visits of the Belarus Foreign Minister, as well as 46 visits to Belarus made by foreign official delegations (9 visits on the level of heads of states, 13 visits – heads of government, 24 – foreign ministers).

After optimization conducted in 2017-2018, Belarusian interests are represented through embassies in 57 states (including ambassadors with concurrent accreditation in 109 countries).

48 foreign embassies, four embassy offices, three trade missions, 39 consular offices of foreign states and 18 missions of international organizations operate in Belarus. 91 foreign diplomatic missions were accredited concurrently from Moscow, Vilnius, Warsaw and Kiev.

In 2018 Belarus continued sequentially liberalize its visa policy, facilitating visa formalities for citizens of a number of countries and extending duration of a visa-free regime for those staying in Belarus. The initiative of the MFA to elaborate the National tourism development strategy was supported by the government.

In recognition of the diplomatic profession, contribution of diplomatic service to the development and establishment of the Belarusian statehood, national foreign policy promotion and advancement of foreign economic interests a professional holiday was established by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus – namely a Diplomat’s Day, a jubilee medal “100th Anniversary of diplomatic service of the Republic of Belarus” instituted, as well as heraldic foreign ministry symbols (emblem, flag, insignia and distinctions) adopted.

1. Relations between Belarus and Russia were traditionally high in dynamics that was backed by intensive contacts at the top and high levels, as well as intergovernmental, inter-parliamentary, and inter-sectoral cooperation.

Presidents of Belarus and Russia held 10 meetings in various formats and frequently communicated on the phone.

Meetings of the Supreme State Council (June 19, Minsk), Council of Ministers of the Union State (June 13, Moscow and December 13, Brest) as well as implementation of the “Priority Areas and Priority Tasks for Further Development of the Union State in 2018-2022”, union programmes and projects contributed to the union formation in general.

Coordination of activities in the international arena was continued also by means of realisation of the “Program of Coordinated Actions in Foreign Policy of the Member States of the Treaty Establishing the Union State in 2018-2019”.

A joint meeting of the collegiums of the Russian and Belarusian foreign ministries was held in Minsk on November 21. More than 20 consultations between the foreign ministries were carried out during the year to discuss topical international issues.

Regional cooperation benefited from more than 200 regional visits and events that were organised during the year. The heads of states visited a large-scale 5th Forum of the Regions of Belarus and Russia (October 10-12), which resulted in signing contracts with their total value exceeding $0.5 billion.

Belarus and Russia remained important trade partners. In 2018, Russia accounted for nearly half of Belarus foreign trade (38.4% in total exports from Belarus and 59.9% in total imports to Belarus). In its turn, Belarus was among Russia’s five top trading partners.

Cooperation in various fields could have been more effective if there were equal business conditions, access to goods and services markets, solution of problem issues on oil and gas markets, removal of problems in the field of agricultural products supply, adjustment of Belarus-Russia border crossing regime by third countries citizens.

2. On the platform of the Eurasian Economic Union Belarus together with its partners continued to make further steps to promote capacity building of the Union and increase its resistance to growing external challenges.

On January 1, the EAEU Customs Code entered into force. Its norms allow accelerating and simplifying significantly customs procedures in respect of the goods moved across the customs border of the Union.

Extensive work was carried out to elaborate and establish a set of measures aimed at formation of a unified goods transit system across the Union’s customs territory.

Experts continued to work on elaboration of the EAEU Treaty provisions that would meet modern requirements.

The Union became more appealing for foreign partners with the promotion of international cooperation, including in the East (China, Iran, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Within the framework of the Astana Economic Forum held on May 17, an Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation between the EAEU and the People’s Republic of China was signed, as well as a Temporary Agreement leading to the formation of a free trade area between EAEU and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

An Agreement on International Treaties between the Eurasian Economic Union and Third Countries, International Organizations or International Integration Associations was signed, as well as a Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the domain of economic cooperation, a Memorandum on Trade and Economic Cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR).

The Union’s member-states approved a Regulation on the Status of an Observer State to the Eurasian Economic Union, granted later on to the Republic of Moldova.

Economic cooperation issues traditionally top the Commonwealth of Independent States agenda. CIS member-states were engaged in mutual trade liberalization, coordination of the draft Agreement on Free Trade in Services on the expert level and external promotion of common positions shared by all Commonwealth states.

A significant political event took place in Minsk on April 6, i.e. the meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers. Participants of the meeting supported a joint Russian-Belarusian initiative to adopt a statement of the CIS foreign ministers on preventing the erosion of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

During the meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council in Minsk on November 27, the Eurasian Economic Commission and the CIS Executive Committee signed a Memorandum on Enhanced Cooperation. This document stipulates joint work in such domains as public procurement, competition policy, antimonopoly regulation, digital economy, cooperation in the field of tax policy, traceability and labelling of goods by means of identification, as well as consumer right protection.

3. Bilateral relations with the CIS States and Georgia were actively developing.

The Belarus-Azerbaijan partnership gained further traction. The whole range of bilateral cooperation was discussed during the official visit of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev to Belarus (November 18-19).

