Visiting Belarus visa-free

Annual Review of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Belarus and Activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2017

The international environment in 2017 was characterised by high instability, combination of centrifugal and centripetal tendencies, economic imbalances, and unwillingness of world players to sacrifice their national interests for the common good.

Threats to security were topping the list of persistent challenges to humanity, such as poverty, hunger, epidemics, growing gap between the poor and the rich, more intense competition for energy, raw materials, food and water resources, innovations and professionals.

Imbalance of the system of checks and balances between competing states and groups of states, spread of regional conflicts, involvement of new actors in them became a strong tendency of the year. Trafficking in drugs, in humans, cybercrime, radicalism and terrorism transformed into transboundary threats of international scale.

An obvious crisis of trust in European region, in large Eurasian area and all over the globe exposed a demand for constructive dialogue and elaboration of compromises, which is still surpassing their supply.

Under such complicated conditions the Republic of Belarus demonstrated resilience to unfavourable external factors, ability to counteract and mitigate their effect. 

As before, efforts of Belarusian diplomacy were aimed at pursuing a balanced multi-vector foreign policy in line with objectives defined by the President; at comprehensive protection of national interests, strengthening regional security and stability.

In the context of mistrust between Russia and the West on the one hand, Belarus was committed to strategic partnership with the Russian Federation primarily focusing on integration in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, traditional interaction with the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States. 

On the other hand, Belarus continued to build up constructive pragmatic relations with the European Union, the United States of America, other states in the West.

A new content was given to a strategic Chinese vector of the Belarusian foreign policy. Belarus was one of the first countries to start implementing the concept of a “Silk Road Economic Belt” on a range of perspective directions.

In order to diversify its foreign relations Belarus continued to form new geopolitical footings in the so called “far arc” regions: Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. 

Belarus was able to take its own niche in contemporary foreign policy and economic surroundings, demonstrating its ability to be an independent regional actor which generates constructive approaches to resolution of urgent issues of the day. Major foreign policy initiatives of the Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko, i.e. promotion of connectivity in Europe, partnership of integrations, renewal of a common dialogue in Europe on measures to strengthen confidence-building, security and cooperation became a lucid expression of a unifying agenda that Minsk offers to the world community members. 

In 2017, the Republic of Belarus successfully fulfilled an important mission – its first Presidency of the Central European Initiative, a European regional organization outside the former Soviet Union area. The key message of its Presidency, which was promotion of connectivity in a wide Europe (development of infrastructure links between the countries in the spheres of transport and energy, digital communication; creation of complementary mechanisms of cooperation between integration processes with CEI countries’ participation; strengthening of contacts with neighbouring regions) which was welcomed by Belarus' partners who share common interests in developing sustainable relations between the countries of Central, Western and Eastern Europe. Another significant outcome of the Belarus' Presidency was that our country became involved into European integration processes more comprehensively. 

The status of Minsk as one of the important unifying places in Europe was confirmed at the 26th annual session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (July 5-9), which was held in Belarus for the first time ever. During that event the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko proposed to open up a broad dialogue under the OSCE Aegis aimed at overcoming existing differences between the countries in common Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian region (the so-called “new Helsinki process”) and at forming new constructive relations in the OSCE area. 

A Belarusian idea of non-confrontational cooperation of various integration models, joint exploration of optimal ways for unifying growth and sustainable development, coordinated counteraction against global threats, continued to gain more and more supporters among states and international organizations.

The Belarusian side continued to make efforts to resolve the crisis in neighbouring Ukraine, offering all necessary arrangements for regular sessions of the Trilateral Contact Group and thematic working groups in its structure. There were 26 such meetings organized in 2017. 

Foreign policy advisors to the heads and the governments of the Normandy Four states were received three times in Minsk during the year to have working consultations on the situation in eastern Ukraine. With the same purpose there was a working meeting organised in Minsk for Russian and U.S. delegations led by the Assistant to the Russian President Vladislav Surkov and the special representative of the U.S. State Department on Ukraine Kurt Volker.

2017 was marked by celebration of the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Belarus and most of its partner countries. This allowed to take the stock of collaboration and intensify dialogue between the states on a range of promising issues.

The trend for intensification of the top and high level international contacts continued to grow through the year. There were 74 visits, including inter alia those of the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus to foreign countries and of official foreign delegations at reciprocal level, who paid their visits to Belarus in 2017.

Foreign trade efforts were mainly focused on expanding relations with traditional partners and developing new markets, diversification of Belarusian exports aiming at their more balanced distribution in the long-term between key directions: that of the EAEU, the EU and the “far arc” countries, thus increasing resilience of the national economy to stressful situations.

Economic diplomacy was the central theme of the seminar for the heads of Belarus' diplomatic missions abroad (July 10-14). The main part of it was the session on foreign policy priorities at the present stage led by the President.

Economic cooperation issues were also considered during the first Conference of Honorary Consuls of the Republic of Belarus (October 3-6).

Measures to improve business climate helped Belarus to reserve the 30th place in the World Bank “Doing Business 2017” global ranking in “international trade”.

Major European, American and Russian “think tanks” and independent experts showed a remarkably growing interest in Belarus, its domestic and foreign policy last year. They became active participants in conferences and round tables, including those that were organised by “Minsk dialogue”, a non-governmental expert and discussion platform.

In 2017, Belarusian diplomatic and consular missions represented interests of the Republic of Belarus in 58 states (including ambassadors with concurrent accreditation in 117 countries). 48 embassies, 4 embassy offices, 3 trade missions and 40 consular offices of foreign states, as well as 17 missions of international organizations operated in Belarus. 91 foreign diplomatic missions were accredited concurrently from Moscow, Vilnius, Warsaw and Kiev.

