France is Getting Closer
In 2014 Belarus’ export to France exceeded $100 million for the first time in the past ten years
The relations between Belarus and France have become more defined recently. A testimony to that is the first session of the Belarus-France economic cooperation commission hosted by Minsk. The partners had been working to set up a commission like that for many years. One of the major objectives of Belarusian diplomatic missions abroad is to represent the country’s economic interests. One of the priorities of the French Foreign Ministry is promoting economic diplomacy. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to France Pavel LATUSHKO believes that the similarity of interests can be highly instrumental in advancing cooperation between the two countries. The diplomat tells the Economy of Belarus Magazine about the instruments used to promote the bilateral trade and economic contacts, about Belarus-made products that enjoy a high demand in France, cooperation prospects with Peugeot-Citroen and the time when French bikers will roam Belarusian roads.
Mr Latushko, Belarus is now even more determined to expand trade and economic contacts with France, not only in words but in deeds…
Indeed, France is the second biggest economy of the European Union. Therefore, Belarus views
this country as one of its key trade and economic partners. Despite the recent economic slowdown in France, the export of Belarusian products to this country is on the rise. Belarusian companies and businessmen have ramped up their efforts to find partners in France. As you know, in February Minsk hosted the first Belarus-France business forum that brought together over 100 businessmen from Belarus and France.
The Embassy focuses on developing the necessary mechanisms to facilitate trade and economic cooperation. Last year an intergovernmental economic cooperation commission and the French-Belarusian Business Club were set up. The Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry established contacts with the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Paris and the Ile-deFrance region, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Toulouse and the Midi-Pyrenees region, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Bretagne. I would like to note that we have started promoting Belarus as a promising trade and economic partner in the regions of France. Over the past two years, we have held 18 country presentations that were attended by around 450 French companies.
It is also important that we have made some progress in expanding the legal framework of the bilateral cooperation. In fact, a declaration on foreign trade was signed by the foreign ministries of Belarus and France, and a cooperation agreement was inked by the Sports and Tourism Ministry of Belarus and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France. The intergovernmental agreement on double tax avoidance is in the pipeline. And as Englishmen say, last but not least, we have started developing enforcement mechanisms for business deals. Last year a memorandum of cooperation was signed by Eximgarant of Belarus and the French credit insurance company Coface.
These consistent efforts helped intensify contacts between various economic sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, transport, healthcare and pharma- ceutics, power engineering, wood processing and tourism.
Here are some trade statistics for 2014: the bilateral trade totaled $534.6 million, including $110.5 million in export and $424 million in import. The import shrank by 14.5% while the export rose by nearly 20%. As a result, the trade deficit was reduced by $90 million.
Nevertheless, the export of Belarusian merchandise to France is still insignificant…
I would like to note that for the first time in the past ten years the export passed the mark of $100 million, or two times as much as five years ago ($57 million). This positive trend shows that Belarusian goods are in demand in France. I hope that the French economy will soon bounce back and Belarus will be able to increase deliveries. All the more so that Belarusian goods do not constitute competition to local producers. We mainly supply intermediate products or goods that are not manufactured at all or manufactured in insufficient amounts in France.
Today France imports Belarusian nitrogen fertilizers, polyamides, spare parts and accessories for trucks and tractors, potash fertilizers, furniture, timber products, seamless pipes, wood packaging, hardware products. Last year, Belarus started supplying synthetic filament tow, furnaces and industrial electrical chambers, alloyed steel rods, electronic integrated circuits. In 2014 Belarusian enterprises supplied over $8 million worth of spare parts and accessories for French automakers, which is a good example of mutually beneficial cooperation. We deliver highquality parts, France produces highquality vehicles. Thus, both sides benefit. Such cooperation should be augmented. I would like to add that French consumers are increasingly interested in Belarusian wooden houses and other products made of wood. This is the area where our country has achieved good results.
As for export promotion by the Embassy, I would like to highlight efforts to advance our products to the African market. As you know, French companies have close historical and economic ties with the African region. Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ trademark) and Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ) have already started supplying their products to African countries. Now we are exploring market opportunities for Belshina and BelAZ.
What are the main items of the French import to Belarus?