Active contacts with Armenia were maintained on the integration platforms. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian participated in the Munich Security Conference Core Group Meeting in Minsk (October 31 – November 1).

Political, trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation with Kazakhstan was building up. A parliamentary delegation headed by the Chairman of the Senate of the Kazakhstan Parliament visited Belarus (October 30 – November 1). The Days of Kazakhstan culture were held in the Republic of Belarus (December 4-5).

The Belarus-Kyrgyz dialogue in the political, trade, economic and humanitarian domains significantly stepped up. A meeting of foreign ministers (November 7) and first bilateral ministerial consultations (June 25-27) were organized. Within the visit of the Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic to Minsk for participation in the meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council, an opening ceremony of the monument honouring the writer Chingiz Aitmatov was held (November 26).

The Belarus-Moldova dialogue was of dynamic nature. The official visit of the President of the Republic of Belarus to Moldova (April 18-19), meetings held at the top and high levels (October 30 – November 1) led to an increase in contacts in all directions of bilateral cooperation.

The official visit of the President to Tajikistan (May 15-16) and the first National Exhibition of the Republic of Belarus in Dushanbe (May 15-22) contributed to positive dynamics of the Belarus-Tajikistan relations.

A constructive dialogue with Turkmenistan was held on multilateral and integration platforms.

Cooperation with Ukraine in political, trade, economic and other domains continued. Interregional cooperation received a strong impetus: the first Forum of Belarus and Ukraine regions took place in Gomel (October 25-26), which was attended by the presidents of the two countries. A diversified exhibition of Belarusian manufacturers “Made in Belarus” (April 10-11) was held successfully in Kiev. Belarus provided humanitarian assistance for Ukrainian civilians living on both sides of the contact line. The Days of Ukrainian culture were held in the Republic of Belarus on July 5-10.

Cooperation with Uzbekistan was significantly intensified. It was for the first time in the last 24 years that the President of Belarus paid an official visit to this country (September 12-14). Following the results of the visit, both governments approved a “roadmap” for the development of cooperation. Tashkent hosted the Days of Belarusian culture (April 11-13), an exhibition of Belarusian manufacturers “Made in Belarus” (September 14-19), and the Days of Belarusian education (September 20-22). The Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan was opened in Minsk.

A dynamic dialogue with Georgia continued to develop at the top and high levels. Another official visit of the Belarusian President to Georgia took place (March 22-23). Among the main humanitarian events were the first Days of Georgian culture held in Belarus (August 31 – September 2).

The year 2018 also witnessed eight sessions of intergovernmental commissions with the countries of the region.

4. Relations with the European Union continued to show positive dynamics and were intensive both in terms of the number and the level of visits and political contacts.

Belarus was visited by a number of EU Commissioners – for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy (January 30, June 21-22, October 30), for Health and Food Safety (August 27-28), for Digital Economy and Society (June 21-22); delegation of ambassadors-at-large on “Eastern Partnership” issues from 12 EU member-states (May 21-24); leadership of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Belarus (October 31 – November 2). Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei held talks in Brussels with the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn (May 31 – June 2). Vice-President of the European Investment Bank Alexander Stubb visited our country (November 20-21).

EU-Belarus Coordination Group continued to function. Meetings of the Group were held on April 26-27, in Minsk and December 12-13, in Brussels. Sectoral dialogues were opened in the fields of economy and finance, trade, customs and environmental protection. Belarus MFA representatives participated in numerous “Eastern Partnership” events, including the annual meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg (October 15).

In the course of the year the remaining EU sanctions were reduced, while biathlon equipment was excluded from the arms embargo.

Credit and investment cooperation was intensified. The European Investment Bank signed agreements aimed at the implementation of projects to support small and medium-sized enterprises, the reconstruction of the water purification infrastructure of our country. New mechanisms of the EU grant assistance for construction and modernization of economically vital facilities (namely – “Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership” and “Mobility Partnership”) were introduced in Belarus.

Negotiations on EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities approached final stage. They will become a “roadmap” for cooperation in 2019 – 2020 in four areas: strengthening of public administration system; economic development and market opportunities; transport communications, energy, environment and climate as well as human contacts. Negotiations with the EU on visa facilitation and readmission agreements entered the closing phase.

5. Bilateral relations with European countries have had a strong momentum. Among the main trends: further growth in level and frequency of official contacts; expansion of the partners range and topical coverage of cooperation, introduction of new cooperation formats; development of inter-parliamentary contacts; growing interest of business to opportunities of entering the market of Belarus and investment in the Belarusian economy.

The first visit of the Federal President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen to Belarus in the history of bilateral relations (June 28-29), a telephone conversation of the President of the Republic of Belarus with the Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Sebastian Kurz (May 29), the meetings of the Belarusian-Austrian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation and Business Council (January 30-31) were held.