1. The 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation was marked by intensive top and high level contacts, well-coordinated cooperation between parliaments and governments. Relations maintained their comprehensive character. 

Russia remained a key trade and investment partner of Belarus, accounting for nearly half of Belarusian foreign trade. In its turn, Belarus was among Russia’s 5 top trading partners.

The parties continued to develop joint measures to remove barriers in mutual trade and improve business environment. These approaches were reflected in the document named “Priority Areas and Priority Tasks for Further Development of the Union State in 2018-2022”.

Traditionally close coordination of activities between Belarusian and Russian foreign ministries contributed to strengthening of the two countries’ positions in the international arena. Main directions of such partnership were enshrined in a regular “Program of Coordinated Actions in Foreign Policy of the Member States of the Treaty Establishing the Union State in 2018-2019”. More than 20 consultations on various cooperation issues were held during implementation of a similar Program for 2016-2017.

Regional cooperation continues to develop fruitfully. More than 80 delegations from Russian regions, with 11 of them headed by governors, visited Belarus during the year. The Presidents of Russia and Belarus participated in a large-scale 4th Forum of the Regions (Moscow, June 29-30).

2. In general, the year 2017 turned out to be much more successful for Eurasian economic integration than 2016.

Belarus continued to build the EAEU as a strong economic union, based on practical implementation of the Treaty on the EAEU (May 29, 2014) and respect for interests of all member states of the union.

The work on the Eurasian Economic Union Customs Code, which includes the the approaches and proposals of Belarus, was finilazied. The EAEU Customs Code, due to take effect on January 1, 2018, is a progressive document, which reflects modern international norms. It is aimed at accelerating and simplifying export-import transactions between businesses of the Union member states, and increasing investment attractiveness and transit potential of Belarus.

In 2017, the Belarusian side undertook substantial efforts to coordinate the “Program of Formation of the Union’s Common Crude Oil and Oil Products Markets” and the “Program of Formation of a Common Gas Market”. As of December 2017, there were several provisions left for consideration because of principal positions of the parties, intending to discuss this topic in early 2018.

The partners of the Union supported Belarusian approach to remove  internal barriers in mutual trade by implementing two-year roadmaps, which will cover the most sensitive restrictions. An Action Plan (“roadmap”) for elimination of exemptions and restrictions in the EAEU domestic market in 2018-2019 was approved at the meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council in Yerevan (October 25).

Main Directions of Implementation of the EAEU Digital Agenda by 2025 as well as Order of Development of Initiatives within Implementation of the EAEU Digital Agenda were approved. Primary attention will be paid to consideration of initiatives related to digital traceability and digital commerce development, as well as formation of digital transport corridors. Another Action Plan that was adopted covers main directions and stages of implementation of coordinated (agreed) transport policy of the EAEU states in 2018-2020.

The work on international positioning of the Eurasian Economic Union was continued. At numerous international forums in 2017, Belarus consistently promoted initiative of partnership of integrations, aiming at establishment of sustainable mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation of the EAEU with the EU, China, the SCO, other states and regional integration unions.

In 2017, the Commonwealth of Independent States prioritized further implementation of the CIS Heads of State Council decision on CIS adaptation to modern realities.

There were a number of economic issues that remained a priority for Belarus in 2017: further elimination of existing trade barriers through implementation of the Free Trade Area Agreement; formation of a single public procurement market and creation of a free-trade zone for services. Minsk also contributed to broadening of the CIS agenda by specific issues, capable of bringing a synergy effect to development of national economies of the member-states.

There were numerous top and high level CIS events organised in 2017, including the CIS Heads of State Council session (Sochi, October 11), an informal CIS Summit ( Moscow, December 26), two meetings of the CIS Heads of Government Council (Kazan, May 6; Tashkent, November 3), two meetings of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council (Tashkent, April 7; Sochi, October 10), four meetings of the CIS Economic Council (Moscow, March 17, June 16, September 15, December 15), as well as a number of events of the Interparliamentary Assembly of Member Nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States with participation of the heads of the Council of the Republic and the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus.

3. Traditionally intensive relations with the CIS countries and Georgia were backed up by a high level of contacts.

Political dialogue with Ukraine was significantly intensified. Exchange of official top-level visits (April 26, July 20-21) ensured constructive relations, progressive development of trade and economic partnership and interregional cooperation. Given the difficult situation in eastern Ukraine, Belarus provided humanitarian assistance for civilians living on both sides of the contact line.

Cooperation with Kazakhstan was rich in contacts between the heads of states, governments and parliaments. An interstate Agreement on social and economic cooperation by 2026 was signed during the official visit of Nursultan Nazarbayev to the Republic of Belarus (November 29). This agreement was aimed at implementing a qualitatively new phase in bilateral relations, implying mutual penetration of capitals to support innovations and high technologies.

During the SCO summit, the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko took part in opening ceremony of the international specialized exhibition Astana EXPO-2017 (June 8-9). The Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov opened a multi-sectoral exhibition “Made in Belarus. Astana” and Kazakhstan-Belarus business forum held in the framework of “EXPO-2017”. 

Cooperation between Turkmenistan and Belarus developed efficiently. During the official visit of the Belarus President to Turkmenistan (March 29-31) a Garlyk mining and processing plant was launched and became the largest project fulfilled by Belarus abroad.