First of all, Belarus imports a wide range of products for industrial and agricultural application. These are insecticides and herbicides, products for animal nutrition, spare parts and accessories for trucks and tractors, thermal processing equipment, radar equipment, machines and technological equipment. We buy a lot of medicines, blood serum, mixtures of odoriferous substances, cosmetics, wines, and some foods. In other words, these are mainly the French signature products and also the goods that we do not produce because of economic factors, or climate. These products account for about 70% of imports from France.
A Peugeot-Citroen SKD assembly facility has recently opened in Belarus. This is, perhaps, a landmark project of the economic cooperation between Belarus and France. What are its prospects?
The SKD assembly facility was organized at the Unison joint venture in Minsk District. It became operational last November. Several hundreds of cars have already been assembled. The French company is expanding its dealer network in Belarus. Negotiations are underway to promote Belarus-assembled cars to the markets of third countries. We are interested in the project. The next step of the project will be CKD assembly, i.e. welding and painting, which will increase its degree of localization. It is important for us to agree on the supply of Belarusmade components to the PeugeotCitroen plants. We expect that the French partners understand the need for further development of the project and we will be able to agree on its new phase.
Will there be more joint projects? To what extent is Belarus interesting for French investors?
Now LADA OMC Holding Company and Accor S.A., a French hotel group, are constructing two hotels in Minsk — Novotel and Mercure. There is an agreement on building three more hotels under the Ibis brand this year. They will be built in Grodno, Brest and Borisov. Plans have been made to build a total of 12 hotels under various brands belonging to Accor S.A. in Belarus in the near future.
The project to manufacture mounted loading equipment for tractors in Belarus is in the works. The project will be implemented by the French company MX and Belarus’ MTZ. The French company is ready to invest up to € 6 million in the project.
Overall there is an upward trend in terms of investment. Suffice it to say that the French investment in Belarus almost doubled to make up $8.9 million in 2014. Of them over $2 million was net FDI. The figure might seem small but it is much higher than we had in the previous year (some $141,600). We hope that the Belarusian-French economic cooperation commission, the French-Belarusian Business Club, mutual business visits and business forums will open the door to more investments in Belarus.
You have said that the Embassy does its best to ramp up interregional and intercity relations between the two countries. Can you name any examples of successful cooperation? How do you plan to strengthen regional ties?
We view interregional contacts as one of the main instruments to expand cooperation. It has recently been a priority area of work for the Embassy. We presented Belarus’ trade, economic and investment opportunities in a number of French cities, including Bordeaux, Brest, Cannes, Lille, Lyon, Nice, Paris, Rennes, Toulouse and Tourcoing. The efforts have borne fruit. Thus, the first Belarus-France business forum was attended by representatives of nine regions of France: from Nord-Pas-de-Calais to Aquitania.
Twinning and partner relations are another important area of interregional cooperation. I would like to mention a 35-yearlong fruitful cooperation between the Belarusian city of Gomel and France’s Clermont-Ferrand. I would also like to point out steadily developing contacts between the two Brests and cooperation between Bobruisk and Seynod. I hope that cooperation will be soon restored between Minsk and Lyon, Grodno and Limoges. We also plan to sign a cooperation agreement between
In 2014 Belarus raised $6.8 million in foreign direct investments from
Partizansky District of Minsk and Tourcoing.
No doubt the regional cooperation will remain a priority for the Embassy. In 2015 we have already held two presentations of Belarus’ potential in Lille and Tourcoing. We also plan presentations in ClermontFerrand, Lyon and Marseille as well as at the biggest real estate expo in Cannes. Belarus maintains robust interregional cooperation with its neighbors. I think this experience can be useful for the development of the Belarusian-French relations.
Mr Latushko, economy plays an important role in bilateral relations. The cultural policy, however, not only contributes to the country’s positive image abroad but also adds impetus to the economic growth. What diplomatic efforts are made in this direction?
