Belarus Aims to Lure Industry Investors, Forge EU, Russia Ties

By Tony Czuczka

Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynovis said the former Soviet state seeks to attract foreign investors to its energy and petrochemical industries and expand economic ties east and west, with the European Union and Russia.

"We are opening the economy to foreign investment," Martynov said in an interview on Feb. 6 during an international security conference in Munich, Germany. "We would like to have more and we would welcome foreign investors to Belarus."

Belarus wants better ties with the EU after President Alexander Lukashenko's government was dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship" in 2005 by the Bush administration. A 2009 World Bank survey of conditions for doing business ranked Belarus 13th among 27 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, ahead of Poland, Turkey, Russia and Croatia. The survey rates factors such as starting a business, registering property and protecting investments.

Energy, petrochemical, chemical and automotive companies may "be of interest" as Belarus opens up state-controlled companies to investors, Martynov said. Belarus is home to the Minsk Tractor Works and produces 6 percent of the world's tractors, the government says.

Plans to join Russia and Kazakhstan in a planned "single economic space" are aimed at creating a market of 180 million people, Martynov said. The three countries began applying a single customs tariff on Jan. 1, he said.

Economic Union

"If we are part of an important and vibrant economic union, the common weight of those included in this union increases," he said. "Belarus will gain both economically and politically."

While the government doesn't want Belarus to become a candidate to join the EU, "we work to have a much better relationship with the European Union than we had before," Martynov said. "We continue to have a dialogue with the European Union on certain political issues, but that dialogue is not an obstacle in itself to economic cooperation."

EU foreign ministers said in November that Belarus' release of political prisoners in 2008 increased possibilities for cooperation. Belarus hasn't made much progress on human rights, including crackdowns on political demonstrations and hampering opposition groups, the ministers said in a statement.

Opposition activists have criticized an order this month by Lukashenko to monitor Internet use. The order, taking effect on July 1, obliges providers to keep information on Internet services they provide, Agence France-Presse reported Feb. 1.

Martynov rejected the criticism, saying the rule is mainly meant to prevent "abuse of the Internet" such as child pornography and copyright piracy. The criticism is based on "stereotypes" about Belarus, he said.


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