The President of the Republic of Moldova and the Prime Minister of the country visited Belarus during a number of international events (July 12-14, June 6-7). Their bilateral meetings with the Belarus Head of State favoured high dynamics of Belarus-Moldova dialogue. 

Belarus-Georgia cooperation was backed up by official visits to Belarus by the President (March 1-2), the Speaker of the Parliament (20-22 November), the Foreign Minister of Georgia (September 4-5). The days of Belarusian culture were held in Georgia for the first time (November 15-17). 

Belarus-Uzbekistan partnership became more dynamic. Active dialogue at the top and high levels contributed to broadening of cooperation, realization of industrial cooperation projects. To confirm their interest in full-fledged bilateral cooperation, Uzbekistan authorities decided to open an Embassy in Minsk.

A visit of the President Emomali Rahmon to Belarus (December 1) and the opening of the first Belarusian machinery assembly line in Tajikistan became important milestones in Belarus' relations with this country.

Cooperation with Azerbaijan developed in a constructive manner. An efficient and productive high-level dialogue with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan was carried on the margins of integration events.

Eight sessions of intergovernmental commissions were held during the year with the countries of the region. Five of them were chaired by the deputies of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus.

4. The dialogue of Belarus with the European Union in 2017 became more structured and rich in economic issues.

Belarus and the EU have almost agreed upon their Partnership Priorities. These Priorities will become a roadmap for cooperation in 2018-2020, which will cover four areas: strengthening of public management; economic development and market opportunities; transport facilities, energy, environment and climate; human contacts. During the next three years the EU plans to provide Belarus with 112-136 million euros in grants to finance aforementioned projects through the country technical assistance programme.

By signing and ratifying the agreement on financing the EU cross-border cooperation programmes “Poland-Belarus-Ukraine” and “Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus”, our country also gained a competitive access to the EU grant of 282,7 million euros to be allocated until 2020.

Conclusion of a framework agreement with the European Investment Bank will significantly increase inflow of western investments to Belarus. In 2018, the Bank will start financing the agreed projects on infrastructure development, energy efficiency and business support in our country.

It is supposed that in 2018 Belarus together with other EU neighbouring countries will be able to take advantage of new resources of European fund for sustainable development (EFSD), which should encourage the inflow of up to 44 billion euros in investments to the economies of these countries.

A well-functioning and structured work continued within the joint cooperation mechanisms: Belarus-EU Coordination group (Minsk, April 3-4; Brussels, December 19-20) and sectoral dialogues on economy, finance, trade, customs and environmental protection. On November 24, Belarus and the European Union signed a high level agreement on extension of the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) network to our country, which will become a prerequisite for attracting the EU funds to Belarus' transport system. Belarus and the EU also continued a dialogue on human rights and negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements.

It became a tradition for Belarus and the EU to jointly organise major economic events. Another regular Belarusian-European economic forum was arraigned by our country in cooperation with the European Commission (Luxembourg, October 27).

Belarus-EU political contacts were developing gradually. The Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei participated in the annual foreign ministers meeting of the Eastern Partnership countries (June 19) and in the EaP Summit in Brussels (November 24). The joint declaration of the EaP Summit reflected main approaches of Belarus to making the Partnership more pragmatic, non-politicized and non-confrontational, to developing practical forms of cooperation within the EaP between the EU and its neighbours.

5. In 2017 bilateral relations with European countries became more active, several tendencies gained sustainability and the level and frequency of official visits increased. Negotiations became more confident and constructive. The circle of partner organizations and thematic coverage of cooperation were expanded, new forms of collaboration were introduced. Inter-parliamentary contacts were developed. Content of contacts in various spheres was substantially improved. Businesses became more interested in possibilities to enter the market and invest in the economy of Belarus.

Positive trends were also observed in trade with most European countries, including noticeable growth of the Belarusian export.

Work on improvement of treaty and legal basis in various areas was continued. A number of intergovernmental and inter-agency agreements with Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the UK were signed.

Contacts with Serbia were characterized by exceptional intensity. The President (May 17-18), the Prime Minister (January 26-27), the Minister of Defence of Serbia (May 19-21) paid visits to Minsk. The Minister of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade of Belarus visited Belgrade twice (April 18-19, June 22-23). A regular meeting of the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation was organized (April 18-19), twinning relations between three pairs of cities were established. Contacts with Turkey were of the same character. A meeting of the two presidents was organized in Beijing in the framework of “One Belt, One Road” forum (May 15). The Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus made a visit to Turkey (August 6-8). Ministers of forestry and water resources (July 27-28), of development (October 17-18), science, industry and technology (December 13-16), senior representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs, economy, culture and tourism of Turkey visited Belarus to have meetings with their colleagues. Bilateral innovation and business forums (December 14, July 28) and the Days of culture of the Turkish Republic were held in the Republic of Belarus. 

Belarus cooperated with:

Hungary (heads of governments had a meeting in Budapest (November 27), the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary visited Belarus twice (June 22 and December 11-12);

Slovakia (the Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico made a working visit to Vitebsk Region of Belarus on April 25 and the Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov paid an official visit to Slovakia and participated in a Belarus-Slovakia business forum on April 27-28. The Slovakian Vice Prime Minister – the Minister of Internal Affairs (June 29-30), ministers of foreign and European affairs (June 21-22), of health (November 14-15) and the Chairman of the Committee on Nuclear Supervision (August 2-4) visited Belarus. A Belarus-Slovakia innovation forum was held on May 24);

Belgium (it was for the first time in the history of bilateral relations that the Vice Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Belgium paid a visit to Belarus (March 14-15). A parliamentary delegation of Belgium made a visit to Minsk. A direct flight between Minsk and Brussels was launched);

Germany (the Vice-Chancellor, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany made the first since 1995 bilateral visit to Belarus on November 17. There were a number of visits held by high-ranking representatives of the Foreign Ministry of Germany and Bundestag parliamentarians. The work of the Belarus-Germany Non-Governmental Council for Business Cooperation was renewed. Several major economic events were organised in Germany); 

Spain (the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus made a working visit to Spain (June 13-15). The first meeting of the Belarus-Spain joint commission on economic and industrial cooperation took place (October 18). A visa application centre was opened in Minsk);

Czechia (the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus paid a reciprocal visit to Czechia (15-16 June), which was accompanied by a number of events in Prague on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Belarusian book printing);

Italy (the working group for international adoption held its first meeting. Bilateral economic forums were organized in Minsk on March 24 and in Milan on May 3); 

Slovenia (the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus made a visit on July 23-25);

Great Britain (the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Belarus for the first time on September 25-26);

Romania (the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania paid a visit to Minsk on November 9-10);

Portugal (it was for the first time in the history of bilateral relations that ministerial consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers were held. The Honorary Consulate of Portugal was opened in Belarus). 

Finland (the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development of Finland visited Belarus on April 12-13. The Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus made a visit to Finland on September 13. Foreign ministers had a meeting in the framework of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly on September 19).

Cooperation with Austria was traditionally intense (the Foreign Minister of Austria (July 5) and a business delegation of the federal land of Carinthia visited Belarus. 

Our country had also efficient interaction with Vatican (the Deputy Secretary of State of the Holy See for General Affairs visited Belarus to participate in the opening of a new building of the Apostolic Nunciature on October 4). 

Active dialogue with Switzerland was focused on inter-parliamentary and economic cooperation (it was for the first time in the history of bilateral relations that a friendship group with Belarus was formed in the Federal Assembly of Switzerland; the second session of the Belarus-Swiss Business Council was held). The dialogue with France was no less active (the parliamentary delegation headed by a new Chairman of the friendship group “France-Belarus” in the National Assembly of France visited Belarus. First meetings of bilateral working groups on tourism and environmental protection were organized).

Lithuania followed its aggressive rhetoric against the Belarusian NPP. That remained the main restrictive factor in development of bilateral political relations. Yet, despite suspension of official contacts, mutual trade and investment cooperation with Lithuania were in a positive trend.

Inter-parliamentary dialogue with Latvia reached a qualitatively new level. The Chairman of the State Border Committee paid visits to Latvia (April 6, October 13), ministers of foreign affairs (July 18-20), of defence (December 4-6), of environment and regional development (April 19-21), the Head of the State Police (March 2-5), the Chairman of the Riga City Council (January 19) visited Minsk. Meetings of bilateral commissions were held on a regular basis.

Relations with Poland developed successfully. The Deputy Speaker of the Polish Sejm Ryszard Terlecki made another visit to Belarus (August 30 — September 1), thus confirming mutual interest in strengthening inter-parliamentary relations. Interministerial contacts were developing fruitfully as well. Poland was visited by the Minister of Transport and Communications Anatoly Sivak (December 21-22) and the Chairman of the State Committee on Science and Technologies Alexander Shumilin. The President of the Institute of National Remembrance Jarosław Szarek visited Belarus (November 20).

Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2017 facilitated Belarus' contacts with this country. A number of Belarusian delegations visited Estonia, including those led by the First Deputy Prime Minister (October 5-6). An Estonian parliamentary delegation led by the head of a friendship group with the Belarus Parliament made a visit to Minsk (April 26-27). A Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus visited Estonia twice (September 7-8, October 25-27).

Relations with the Netherlands continued to improve. The Embassy Office of the Netherlands was inaugurated in Minsk. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands visited Belarus. In 2017 the Embassy of Belarus in the Kingdom of Sweden was opened in Stockholm and a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus paid a visit to the Swedish capital on November 15-16.

European foreign ministers and their deputies made 14 visits to the Republic of Belarus. Ministerial consultations with 19 countries of Europe were held. Meetings of intergovernmental economic commissions and working groups on trade and investment with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey took place.

6. Relations with the United States of America are characterized by the ongoing development. The parties continued to cooperate in areas of mutual interest such as trade and economy, humanitarian affairs, to fight against international organised crime, and to implement exchange programs for professionals. Interaction between expert communities intensified.

A delegation of the U.S. Congress visited Minsk to participate in the OSCE PA session (July 5-8). The President of Belarus had a meeting with the members of the delegation during their visit.

The U.S. State of Florida hosted Belarus’ national exposition during the high-tech fair eMerge Americas (June 12-13). 

For the first time in the history of bilateral relations, a Belarusian-American forum of small and medium-sized businesses, organized jointly with the Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship, took place in the United States on April 24-28. 

A number of delegations of Belarusian business community visited the states of Arkansas, New York, Oklahoma, and North Dakota.

The parties successfully cooperated in combating illegal transit of nuclear and radioactive materials, in preventing high technologies crimes.

The dialogue on human rights, launched in 2015, was continued in 2017. 

Belarus-Canada relations continued to develop dynamically in 2017. 

Ottawa lifted all trade restrictions imposed on Belarus. 