Contacts with Great Britain received a significant positive impulse. The first official visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus to London (March 27-28), the first official visit of the delegation of members of the British Parliament to Belarus (May 27 – June 1), a visit of the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Head of the Diplomatic Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (October 1-2) were organized, a Belarusian-British business forum (June 15) and the Day of Great Britain in Minsk (June 16) were held. An agreement was reached to open a trade dialogue between the two countries.

Contacts with Germany were extremely intensive. The President of the Federal Republic of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Belarus (June 29, the first visit of such a level in the history of Belarusian-German relations) and a visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus to Germany to participate in the 54th Munich Security Conference (February 16-18) was organized. Inter-parliamentary and inter-regional cooperation was actively developing.

Continuity in contacts and dialogue with the new Italian government was ensured. Development of the treaty and legal basis witnessed progress. An active exchange of visits at regional and ministerial levels facilitated inter-parliamentary cooperation.

The dialogue with Cyprus was build up and the first Belarus-Cyprus ministerial consultations were held at the level of deputy foreign ministers (January 12-13, Nicosia).

The dialogue with Latvia continued, while Latvian Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis paid a working visit to Belarus (February 7-8). During the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus to Riga (July 19-20), an intergovernmental plan for mid-term cooperation was approved. Contacts between the ministries of the two countries were dynamically developing.

Lithuania’s rhetoric regarding construction of the Belarusian NPP did not change, which remained the main restrictive factor in promotion of political dialogue. At the same time, constructive cooperation between the foreign ministries continued: on June 5-6, ministerial consultations were held at the level of deputy foreign ministers. Trade and investment cooperation demonstrated an upward trend.

An appointment of a new honorary Consul of Belarus gave impetus to the cooperation with Malta.

Dialogue with the Netherlands reached a new level. The first ministerial consultations at the level of deputy ministers were held on April 24. Both countries maintained contacts at the level of foreign ministries. Belarus and the Netherlands signed an Intergovernmental Agreement on Cooperation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters and continued cooperation in petrochemical sector.

Relations with Poland were actively promoted. The meeting of foreign ministers held in Minsk (November 1), as well as consultations at the level of deputy ministers in Warsaw (September 12) contributed to strengthening of cooperation between the foreign ministries of the two countries. In the course of the year the parliaments continued active dialogue and exchange of visits (July 28, the Speaker of the Polish Senate visited Belarus, July 11-14, the Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus paid a visit to Poland). More than 20 significant bilateral economic events were organized, including the meeting of the Joint Belarusian-Polish Commission on Economic Cooperation and the Belarus-Poland business forum in Warsaw (November 26).

High level contacts were maintained with Serbia, which was reflected in the visits of high-ranked Serbian representatives to Belarus, for instance the visit of the Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabić, as well as in support of Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Belarus.

Contacts with Turkey were actively developed. The Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey Binali Yıldırım paid a visit to Belarus (February 14-15). An intensive dialogue was maintained between the parliaments of the two countries: the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament and the Parliamentary Friendship Group visited Belarus (November 13-14), while the chairmen of both chambers of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus made visits to Turkey (July 9, October 8-11). A Joint Science and Technology Commission was created and started to work on November 5-6.

The dialogue with France within the framework of contacts between the parliaments and foreign ministries was further developed. On October 26, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France paid a visit to Belarus. In the course of the year the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation meeting and a business forum took place. Representatives of the two countries signed an Intergovernmental Agreement on International Road Transport of Passengers and Goods.

An upward trend was observed in bilateral relations with Switzerland with an emphasis on inter-parliamentary relations and economic cooperation. It was for the first time in the history of bilateral relations that the Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Andreichenko made a visit to Bern (February 27 – March 1).

A constructive bilateral dialogue with Sweden gained traction: after a six-year break, the Ambassador of Belarus was appointed to this country.

Gradual enhancement of cooperation between foreign ministries and parliaments was continued with:

Belgium (May 31 – June 2, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus paid a visit to Brussels);

Hungary (November 5-6, Parliamentary State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary visited Belarus to hold a meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission; cooperation between the capitals of the two countries was intensified);

Spain (May 31 – June 1, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus paid a visit to Madrid, ministerial consultations were held, the building of the Embassy of Belarus in Spain was opened);

Norway (a meeting of the foreign ministers of Belarus and Norway on the margins of the OSCE Ministerial Council and the next round of ministerial consultations at the level of deputy ministers were held on December 6 and 11);

Portugal (April 12-13, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus paid a visit to Lisbon, ministerial consultations and meetings in the Parliament were held and an interstate Agreement on Economic Cooperation was signed);

Romania (June 14, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania paid a visit to Minsk, ministerial consultations were held);

Slovakia (visits to Belarus were made by the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic and the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs on November 1 and April 4);

Finland (the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus visited Helsinki for ministerial consultations on May 14-16, and Finnish parliamentarians paid a visit to Belarus on August 29-31);

the Czech Republic (the Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Czech Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, the Deputy Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament paid visits to Belarus on March 13, May 22-23 and June 6, respectively);

Estonia (consultations were held at the level of deputy foreign ministers on February 28 – March 2, and a visit of Belarusian deputies to Tallinn was organized on September 3-5).

Certain issues of the Roman Catholic Church activity in the Republic of Belarus were central topics of the dialogue with Vatican and an Apostolic Nunciature.

A total of 12 visits to the Republic of Belarus of foreign ministers of European countries and their deputies were organized during the year. Ministerial consultations were held with 19 European countries, while meetings of economic intergovernmental commissions and working groups on trade and investment – with 9 countries.

On March 6, a meeting with honorary consuls of the European countries was organized in the Republic of Belarus and chaired by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus.

6. Progressive development of dialogue with the USA allowed to discuss issues of trade, economy humanitarian affairs, law and international security as well as other topics of common interest including human rights. The US State Department delegation led by the Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell visited Belarus on October 30-31, was received by the President and met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus.

The continued cooperation with Canada saw another round of consultations between the foreign ministries and first Belarus-Canada Business Forum in Minsk (September 27), enhanced contacts between the parliaments and law enforcement agencies, improved interaction in agriculture and between the regions of the two countries.

7. Promoting cooperation with Asia remains an important part of the multi-vector foreign policy of Belarus.

The meeting of the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko with the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping on the margins of the Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Qingdao (June 10) gave a significant impetus to the comprehensive strategic dialogue with China. A number of high-level contacts were held during the year, i.a. the meeting of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus with the Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China on the margins of the Summit of the SCO member-states (October 12) and the visit of the member of the Standing Committee of the Central Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China to Belarus (September 20-22). There was a stable and positive evolution in trade, economic, financial and investment cooperation with China, including promotion of a joint project – “Great Stone” industrial park. On November 2, a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for Cooperation was held. Belarus featured a national exposition in the first Chinese International Import Expo fair in Shanghai (November 5-10). The year enjoyed an active development of educational and humanitarian cooperation. More than 300 Chinese children came to Belarus for rehabilitation and health treatment. A visa-free regime was introduced between the countries on August 10 with, which is considered to be an additional factor favouring further expansion of multidimentional cooperation.

New promising areas for bilateral cooperation were identified during the visit of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh to Belarus and the next round of consultations between foreign ministries that were held on August 30.

Belarus-Vietnam cooperation received a considerable impetus last year. Vietnam was visited by the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus (March 26-30) and the Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (September 25). A negotiated solution was found for the key joint projects to be implemented in Vietnam in the field of mechanical engineering and food production. On December 3-6, a Belarusian delegation headed by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs took part in the 16th international trade fair “Vietnam Expo 2018”.

Visits to Belarus made by the Speaker of the Lower House of the Indian Parliament (June 9-13) and the State Minister of Commerce and Industry (September 24-25) contributed to highly dynamic dialogue between Belarus and India. In the course of the year an Intergovernmental Investment Agreement was signed and a number of meetings held by key bilateral commissions on cooperation.

Belarus and Indonesia enhanced cooperation in higher education and set their nearest cooperation priorities in the Plan of Action on Development of Bilateral Cooperation, which was adopted after consultations of foreign ministries held in Minsk on May 24. A business forum, a festival of Indonesian culture, an exhibition of Indonesian goods, and several other events were organized in Minsk on November 24-25, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Belarus and Indonesia.

A high level of political contacts was maintained with Iran. The President of Belarus met with the President of Iran Hassan Rouhani on the margins of the Summit of the SCO member-states on June 9, in Qingdao (China) and the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament on September 7, in Minsk.

Further development of the Belarusian-Korean dialogue in trade, economic, scientific, technical and humanitarian spheres, as well as cooperation in the field of innovations, information and telecommunication technologies, transport and infrastructure were strengthened through the meeting of the Joint Committee of the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Korea, a business round table held on September 4-5, in Seoul and a business forum in Minsk on May 21, with a representative participation from Korea Importers Association (KOIMA). The head of the Group for Cooperation with the Republic of Belarus of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea headed a Korean delegation that visited Minsk on January 20-23, to continue Belarusian-Korean inter-parliamentary dialogue.

Intensified contacts, bilateral cooperation and its future outlook were discussed at the meeting of the presidents of Belarus and Mongolia on the margins of the SCO Summit in Qingdao on June 9, and during an official visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia to Belarus on June 3-5.

Progress in developing relations with Pakistan was observed in politics, trade and economy. An important event was the visit of the delegation headed by the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of the Pakistan Armed Forces to Minsk on December 17-18.

The level of cooperation with Japan was enhanced by holding a Belarus-Japan economic forum in Tokyo and Osaka on May 10-11. Parliaments and businesses of the two countries also continued to develop their cooperation.

Greater participation of Belarus in the activities of the main Pan-Asian international organizations and integration associations such as SCO and ASEAN considerably contributed to the promotion of Belarusian interests in Asia.

The President of the Republic of Belarus giving a speech at the Summit of the SCO member-states in Qingdao (China) outlined information, food and nuclear security, IT development as promising areas of cooperation within the Organization.

A business forum “Belarus-ASEAN” held on November 22, in Minsk confirmed mutual interest in business cooperation between Belarus and member-states of the Association.

8. Belarus continued to build up relations with the Middle East countries.

The year saw a continuation of progressive development trend in cooperation with Israel. On May 21, the delegation headed by the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus visited Tel Aviv to participate in the meeting of the Joint Belarusian-Israeli Committee for Trade and Economic Cooperation. Inter-parliamentary contacts were intensified: three visits of Belarusian parliamentary delegations to Israel were held. A representative Israeli delegation took part in commemorative events dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Minsk Ghetto destruction, held in the Belarusian capital on October 22-23.

Cooperation with the Gulf States remained at a consistently high level. On May 6-7, a regular meeting of the Joint Committee on Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the UAE was held in Abu Dhabi. Representatives of public administration as members of the Belarusian delegation, which was headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed nine bilateral documents in the course of the meeting. For the purpose of further activation of trade and economic cooperation with the United Arab Emirates and promotion of the country’s effective participation in the Universal exposition “Expo-2020”, the Consulate General of the Republic of Belarus was opened in Dubai.

Diverse cooperation with Oman was developing with the focus on trade and economic issues, enjoying exchange of inter-agency delegations at ministerial and expert levels. The Belarusian Minister of Culture paid a visit to Oman (March 31 – April 3). Another round of ministerial political consultations was held. A delegation, consisting of the most influential Omani investors and businessmen, visited Belarus, while Belarusian manufacturers took part in a number of exhibitions in Oman.

The visit of the Minister of Presidential Palace Affairs of Syria to Belarus on April 1-5, contributed to bilateral political cooperation and experience exchange on state-building issues. Humanitarian projects were held under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Belarus, aimed at organization of health treatment and rehabilitation activities for Syrian children in Belarus. Shipments of humanitarian goods for the Syrian people were also part of the projects.

9. Relations with the countries of the African continent were further developed.

A high level of political, trade and economic cooperation was maintained with Egypt and Sudan. The President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir paid a visit to Minsk on December 9-11. It was for the first time that the Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament visited the Republic of Belarus (November 14-17). Regular meetings of the Belarusian-Sudanese (January 23-24) and Belarusian-Egyptian (November 28-29) Joint Intergovernmental Commissions on Trade and Economic Cooperation were organized. Parties continued active inter-sectoral cooperation, drafting and implementing joint projects in the fields of industry, agriculture, mining, science and education.

Cooperation with Algeria became more intensive. On February 19-21, it was for the first time in the history of bilateral relations that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria paid a visit to the Republic of Belarus. On April 25-27, a Belarusian delegation headed by the Minister for Industry visited Algeria.
Several joint projects with Angola were under implementation.

Foreign ministries of Belarus and Ghana held another round of consultations (August 1) and discussed promising themes of bilateral economic cooperation, export of Belarusian services in education and medicine, possibility of expanding bilateral treaty and legal basis.

A political, trade and economic dialogue with Zimbabwe was actively evolving and contracts for supply of Belarusian equipment to this country were concluded.

Economic cooperation with the countries of East Africa should benefit from opening of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in Kenya.

Belarus consolidated its position on the educational market in Nigeria, which citizens are traditionally the largest group of African students who receive their education in Belarusian universities. Launching pre-university joint training courses in one of the Nigerian colleges is on the agenda.

On March 22, a meeting of the Belarusian-South African Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation and a business seminar were held in the Republic of South Africa.

10. Expansion of the geography of relations with Latin America, as well as sustaining a high-level cooperation with strategic partners in the region was continued.

The Belarusian business delegation headed by the Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus made a visit to Argentina and Uruguay on March 7-11, to enhance political dialogue and promote mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation with the states of South America. Following consultations, a Memorandum of Understanding between the MFA of Belarus and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina on political consultations was signed and in September – a Protocol on the completion of bilateral negotiations with Argentina on access to the market of goods in the framework of Belarus’ accession to the WTO.

Cooperation with Brazil was focused on intensification of trade and economy, improvement of treaty and legal basis and interregional dialogue. It was for the first time in the history of bilateral relations that the Brazilian delegation headed by the Minister of Justice visited Belarus (June 17-19).

Ministerial consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers were held in Caracas on June 5-6, and gave an impetus to strengthening of the trust-based political dialogue with Venezuela. Visits of a high level were organized: the Minister for Architecture and Construction paid a visit to Venezuela on July 10-12; a visit of the Belarusian delegation headed by the Deputy Minister for Industry took place on October 15-21.

The visits of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs to Bogotá (February 12-14, November 16-17) contributed to enhancement of cooperation with Colombia. Belarusian and Colombian representatives signed an intergovernmental agreement on visa waiver for diplomatic and service (official) passport holders.