We believe that making our country recognizable in France contributes to successful political and economic cooperation. Distribution of information about our historical and cultural heritage, presentation of modern Belarusian art contribute to the effort. Last year we held the first Days of Belarusian Culture in France. In March-December 2014 Belarus held a total of 28 events in 35 cities of France. The events were attended by more than 150,000 people. I would like to note that the Days of Belarusian Culture were financed solely by sponsors and art patrons. Nearly 300 Belarusian figures of art took part in the events to present the Belarusian theater, music, choreography, folklore, design and cinematography art in France. For instance, the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theater presented its Pan Tadeusz production based on Adam Mickiewicz’s masterpiece in Paris in June. The poem was written by Adam Mickiewicz in Paris 180 years ago and this gave zest to the event. I would like to stress that the Days of Belarusian Culture did not go unnoticed in Paris: the events were covered by numerous French mass media outlets. These efforts considerably expanded the knowledge about our country in France.
Of course, the efforts to enhance cultural ties will be continued in 2015. This year we plan to hold the events to mark the 250th anniversary of composer and politician Michal Kleofas Oginski. Upon the initiative of Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, this anniversary has been included in the UNESCO Memorable Dates Calendar List. There are plans to arrange the first exhibition of 15 modern Belarusian artists at the Grand Palais in Paris. By the way, the Cultural Center of Belarus in France was registered in Paris on 7 January. The center will help showcase the Belarusian culture in France.
You have said that Belarus and France have signed a cooperation agreement in tourism. Is Belarus attractive for French tourists and what, in your opinion, can we do to raise the inflow of tourists to Belarus?
This agreement was signed on 13 February. I hope that it will facilitate cooperation in tourism. I would like to note that in 2014 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France was authorized to supervise tourism issues. It means that the tourism industry is of paramount importance for the French economy. Belarus might be a very attractive
destination for French travelers. However, the main problem is that they often do not know much about our country. This is why the Embassy is doing its best to promote Belarus’ tourism opportunities. As a civil servant who was previously in charge of cultural matters which are closely linked to the interests of the tourism industry, I can say that we need to step up efforts to relax the terms of entry to Belarus for the citizens of economically advanced countries. In recent years we have renovated a number of wonderful cultural and architectural sites. It is important to open their doors to as many Belarusian and foreign tourists as possible. The fact that today Nesvizh Castle welcomes over 400,000 tourists per year, many of whom arrive from Russia, Lithuania and Poland, shows that our country has a huge tourism potential. I will add that the easing of the visa requirements between Belarus and the European Union is on the agenda. Belarus is involved in comprehensive work with all the EU member states, including France. On our part, we decided to extend the working hours of our consular service so that French nationals could apply for Belarusian visas every weekday.
In September 2013 the Embassy organized the first visit of a Belarusian delegation to Paris for the professional travel and tourism expo Top Resa 2013. Back then we decided to organize a promo tour to Belarus for French travel operators. In 2014 the Belarusian National Tourism Agency and the Embassy arranged two visits of this kind. Today we can provide concrete examples of cooperation between tour operators. One of them is the cooperation between the Belarusian tour operator Viapol and the French
company Pushkin Tour. To mark the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II we are planning to offer five tours for the groups of French tourists comprising 30-40 people. At the same time, we are developing specialized tours for French farmers and bikers. This is why, in summer Belarus might welcome 16 bikers from France.
It is worth saying that Belarus is also attractive for hunting fans. The citizens of France annually spend more than € 600,000 on hunting in Belarus. As far as hunting tourism is concerned, Belarusian national parks vigorously cooperate with the Lille-based company ChassOrbis & ChassAtlas.
Another cooperation avenue which can be interesting for potential French tourists is the history of Napoleon. In April 2014 the Embassy initiated the signing of a memorandum on Borisov joining the European Federation
Making our country recognizable
in France contributes to successful political and economic cooperation
of Napoleonic Cities. We hope that it will help lure more tourists to the Belarusian town and the places connected with the War of 1812, and enhance cultural and historical contacts with the members of the federation.
Of course, the development of transport infrastructure has a huge impact on tourist flows. In 2014 the national air carrier Belavia launched a direct air service from Minsk to Nice. It will not only raise the number of Belarusian and French tourists but will also boost the transit of passengers via our country.
In order to promote cooperation in tourism the Belarusian National Tourism Agency and the Embassy are planning to organize the participation of a Belarusian delegation in the international exhibition Top Resa 2015 in Paris in September.