Diplomatic, business and inter-agency contacts became more active. It was for the first time in the history of bilateral relations that a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus visited Canada. A Canadian delegation took part in the session of the OSCE PA in Minsk. Canadian parliamentarians held a meeting with Belarusian colleagues on the margins of the event. Belarus’ and Canada’s ministers of foreign affairs had a meeting in Vienna on December 7 on the margins of the OSCE Ministerial Council.

Business delegations from Belarus visited economic centres of Canadian provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, to hold joint economic events and to promote interregional cooperation.

7. Development of cooperation with Asia and promotion of its interests in the “far arc” regions became an important part of multi-vector foreign policy of our country.

Numerous joint events in political, cultural and humanitarian areas were held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of establishment of Belarus-China diplomatic relations.

The President of the Republic of Belarus took part in the international forum “One Belt, One Road” in Beijing on May 15. This strengthened Belarus' positions as an active supporter of the Belt and Road concept, which obtained a global character. As a result of the top level agreements, the “Great Stone” industrial park was publicised as the main joint project.

The year 2018 was declared in China “a year of tourism in Belarus”. Implementation of relevant activities implies a substantial increase in exports of services through attracting tourists from China.

The days of Belarusian culture in China (May 26-31) and a Belarusian culture centre opening in Beijing (May 30) became token events in bilateral agenda.

In 2017, top and high-level contacts between Belarus and Vietnam turned to be fruitful and facilitated reaching a strategic level in relations between the two countries. 

The President of Vietnam Tran Dai Quang made a state visit to Belarus (June 26-28), which allowed to underpin implementation of important joint economic projects by respective agreements. 

A significant impetus was given to Belarusian-Indian cooperation. The visit of the President of the Republic of Belarus to India (September 11-13) laid a foundation for gradual upgrading of bilateral relations to a strategic level.

Belarus and India agreed to cooperate on development of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). 

Development of multidimensional Belarus-Pakistan relations continued to show positive dynamics in 2017. It was an outstanding year for inter-parliamentary cooperation. The Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of Pakistan Mian Raza made his first ever official visit to Belarus on February 1-4. The Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly Vladimir Andreichenko paid a visit to Islamabad on April 10-13.

Cooperation between Belarus and Iran developed gradually. Political contacts between the parliaments and governments of the two countries were maintained at a high level. The Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich paid two visits to Tehran (February 6-8; August 5-6), where he had meetings with the country’s top officials. The Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov and the First Deputy President of Iran Eshaq Jahangiri held a meeting on the margins of SCO Heads of Government Council in Sochi.

A new stage of the dialogue between Afghanistan and Belarus was reached. It was for the first time in bilateral relations that the Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah made a visit to our country (August 15-17). This visit allowed to identify priority areas for enhanced cooperation, including export of advanced technologies, machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, construction materials, educational services from Belarus to Afghanistan.

Belarus develops cooperation with Bangladesh aiming to expand its presence in the South Asia region. The State Minister of Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam visited Belarus on April 19.

The 6th session of the intergovernmental joint commission on trade, economic and technical cooperation (Jakarta, November 17) contributed to strengthening of Belarus-Indonesia relations. 

Belarus relations with Singapore became more active in 2017. On November 11-16 the First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vasily Matyushevsky led Belarusian delegation to Singapore and participated in the investment forum “Belarus invites Asia”. Both events became important stages of a high level enhanced dialogue and contributed to the development of relations with Asian countries in financial, investment, trade and economic areas.

Relations between Belarus and Australia maintained its positive character. On May 17, political consultations were held in Minsk. Australia supported Belarus candidature in elections to the UNESCO Executive Board.

Bilateral political dialogue and economic cooperation with Mongolia developed dynamically. Topical issues of bilateral agenda were thoroughly examined during the meeting between Belarusian Head of State and the Mongolian Prime Minister, held within the “One Belt, One Road” international forum in Beijing on May 15.

A new impetus to Belarus-Korean relations was given by the Belarusian investment and economic forum organised in the Republic of Korea on May 15 and a visit to this country by the Belarusian delegation from various ministries and a number of the largest Belarusian enterprises, which was led by the Deputy Prime-Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Semashko.

Interregional cooperation with Japan maintained its positive dynamism. A number of cultural events were organised to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. 

Participation of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in the Astana Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (June 8-9) gave a possibility to present a Belarusian view on ways to develop cooperation within the Organisation, to conduct a number of bilateral meetings with leaders of the member-states, to discuss topical issues of bilateral cooperation on areas of international importance.

Participation of the Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov in the Budapest Summit of Heads of Governments of Central and Eastern European Countries and China (November 27) confirmed the status of Belarus as an important participant of the “16+1” forum, and a significant European element of the “Silk Road Economic Belt”.

8. In the face of the complicated regional situation and retaining factors of instability in developing countries (first of all, crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya) Belarus continued to foster relations with the Middle East countries.

The development of the markets of the region, attracting of investments from Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf, increased technological and other cooperation were based on a high level of trust that had been established at the level of heads of states and, in particular, reconfirmed during the visit of the President of the Republic of Belarus to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The highest level of contacts, established between the leaders of Belarus and the UAE, boosted cooperation in economic and humanitarian area. 15 reciprocal visits of senior officials from various ministries and institutions of the two countries were carried out in 2017.

Humanitarian projects and shipments for those in need, recreation and rehabilitation of Syrian children in Belarus very much predetermined favourable environment for cooperation with Syria.

9. In 2017, the Belarusian exports to Africa increased in more than two times.

On January 15-17, the President of the Republic of Belarus visited Egypt and Sudan. Agreements that were reached during the visits make it possible to adequately develop markets in the north of Africa.

