France is Get­ting Closer

In 2014 Be­larus’ ex­port to France ex­ceeded $100 mil­lion for the first time in the past ten years

Economy of Belarus - - FRONT PAGE - Irina KONTSAVENKO

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

France

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.

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