Exchange of visits at the level of deputy foreign ministers and bilateral consultations on political, trade and economic issues (September 16-18 in Minsk; November 19-20, in Havana) contributed to promotion of strategic partnership relations with Cuba. The visit of the Cuban Minister of Agriculture to Belarus on May 26 – June 2, provided an additional impetus for trade and economic cooperation. The meeting of the Joint Belarus-Cuba Commission on Cooperation in Science and Technology held in Minsk on May 18, allowed to expand cooperation between the two countries within the relevant topics.

On November 21-22, the first visit of the Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus was organized to Panama. The Deputy Foreign Minister held meetings with the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and with the President of the Latin American Parliament.

The entry into force of the intergovernmental agreement on visa waiver for diplomatic, service and official passport holders (October 6) became an important step in development of contacts with Chile.

In order to promote cooperation with Ecuador, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus paid a visit to Quito (February 14-16) and held the next round of political consultations. The official visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Migration of Ecuador to Minsk (May 17-19) became an influential phase in evolution of the high-level interstate dialogue.

The fact that Belarus gained the observer status in the Pacific Alliance in 2018 improves the framework conditions for strengthening of cooperation with the four member-states of this integration association – Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, as well as with the countries of Latin America as a whole.

11. On the multilateral track Belarus significantly contributed to strengthening of the international cooperation in combating trafficking in persons within the framework of the Belarusian initiative in the United Nations Organization. The UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted a resolution “Preventing and combating trafficking in persons facilitated by technological means” initiated by Belarus (May 18, Vienna). A number of events were held in New York, Vienna and Geneva to consolidate efforts in this important area.

Belarus Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna lena Kupchyna was elected the Chairperson of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice on December 6. At the same time, our permanent representative to the UN Valentin Rybakov was elected Vice-President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council for 2018/2019.

On the margins of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly held on September 24, Belarus joined the initiative “The Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking”.

In the course of the visit of the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Director General of the UN Office in Vienna, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov to Minsk in October, agreements were reached to further strengthening of cooperation in the field of combating drug trafficking, terrorism and human trafficking.

The work on systematic cooperation with international structures in the field of human rights was continued. Belarus held a constructive dialogue with the UN Committee Against Torture on April 27-30, and a similar discussion held in the UN Committee on Human Rights on October 8-9. The inter-ministerial delegation of Belarus provided international experts with national reports on the implementation of relevant international treaties.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a coordinator of the Interagency Action Plan on Human Rights, helped to unite efforts of national and international partners in order to fulfil the tasks defined by this document.

Belarus faithfully complies with its international obligations to protect the rights of the child. A regular periodic report to the UN Committee on the rights of the child on implementation of provisions relating to the corresponding conventions was submitted. Active cooperation with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) continued. On October 31 – November 3, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General paid a visit to Belarus, took part in the international round table “Combating Crimes Against Children on the Internet: World’s Best Practices”, held meetings with the leadership of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child, Ministries of Health, Education and Foreign Affairs.

Within the framework of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Belarus was acting as a member of the UN Executive Board, proposals of our country were incorporated in policy papers. Vitebsk was included into the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities and the Belarusian element “Budslav fest” – to the list of intangible cultural heritage of mankind.

Belarus secured its status as an active participant of the international cooperation on sustainable development. On February 21-22, Minsk hosted the first Forum of National Coordinators on Sustainable Development Goals from Europe and Central Asia, attended by the first Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed. Following the results of the event, Belarus launched an initiative to form an international partnership network of national coordinators on sustainable development goals under the auspices of the UN.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported activities of the National Coordinator on Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, namely the Deputy Chairperson of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly Marianna Schetkina, facilitated mobilization of international technical and expert assistance to Belarus in this field.

Belarusian diplomacy continued its targeted efforts to promote interests of middle-income countries in the context of sustainable development. Proposed by the Belarusian side, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) committed itself to elaboration of a strategic foundation for partnership with this category of countries.

Belarus as a responsible partner-state with a nuclear energy program continued its active participation in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) activities, contributing to the formation of international “rules of the game” in the nuclear field.

On the margins of the annual session of the IAEA General Conference on September 18, the Belarusian delegation held a parallel event on cooperation in development of the national nuclear energy program. A Belarusian report was defended at a high level within the Review Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the IAEA Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, which was held on May 21 – June 2.

In October, another assessment mission in the field of nuclear safety was successfully carried out to assess preparedness and response to nuclear accidents (Belarus was visited by the IAEA Deputy Director General of the Nuclear Safety and Security Department Juan Lentijo).

Our country joined the IAEA Response and Assistance Network, which gave a new impetus for cooperation with the Agency on assistance to the states, affected by radiation accidents, and continued to actively engage in the Agency’s technical cooperation program.

In the context of national security the Republic of Belarus implemented a coherent policy in the field of international security, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, disarmament and arms control.

Within the framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a landmark event, reflecting recognition of the growing role of Belarus, was a high-level international conference “Preventing and Countering Terrorism in the Digital Age” held in Minsk on October 9-10. It was for the first time that such an event was organized in Belarus within the framework of the OSCE and received a positive international response. The conference was attended by OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, UN Under-Secretary General Vladimir Voronkov and UN Under-Secretary General Yury Fedotov, CIS Executive Secretary Sergey Lebedev, CSTO Deputy Secretary General Valery Semerikov, Deputy Director of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Jie Liu. More than 190 foreign representatives from 45 countries took part in the event.

Two more visits of the OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger to Belarus were organized (May, October) in order to promote pragmatic cooperation with the key structures of the organization.

On October 31 – November 1, a large-scale high-level event on global and regional security issues was held in Minsk – a Munich Security Conference Core Group Meeting (MSC), organized i.a. by the MSC Secretariat together with the MFA of Belarus. The event brought together more than 200 key participants and guests, including high-ranking representatives of various countries and international organizations, big business and influential analytical structures, heads of secret services. Among the participants – the President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian, the Prime Minister of Moldova Pavel Filip, the Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabić, the first Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, the Chairman of the Kazakhstan Senate, OSCE Secretary General, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Foreign Ministers of Mongolia, Poland, Slovakia, Assistant Secretary of the USA for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Belarus participation in the activities of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was aimed at strengthening the Organization’s influence in the international arena and further improvement of the system responding to the emerging crisis situations. Main efforts were focused on development of military-economic and military-technical cooperation, combating international terrorism and drug trafficking, ensuring a stable migration situation.

Implementation of the Belarusian initiative on the legal registration of the CSTO partner and observer status was an event of great importance, which created conditions for the formation of a “friendly belt” of constructively minded states and international organizations around the Organization.

Belarusian diplomacy actively defended national interests and compelling stand at the multilateral venues of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the UN Disarmament Commission in New York, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Serious attention was paid to the problems of international information security and the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Active project cooperation was carried out with the Council of Europe (CoE), including cooperation within the framework of the CoE Plan of Action for Belarus for 2016 – 2018.

The work on our country’s accession to legal instruments and mechanisms of the Council of Europe continued. Belarus became a member of the Additional Protocol to the Anti-Doping Convention (May 1).

The dialogue between the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus and the CoE Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRA) gained positive momentum. CLRA President visited Belarus twice during the year (September 11-12, October 25-26) to discuss possibilities of cooperation in the field of local self-government and cross-border.

Work with the Belarusian diaspora abroad also was in the focus of the MFA attention. On September 20, Minsk hosted the 4th meeting of the MFA Consultative Council for Belarusians Abroad and a business forum. Extensive work on support of organizations uniting Belarusians abroad in the framework of the subprogram “Belarusians in the World” within the State program “Culture of Belarus” for 2017 – 2020 was continued.

As part of the preparations for the II European games 2019 in Belarus, the Ministry and Belarus missions abroad worked to defend ideals of the international Olympic movement, promote the contribution of sport to the realization of peace and sustainable development. Belarus co-authored the UN Resolution “Sport as an enabler for Sustainable Development” (adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 3). A photo exhibition “To be a champion: history of great victories”, dedicated to the sporting achievements and contribution of our country to the world sports movement was opened at the UN headquarters on October 3, with the participation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus.

12. “Economic diplomacy” remains in the focus of the MFA’s activities.

In 2018 Belarus’ export in goods totalled $33.7 billion, up $4.4 billion or 15.3 percent from 2017 due to shipment of industry products and other goods with high added value.

Exports to the EAEU countries increased by $0.2 billion, to the EU – by $2.3 billion, to the “far arc” regions and other countries – by $1.9 billion. The EAEU export share equals 41.2% (46.7% in 2017), the EU – 30.2% (26.8%), other countries – 28.6% (26.5%). Thus, further steps were taken to implement the task of diversifying Belarusian exports and its balanced distribution of “third-third-third” principle among the main markets.

The Council of exporters established under the Ministry to ensure a direct dialogue with enterprises considered dozens of proposals from businessmen.

As part of the work on improvement of the system of state support for exporters, a draft Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus “On export support” was initiated and elaborated, providing compensation of part of the expenses spent on participation in international specialized exhibitions and on the assessment of product conformity in foreign countries.

In line with the global trend of the digital economy, much attention was paid to the work of information support for exports. Following the results of the year, 4,848 belarusian exporters and 393 foreign businesses were registered on the export support website Export.by. Belarusian exporters used this opportunity to present 16,715 various goods and services online.

In cooperation with Belarusian manufacturers and sectoral ministries, there was an extensive work carried out: on adjustment of rates, applied to import customs duties under the EAEU Customs Code, on provision of tariff privileges, on application of non-tariff regulation measures taking into account national interests, as well as on prevention and minimization of the consequences, associated with introduction of measures on market protection regarding belarusian products initiated by the third countries.

Belarus seeks to build a mutually beneficial model of cooperation with all states. Our country’s accession to the World Trade Organization fully meets this goal.

Since the activation of work on the WTO track in 2016, we managed to approach the final phase of negotiations. The third edition of the draft report of the WTO Working Party on Belarus’ accession (final document defining the conditions of the country’s membership in the Organization) is being prepared for consideration in February 2019.