Strategic approaches were defined for markets in the south of Africa. The most active cooperation was developed with Angola, which became the largest market for Belarusian goods in Africa. On June 25-28, the Minister for External Relations of Angola visited Belarus. On November 19-23, a Belarusian delegation headed by the Belarus Minister for Industry Vitaly Vovk visited Angola.

Consistent work with Zimbabwe made it possible to reach record figures of Belarusian exports to that country at the account of mining dump trucks and road building machinery.

On June 6-7, Minsk hosted the first Belarusian-African forum which was attanded by over hundred participants from African states, including influential politicians and businessmen. The forum concluded a framework agreement on opening by the Development Bank of the Republic of Belarus (DBRB) a $150 million credit line for the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank). The purpose of the credit is to finance payments for Belarusian goods, works and services in African countries.

Belarus Embassy in France supported by French companies “SOSEA” and “PODIA” organised a Belarusian-African business forum, attended by over a hundred of business representatives from Belarus, France, Belgium and all sub-regions of Africa.

10. Belarus continued to advance its interests in Latin America countries. Development of political dialogue, cooperation in trade, economy and other areas were facilitated by numerous notable events at the highest and high levels.

During the official visit of the Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro to Belarus (Minsk, October 5), heads of Belarusian and Venezuelan states proclaimed a course on “rebooting” relations and confirmed strategic character of their partnership. On November 25-28, the 7th meeting of the Belarus-Venezuela joint commission on trade and economic cooperation was held and a “Roadmap for mid-term and long-term bilateral cooperation of the Republic of Belarus and Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” was signed.

A strategic level of relations with Cuba was reconfirmed during the protocol meeting of the President of the Republic of Belarus with the Ambassador of Cuba to Belarus Gerardo Suarez Alvarez, who completed his diplomatic mission in our country. Desire of the countries to strengthen their political and economic dialogue was also expressed at bilateral consultations on political and trade issues at the level of deputies of foreign ministers (Havana, July 4-5) and during the first ever Belarus national exhibition in Havana within the 35th International Fair “FIHAV 2017” (October 30 – November 3).

The year 2017 was also marked by intensification of cooperation with Brazil. On July 7, there were bilateral consultations held on trade and economic issues in Brasilia. On October 19, Minsk hosted political consultations. As a result of collaboration with Brazilian partners the Deputy Prime-minister of Belarus Anatoly Kalinin visited Brazil on November 27-29, where he had meetings with heads of key Brazilian ministries and chaired the first Belarus-Brazil joint commission on economic cooperation.

The MFA kept on with working visits to Latin America at senior level of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On March 27, the next round of Belarusian-Argentinian consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers was held in Buenos Aires. For the first time ever, on March 30, a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus paid a visit to Paraguay.

11. Active participation of Belarus' delegation headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the 72nd UN General Assembly session became a key event on a multilateral track.

Developing its initiatives in foreign policy Belarus invited the world community to join efforts in combatting trade in humans. Our country sponsored two UN resolutions that enjoyed wide support of member-states: of the General Assembly – “Improving the Coordination of Efforts against Trafficking in Persons” and of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice – “Implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons”.

The UN GA First Committee with the absolute majority of votes adopted a Belarus' sponsored resolution “Prohibition of the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons: report of the Conference on Disarmament”.

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs adopted (Vienna, March) a Belarus' sponsored resolution “Promoting scientific evidence-based community, family and school programmes and strategies for the purpose of preventing drug use among children and adolescents”.

Traditionally important for the Ministry was the work with Belarusian diaspora. The 7th meeting of Belarusians of the World and the 3rd Consultative meeting under the MFA took place in Minsk in the year of 2017. Complex work was carried out to support Belarusian diaspora in the framework of the subprogramme “Belarusians of foreign countries”.

Belarus expanded its representation in authoritative international organisations and UN system bodies. With an unprecedentedly wide support our country was elected a member of the UNESCO Executive Council, the UNICEF Executive Council, the UN Economic and Social Council, the UN Commission for Social Development, the UN Committee for Programme and Coordination and a vice chairman of the UNECE Executive Committee.

During the year, Belarus demonstrated firm adherence to its international commitments on human rights issues. According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Belarus entered the list of 33 countries that do not have “debts” as it comes to periodic reporting to the human rights treaty bodies. In April Belarus submitted its report to the UN Human Rights Committee and in November defended at a high professional level its report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Cooperation of our country with international partners on implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda increased after the Vice Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus Marianna Shchetkina was appointed National Coordinator for the SDGs in Belarus. At the United Nations High-level Political Forum (New York, July) Belarus presented its National Report on the Implementation of SDG’s Agenda and suggested an idea to arrange cooperation between national institutions and mechanisms, responsible for SDG’s achievement.

Belarus cooperation with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) reached a new level. Permanent Representative of Belarus to International Organisations in Vienna Аlena Kupchyna was elected the chairman of the 17th session of the UNIDO General Conference. It was the first time in history that a Belarus' representative was elected a chair of the main political body of a universal international organisation in the UN system. The session completed with adoption of a resolution initiated by our country on sustainable industrial development in middle-income countries.

Cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) developed dynamically. Belarus concluded its membership in the IAEA Board of Governors, organised an exhibition during the annual IAEA General Conference and successfully defended its national report at the review meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (Vienna, March 27 – April 7). An IAEA team of experts in nuclear safety issues carried out an important Site and External Events Design (SEED) mission to Belarus.

A systematic work was carried out to maintain constructive dialogue reflecting Belarus interests with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), its executive structures and institutions, as well as with the Austrian Chairmanship in the OSCE.

