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Belarus: Doning business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Belarus

For business meetings, visitors should dress smartly. English is widely used in management circles and knowledge of German might also be useful. Appointments should be made well in advance and should be confirmed nearer the time. Business cards should have a Russian translation on the back. Be mindful that business transactions can take quite a long time.

Office Hours

Mon-Fri 0900-1800.

Economy

Despite a paucity of natural resources, Belarus enjoyed a relatively high level of prosperity during the Soviet era compared to other ex-Soviet republics. However, the economy has slowed in recent years.

The main agriculture crops are sugar beet, grain and potatoes; livestock breeding is also substantial. The manufacturing industry is focused on the production of agricultural machinery vehicles and chemicals, most of which have been exported in the past. Apart from a few oil and gas deposits, Belarus has no energy reserves and relies on imports, most of which come from the Russian Federation.

Like other Soviet republics, Belarus suffered a sharp decline in output and a variety of other problems following the dissolution of the Soviet Union; this was then followed by a period of stabilisation, which took hold during the mid- 1990s as the government and people adjusted to new economic circumstances.

Up until 2008 Belarus’ economic growth was relatively strong, with its GDP growing an average of 8.3% annually. Belarus’ growth was stronger than both Western Europe and Central Asia, largely a result of positive external factors such as strong export demand from neighbouring Russia, and cheap imported energy from Russia.

Growth slowed after the 2008 global economic crisis and this was followed by a period of instability, with GDP dropping to 0.2% in 2009. Outside help was offered and accepted from the likes of the IMF. However Belarus’ reluctance to make practical changes as suggested by its benefactors led to a further economic crisis in 2011 and this sent inflation soaring to 109%. Average monthly salaries dropped from $530 to $330.

Since then, the economic situation has gradually improved and stability has been restored. Again Russia has come to the rescue with favourable energy trade agreements. However Belarus’ economy remains fragile and the situation has revealed big structural problems associated with the country’s state-centred economic policies – which have little changed since Soviet times.

GDP

US$62.4 billion (2012)

Main exports

Machinery and equipment, mineral products, chemicals and textiles.

Main imports

Energy, mineral products, metals and foodstuffs.

Main trading partners

Russia, Netherlands, Ukraine, China, Germany.

Keeping in Touch in Belarus

Telephone

To make international calls it is necessary to dial 8, wait for a tone, then dial 10. Calls from Belarus to some countries must be booked through the international operator. Public telephones take cards. Grey booths are for internal calls and blue ones for international calls. Prepaid phone cards are available.

Mobile Phone

Belarusian mobile phone networks have grown more extensive in their coverage, and are no longer limited to the major cities. There are several international roaming agreements in place; however it’s often much cheaper to make calls by either hiring a local handset or using a local sim inside an unlocked mobile phone.

Internet

There are a few internet cafes in the major cities, but you're more likely to be able to access the internet from your hotel's Wi-Fi. Broadband is growing increasingly common but be prepared for slow connection speeds. Access is also available at some post offices.

Media

The Belarusian authorities have been heavily criticised by human rights and media organisations for suppressing freedom of speech, muzzling the independent press and denying the opposition access to state owned media. The president's administration controls decisions on content and the appointment of senior editors of state media.
Government-controlled newspapers enjoy considerable state subsidies and financial privileges, while many of the opposition print media have faced increased charges, been forced to close down, change name or publish abroad. But some leading privately-owned newspapers survive thanks to popular demand. The English-language paper Belarus Today is published weekly whilst the principal dailies are Narodnaya Hazeta and Respublika, all printed in Belarusian and Russian. Sovetskaya Beloroussiya is a Russian language state-sponsored newspaper. The Belarusian National State Teleradio Company operates domestic radio and TV channels and an external radio service. Some radio stations target Belarusian listeners from outside the country.

Post

Airmail to Western Europe takes a minimum of 10 days. The Central Post Office (Minsk, near the railway station) and the Yubileynaya and Planeta hotels in Minsk offer express mail services. DHL Worldwide Express and Federal Express also have branches in Minsk.

Post Office hours

0800-2000 (central office in Minsk).