As of December, 2018 bilateral market access negotiations with 20 WTO member-states were completed, provided that 10 agreements were signed in the last two years (six in 2017 and four in 2018). Intensive negotiations were continued with six WTO members-states (Australia, Brazil, EU, Canada, USA, Ukraine).

13. 166 international agreements and other legal documents were signed in 2018: 135 bilateral (including those signed with international organizations), 31 – multilateral (10 – within the EAEU, 4 – within the CSTO, 14 – within the CIS) and three international agreements within the Universal Postal Union.

The treaty and legal basis of cooperation was evolving dynamically with the CIS countries and Georgia (57 international agreements and other documents were signed), countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America (43 international agreements and other documents were signed), EU member-states and other European countries (26 international agreements and other documents). Nine credit and financial agreements were concluded with international organizations.

Together with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), a regional conference on arbitration and mediation was organized in Minsk (December 4-5).

The Law “On International Agreements of the Republic of Belarus” was adopted due to active participation of the Ministry (entered into force on December 14).

MFA organized a training seminar for government officials on conclusion and execution of international agreements. A corresponding draft Instruction on the Procedure for the Conclusion and Execution of International Agreements was elaborated.

A Scientific and Advisory Board on International law under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was established and started to operate.

14. Bilateral treaty and legal basis on visa legislation and international agreements was further elaborated.

A number of agreements entered into force: an agreement on visa-free visits for the holders of diplomatic, service and official passports signed with Chile (October 6), an agreement on visa-free visits with Hong Kong (February 13), a protocol on amendments and additions to the agreement on mutual visa-free visits for the holders of diplomatic passports with the UAE (March 14), an agreement on visa-free visits for the holders of regular passports with China (August 10).

Numerous agreements were signed and passed over for ratification: an agreement with Algeria on visa-free visits for the holders of diplomatic and service (official) passports, with Georgia – on mutual visa-free visits for citizens, with Saint Kitts and Nevis – on mutual visa-free visits, with Colombia – on mutual visa-free visits for the holders of diplomatic, official and service passports, with Montenegro – on amendments to the Agreement between the Government of Montenegro and the Government of the Republic of Belarus on mutual visits for citizens.

Some documents were prepared for signing: an agreement with Sudan on the abolition of visa requirements for the holders of diplomatic and service passports, agreements with Colombia on mutual abolition of short-term visas, the Protocol with the UAE on mutual visa-free visits, an agreement with Bahrain on mutual abolition of visa requirements for the holders of diplomatic and service (special) passports, as well as amendments to the agreement with Hong Kong on the abolition of visa requirements, which provides an increase in the period of stay for the citizens up to 30 days.

Draft international agreements were prepared to be concluded with India, Jordan, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and Ethiopia on settlement of visa waiving issues for diplomatic, service or official passport holders. Similar agreements were prepared for negotiations with Albania, Honduras, Korea, Macedonia, Malaysia, Oman, Peru, Seychelles, Singapore, Ukraine, and Uruguay to address issues of national passport holders.

Discussions are ongoing with the EU on facilitation of visa formalities and with the Russian Federation on mutual recognition of visas and other issues related to the admission of foreign citizens and stateless persons to the territory of member-states of the Treaty on the Establishment of the Union State.

Consistent work to simplify admission of foreign citizens to Belarus was continued. A Presidential Decree No.8 “On establishment of visa-free entry and exit of foreign nationals” was amended. Since July 27, visa-free entry period through the National Airport Minsk was extended up to 30 days for the citizens of 74 countries.
Within its competence the MFA contributed to the introduction of biometric documents in the Republic of Belarus.

As in previous years, one of the most important activities remained the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of the citizens and legal entities of the Republic of Belarus abroad, consideration of their appeals, assistance to persons in extreme situations. Belarusian foreign institutions provided various kinds of legal assistance to more than two thousands of our citizens in 2018.

15. Sustained interest in Belarusian issues that was observed in foreign media landscape had been stimulated by major international events organized in the Republic of Belarus in 2018 – starting from the Regional SDG Coordination Leaders Forum, OSCE and Eastern Partnership meetings to the Munich Security Conference Core Group Meeting.

One of the MFA’s priorities was effective information coverage of home and foreign policy events, as well as initiatives in the international arena.

Active use of digital diplomacy tools made it possible to include the Ministry’s Twitter account, the first among all state bodies of Belarus, in Top 50 (13th place) World Leaders with the best network of contacts according to the analytical centre Twiplomacy.

Steady growth in the number of MFA accounts subscribers in social networks was ensured: Twitter – by 24%, Facebook – by one and a half times, Instagram and Periscope – by more than 40%.

Eight press-tours together with the interested parties were organized for foreign journalists including those from China, Latvia and Russia.

In 2018, more than 230 representatives of foreign media obtained permanent accreditation to work in our country, and more than 700 of them were accredited on a temporary basis.