The 26th session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Minsk (July 5-9) was one of the key events for the Organisation in 2017, a prominent and successful event organised by Belarus. Final declaration adopted in Minsk included 3 resolutions of general committees and 13 thematic resolutions, initiated by parliamentary delegations. A resolution on Developing a Timely and Effective Legislative, Regulatory and Administrative Response to the Emergence of New Psychoactive Substances was adopted upon the initiative of Belarus.

Belarus was visited by OSCE Acting Chair, Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz (July 5), OSCE PA President Christine Muttonen and OSCE PA Secretary General Roberto Montella (twice, March 15-17 and July 5-9).

Direct cooperation with the OSCE executive institutions was carried out on implementation of joint international technical assistance projects covering all security “baskets”.

Active project interaction was exercised with the Council of Europe (CoE), including within the framework of the CoE Action plan for Belarus in 2016-2017.

Belarus continued its work on joining CoE legal instruments and mechanisms and on November 10, 2017 ratified the Additional Protocol to the Anti-Doping Convention.

Positive dynamics characterised the dialogue between the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On June 27, 2017 PACE adopted its report “The situation in Belarus” and reflected in the document proposal to “continue its activities, including high-level contacts, both with the authorities” and regular invitation of Belarus' parliamentarians to the PACE Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy (AS/Pol) meetings.

A number of meetings were organised and held in the framework of the Belarusian Presidency of the Central-European Initiative (CEI): the CEI Meeting of the Heads of Government (Minsk, December 11-12), the CEI foreign ministers meeting (Minsk, June 22), the informal meeting of CEI foreign ministers held on the margins of the UN GA (New York, September 21), meetings of ministers on science and technology (Minsk, October 26) and on connectivity (June 9, Minsk), the CEI PD Meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly (Minsk, November 28), the meeting of heads of the senior management of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the Central European Initiative and neighbouring countries (Minsk, June 9), the CEI business forum on energy efficiency issues (Minsk, December 4), two international seminars: on connectivity of various models of integration (Minsk, November 1) and on Belarus-EU cooperation within the Eastern Partnership initiative (Minsk, December 11). Inter alia six meetings of the National CEI Coordinators were organised.

Belarus Chairmanship of the CEI and the Austrian OSCE Chairmanship jointly with the International Organisation for Migration and International Centre for Migration Policy Development initiated and conducted high level discussion of migration issues (June 9, Vienna).

For the first time ever Belarus hosted a number of European level events with participation of high representatives from the CEI member-states, belonging also to various other regional organisations in Europe: the EU, the EAEU, the CIS, the Regional Cooperation Council (Balkan countries).

Belarus Presidency of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) facilitated strengthening of the Belarusian state security. Under the President Alexander Lukashenko chairmanship two high level CSTO events were held and a number of decisions adopted on priority directions of national security through joint complex response to modern threats and challenges.

Outcomes of the CSTO Collective Security Council session in Minsk witnessed common views of its members on world order, preparedness to protect common interests, forming of favourable external conditions for the CSTO member-states functioning.

12. By tradition the MFA paid significant attention to “economic diplomacy”.

As a result of coordinated efforts of the Foreign Ministry, other ministries and enterprises, in January-October 2017 Belarus' export in goods totaled $23.7 billion, up $4.4 billion or 22.6 percent from the same period in 2016 due to shipment of industry products and other goods with high added value.

In 2017, the Ministry initiated and coordinated the meetings of the Interagency Council for Foreign Trade Policy which allowed, inter alia, to analize the development of Belarus’ exporters supply chains, ways to reduce external receivables and improve the quality of goods.

The Council of exporters, established under the Ministry, considered dozens of proposals from businessmen.

The Ministry and the National Centre for Marketing and Price Study conducted serious work to update the export support website Export.by. The website was commissioned at the beginning of 2017 and by December there were 4589 belarusian exporters and 229 foreign businesses registered there. Belarusian exporters used this opportunity to present 13730 various goods and services online. English version of the website gives an opportunity to obtain information on 4697 belarusian goods and services.

Belarus' participation in the International Specialized Exhibition Astana EXPO-2017 (June 10 – September 10) was of significant importance from the point of view of attracting investments and advancing to foreign markets of national energy technologies, energy saving technologies and energy efficient goods. 

It was for the first time in history that in November 2017 the General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) unanimously voted for Belarus to become one of twelve representatives in the BIE’s Executive Committee.

More than 200 international events were organised in 2017 with the Ministry’s support, covering possibilities for investment cooperation and presentations of the Belarus' economy potential.

Lots of attention was paid to improvement and simplification of conditions for foreign economic activities.

The MFA drafted the Belarus government regulation “About confirmation of purpose of imported goods” (No. 792 as of October 19, 2017) in order to establish equal conditions for the EAEU member-states businesses when they apply a zero rate of import duty under the EAEU Customs Code.

The Ministry coordinated implementation of the plan of actions for development in 2015-2020 a “single window” in the system of regulation of foreign economic activities in the EAEU countries. The cooperation between the Ministry of Communications and the experts, selected by the World Bank, was established to prepare a “roadmap” for National system of paperless trading. This work is conducted under the World Bank technical assistance project on drafting an ICT development strategy of the Republic of Belarus.

Active bilateral and multilateral work was continued on Belarus’ accession to the WTO.

The MFA coordinated preparation of unprecedented amount of documents for negotiations, including the Joint Report on Belarus’ Accession, a report of the Belarus’ Working Party (working group on Belarus’ accession to the WTO), materials on domestic support of agriculture, notification on industrial subsidies, notification on state trading enterprises, an updated Legislative Action Plan and questionnaires on various topics.

In 2017, the Joint Report transformed into elements of the Belarus’ Working Party report and later into a report, marking a transition to the final stage of negotiations. First edition of the report was distributed among the WTO member-states in July.

In January and September, the MFA organised 8th and 9th meetings in Geneva of the Belarus’ Working Party. In cooperation with Belarus’ MFA a special meeting on state support of agriculture was held in the WTO Headquarters. It was for the first time since 2005 that such official meetings were convened and accompanied by full-scale rounds of negotiations with the WTO member-states.

On October 31 – November 3, MFA organised a visit to Minsk of the WTO Secretariat delegation headed by the Chairman of the Belarus’ Working Party Ambassador Kemal Madenoğlu (Turkey). Meetings held during the visit with the Prime Minister, the First Deputy Prime-Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a number of deputy ministers “confirmed that the Government of Belarus fully supports the WTO accession process”, as characterised by the WTO Secretariat.

Six bilateral protocols on access to goods and services markets were signed in 2017 with the Republic of Korea (April 10), Japan (April 27), the Republic of Ecuador (September 12), the Kingdom of Norway (December 5), the Republic of Guatemala (December 12) and the Republic of El Salvador (December 12).

Belarus’ delegation took part in the main biennial event of the organisation Eleventh Session of the WTO ministerial conference, held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires.

13. There were 140 international agreements and other legal documents signed in 2017, including 123 bilateral (including those signed with international organisations), 17 – multilateral (4 – within the EAEU, 2 – within the CSTO, 10 – within the CIS) and one – Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, developed at the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

37 international agreements and other documents were signed with the CIS countries and Georgia. 51 international agreements were signed with countries in Asia and Africa (including the Middle East). 22 documents were signed with the EU countries and 5 – with Latin American countries.

Cooperation of Belarus with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) rose to a new qualitative level as a result of the first in history visit to Belarus of the ICRC President, signing of the Agreement on Status, Privileges and Immunities of the ICRC in the Republic of Belarus and planned opening of the ICRC delegation Office in Minsk.

The current stage of the CIS Economic Court reforms and its adaptation to modern realities of the CIS member-states was concluded with signing a Protocol of amendments to the Agreement on the status of the Economic Court of the Commonwealth of Independent States as of July 6, 1992.

14. Active work was carried out on a bilateral basis to further develop visa legislation and international agreements.

An Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Argentine Republic on mutual visa-free visits entered into force. Belarusian parliament ratified the protocol to visa-free agreement with the UAE.

National procedures were implemented to facilitate entry into force of agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile and Honk Kong.

Internal procedures were finalised for signing agreements with Bahrein, Kuwait and Paraguay on visa waiver for diplomatic/official passport holders.

Draft agreements were prepared with Algeria, Columbia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Pakistan, Philippines and Sudan to settle visa waiving issues for diplomatic, service or official passport holders. Similar agreements were prepared for negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Columbia, Honduras, Saint-Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles to address issues with national passport holders.

Negotiations on signing the agreements were initiated with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Oman, Peru, Singapore and Uruguay.

Amendments and additions to agreements on mutual visa-free visits with Israel and Ukraine are under preparation.

Work on concluding a visa facilitation agreement was conducted with the EU.

Three rounds of negotiations with Russia were held in order to conclude an agreement on reciprocal acknowledgment of visas and other issues, related to entry of foreign citizens and stateless persons to the territories of the states, parties to the Agreement on Establishment of the Union State.

Ministerial consultations on consular issues were held with Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Russia, Serbia, the UAE and Ukraine.

A Presidential Decree “On establishment of visa-free entry and exit of foreign nationals” was prepared and entered into force on February 12, 2017. This document is applicable to nationals of 80 countries coming and leaving Belarus through check points at the National airport Minsk. As of December 1 more than 72.5 thousand foreign citizens visited Belarus visa-free.

A Presidential Decree “On establishment of visa-free entry and exit of China People’s Republic citizens” was prepared and entered into force on May 18, 2017. According to the document, China citizens who have a service passport of China do not require visas for stay in Belarus less than 30 days.

By tradition, in 2017 a lot of attention was paid to protection of lawful rights and interests of Belarus' legal entities and individuals abroad, to applications of people, who turned out to be in complicated or extreme situations. Legal assistance was rendered to persons detained by foreign law enforcement authorities and those serving sentences in foreign penal institutions. Support was provided to relatives of those who passed away abroad in transporting dead bodies back to the Motherland for burial, as well as during evacuation of Belarus' citizens from armed conflicts areas. During 2017 there were more than 2.5 thousand of our countrymen who approached Belarus' embassies for various kind of assistance.

15. One of the MFA’s priorities was effective information coverage of home and foreign policy events, token initiatives of the Belarus Head of State.

More than 300 foreign journalists (up 20 percent) obtained permanent accreditation at the MFA to work in Belarus and more than 1100 of them were accredited on a temporary basis.

Ministerial consultations on information issues were held with Belgium, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and European commission agencies.

Eight press-tours were held for foreign journalists including from Latvia, China and Russia.

The improved precence of the Ministry in Social Media resulted in two-fold increase on Facebook following while the following on Twitter increased by four times and reached 20 thousand followers. MFA Periscope account started the live coverage of press briefings. In cooperation with the UN agencies, the Ministry has also run a number of Social Media compaigns to raise awareness about topical issues of international development in the society.

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