Panel discussion: Belarusian business today and economic revival in a democratic Belarus

“Dear guests, dear speakers,

Dear all, I am happy to see you here. 

This is a historic event. The very first Belarus event at the World Economic Forum in Davos. And I would like to thank representatives of the Polish House, the host of this memorable event that kindly offered its premises and helped us with organizing it. Thank you to the Association of Belarusian Business Abroad for co-organizing this meeting. 

Belarus is a part of Europe. That doesn’t just mean geography. We share European values. We are part of European history and part of European vision. I am talking about both geopolitical and economic vision. 

Here in Davos I would like to send you a very clear message: Belarus will always be a part of the huge European economy. When democratic changes happen in my country, European Economic Area countries will be our main partners in trade and investment. 

My economic team works on the much-needed economic reforms for future Belarus. Belarus’ economy will be built on a strong and innovative private sector. Businesses that will create jobs, pay taxes, and enhance the existence of a strong middle class. 

We will build the economy of tomorrow, where both Belarusian and foreign investors will have it so much easier to start and run business. We will definitely consider the best examples of economic reforms, including Poland, Estonia, Israel, Singapore, and other countries. But we will have to go even further, to make in Belarus one of the most attractive business climate in Europe and in the World. 

We are not afraid of the economic challenges that the new Belarus will face. We already know what to do to overcome them:

  • First, we will have to work hard to lift the sanctions from Belarus;
  • Second, we will start deep liberalization reforms to boost private sector development and low carbon green economy, attract foreign investors;
  • Third, we will tend to liberalize the foreign trade by signing free trade agreements with our key trade partners, including European Union;
  • Fourth, state-owned enterprises will be evaluated, and most of them will be privatized, while some will undergo a major management change;
  • Finally, from the very first day of transition we will initiate deep institutional reforms including the reform of the judicial system, reform of education, and reform of the state administration.  

The European Union is ready to provide an economic support package for these needed reforms. The European Commission has already guaranteed €3 billion to a future democratic Belarus. Other democratic countries such as the US, Canada and UK as well as international organizations will also provide their support and financing to make sure that reforms are deep and comprehensive. 

Many talented Belarusians will return home as business managers, private investors and businesspeople. In the new Belarus every single business will count and will be respected properly. And not only will they bring prosperity to the country, but will also protect us from dictatorship. 

But this is in the future. The future that Belarusians are fighting for today. 

Today, the level of terror in Belarus is getting only worse. Around 5000 politically motivated criminal cases were opened during only the last year. Every day, around 17 new names appear in the detainee list. Today there’s no such people who can feel safe in Belarus. And those who still manage their business – every day face the risk of being detained on absurd charges and to lose it. Taking businesspeople and top-managers hostage only to make them pay a ransom to the state – is a common practice for the regime. 

Due to repression, over two hundred thousands of Belarusians had to leave the country after August 2020. Many of them had to relocate their business or start it from scratch. For most of them it wasn’t their choice to leave, but rather a necessity to stay out of prison. Those people were brave enough to protest in Belarus in 2020, and they remain brave in exile to continue their business. 

They can become valuable partners and good taxpayers for democratic countries. They can bring not only financial dividends, not only create new jobs, but also share expertise within the business communities. They are the ones with whom it is important to build partnerships. Not the regime. 

We know that Lukashenka still manages to circumvent sanctions. Some enterprises still cooperate and trade with businesses loyal to Lukashenka. And this only postpones the goal of Belarusians to build a free, successful democratic state. And I want to say: democracy in Belarus is beneficial not only for Belarusians, it is beneficial for all our neighbors, for the whole democratic world.

Therefore, I urge you to cut off any ties with businesses and people close to Lukashenka, and create ties with honest businesses of democratic Belarus.

If we don’t help them, we will lose so many talented entrepreneurs. They will be forced to settle for low-paying survival jobs, instead of doing what they are best at – satisfying their customers’ needs in the most innovative ways. Bringing investments and creating jobs.  

Belarusian businesspeople are not used to asking for help. They grew their businesses in adverse conditions. Never expecting support, but always fearing obstacles from the public authorities.

We could change it for them here, in exile, if we create a support system both by local authorities and by providing special assistance programs. Poland Business Harbour is the best example of such a program. But we need other countries to launch similar programs. And we need more international cooperation on that. 

I call for authorities from other countries to host Belarusian businessmen and businesswomen. I call for international companies to hire Belarusians as employees. I call for international organizations and political influencers to help us in solving key problems of Belarusian business. 

The three key problems today are i) growing demand for visas to relocate employers, employees and families; ii) discrepancies when running bank accounts; and iii) poor access to finance and investment due to lack of credit history. 

Eliminating those issues will allow our fair entrepreneurs to stay in business and be ready to continue their work in the new democratic Belarus. We can only imagine what they will achieve, once favorable conditions for doing business are created in Belarus and there is no more fear of losing everything. 

I am proud of Belarusian business. And I will do my best to make them feel proud to be Belarusian business all around the world. 

I am thankful to those who have already been helping us. Together, we are making the history of Belarus and Europe. And I look forward to seeing you all in a new Belarus, which we believe will be very soon. 

Thank you”.

Source: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya