On an official level, the Government of Belarus (GOB) claims to welcome foreign investment, which has been seen as a source of new production technologies, jobs, and hard currency. Belarusian authorities note the country’s geographic location, its inclusion in the Eurasian Economic Union (which also includes Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia), extensive transport infrastructure, and a highly skilled workforce as competitive advantages for investment. Belarus also highlights the preferential tax benefits and special investor incentives provided in six export-oriented regional free economic zones, the Hi-Tech Park (HTP), and the joint Belarus-China Great Stone Industrial Park.
Despite the authorities’ stated focus on increasing FDI, in practice, government policies reflect a deeply rooted, Soviet-style distrust of private enterprise, favor Belarusian state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and restrict FDI in strategic sectors. SOEs continue to dominate many sectors of the economy and investors in those sectors reportedly faced selective regulatory enforcement and other forms of discrimination. Corruption and the lack of judicial independence remain significant deterrents to attracting foreign capital. Analysts report Lukashenka and his inner circle also control private businesses that receive preferential treatment from the government. In 2019, the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) declared Belarus non-compliant with GRECO’s anti-corruption standards.
In 2020, Belarus experienced massive civil action following the fraudulent August 9 presidential election as demonstrators protested widespread and visibly-evident vote rigging by Alyaskandr Lukashenka as well as the government’s widespread use of brute force against and detentions of peaceful protesters. In the election’s aftermath, private businesses have come under increasing pressure from Belarusian authorities and Lukashenka bragged publicly that he had ordered the closure of 200 businesses for their perceived political activities. Private companies observed the government selectively enforced regulatory and criminal laws for political purposes and the arbitrary detention of employees and internet outages affected their operations. In an open letter published shortly after the election, IT executives said that the authorities’ violent response to peaceful protestors was damaging Belarus’s business climate and would prompt IT companies to consider leaving Belarus.
The country saw a net FDI outflow in the second and third quarters of 2020, which analysts attributed to the political instability as well as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook for Belarus to negative in November 2020, noting “the political crisis retains potential for intensification and creates risks of renewed social unrest, strikes, additional diplomatic tensions with western countries and potentially harsher sanctions beyond those in place, which are aimed at several government officials including the president.” The World Bank forecasts Belarus’s economy to remain in a recession through 2021, citing the headwinds from increased political tensions.
In 2020, Foreign direct investment (FDI) on a net basis increased 6.6 percent year on year in Belarus totalling $1.4 billion. Almost 80 percent of net FDI was invested in manufacturing, trade, transport, information and communication, and finance and insurance. Investments from Russia and Cyprus accounted for 50.2 percent of all FDI in the Belarusian economy. Despite the GOB’s focus on attracting more investment from China, Chinese FDI totalled only $24 million in 2020, 25 percent lower than in 2019.
In early 2020, Belarus’ State Property Committee approved a list of 13 joint stock companies for full or partial privatization, but no progress was reported on these efforts and Lukashenka has repeatedly stated his opposition to privatization. In early 2021, the State Property Committee announced Belarus had no plan to privatize SOEs and instead would focus on “evolutionary” management improvements to maximize returns and company value.
When considering investing in Belarus, it is important to note that pursuant to a June 2006 Executive Order, the United States maintains targeted sanctions against nine Belarusian SOEs and 16 individuals over concerns about undermining Belarus’ democratic processes. In 2015, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Department of State, issued a General License (GL) authorizing U.S. persons to engage in certain transactions with the nine sanctioned Belarusian state-owned enterprises. However, the human rights situation in Belarus sharply deteriorated after the fraudulent August 2020, presidential elections, with widespread government abuses and the detention of more than 340 political prisoners. Consequently, on April 19, 2021, the Treasury Department revoked the GL and implemented a 45-day wind down of transactions, which ended on June 3. For more information, please visit: .
In addition to the targeted sanctions under the June 2006 Executive Order, the U.S. government imposed new sanctions on Belarusian individuals and legal persons over their participation in the fraudulent August 9, 2020 presidential election and subsequent violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests. In December 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated one individual and four entities for the same reasons and in February 2021 the U.S. Department of State imposed visa restrictions on 109 individuals. The European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom also imposed new sanctions following the fraudulent August 9, 2020 election. For more information, please see: and .
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Attracting FDI is one of the government’s stated foreign policy priorities; net inflows of FDI have been included in the list of government performance targets since December 2015. The GOB has no specific requirements for foreigners wishing to establish a business in Belarus. Despite this official pro-investment stance, both the central and local governments’ policies reflect a deeply rooted, Soviet-style distrust of private enterprise – whether local or foreign. Technically the legal regime for foreign investments should be no less advantageous than the domestic one, yet FDI in many key sectors is limited, particularly in the petrochemical, agricultural, and alcohol production industries. FDI is prohibited for national security reasons in defense as well as production and distribution of narcotics and dangerous and toxic substances. FDI can also be restricted in activities and operations prohibited by law or in the interests of environmental protection, historical, and cultural values, public order, morality protection, public health, and rights and freedoms of individuals. Investments in businesses that have a dominant position in the commodity markets of Belarus are not allowed without approved by the Ministry of Trade and Antimonopoly Regulation.
Belarusian law officially provides for equal treatment and rights for all investors and foreign investors have the same right as local investors to conduct business operations in Belarus by incorporating separate legal entities. However, selective application of existing laws and practices often discriminate against the private sector, including foreign investors, regardless of the country of their origin. Investments in sectors dominated by SOEs have been known to come under threat from regulatory bodies. Local business owners and independent media observe that selective law enforcement and unwritten practices discriminate against private businesses, including those operated by foreign investors regardless of their country of origin. Serious concerns remain about the independence of the judicial system and its ability to objectively adjudicate cases rather than favor the powerful central government and state companies.
Belarus’ investment promotion agency is the National Agency of Investments and Privatization (NAIP). The NAIP is tasked with representing the interests of Belarus as it seeks to attract FDI into the country. The NAIP is a one-stop shop with services available to all investors, including: organizing fact-finding missions to Belarus; assisting with visa formalities; providing information on investment opportunities, special regimes and benefits, and procedures necessary for making investment decisions; selecting investment projects; and providing solutions and post-project support. https://investinbelarus.by/en/naip-and-what-we-do/
To maintain an ongoing dialogue with investors, Belarus has established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC) chaired by the Prime Minister. FIAC activities include: developing proposals to improve investment legislation; participating in examining corresponding regulatory and legal acts; and approaching government agencies for the purpose of adopting, repealing or modifying the regulatory and legal acts that restrict the rights of investors. The FIAC includes the heads of government agencies and other state organizations subordinate to the GOB, as well as heads of international organizations and foreign companies and corporations.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
While the GOB claims foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, in reality the GOB imposes limits on a case-by-case basis. The limits on foreign equity participation in Belarus are above the average for the 20 countries covered by the World Bank Group’s Investing Across Borders indicators for Eastern Europe and the Central Asia region. Belarus limits foreign equity ownership in service industries in particular. Sectors such as fixed-line telecommunications services, electricity transmission and distribution, and railway freight transportation are closed to foreign equity ownership. In addition, a comparatively large number of sectors are dominated by government monopolies, including, but not limited to, those mentioned above. Those monopolies make it difficult for foreign companies to invest in Belarus. Finally, the government may restrict investments in the interests of national security (including environmental protection, historical and cultural values), public order, morality protection, and public health, as well as rights and freedoms of people.
While Belarus has no formal national security investment screening mechanism, it retains significant elements of a Soviet-style command economy and screens investments through an informal and hierarchical process that escalates through the bureaucracy depending on the size of the investment or the size of incentives an investor seeks from the GOB. The President and his administration prescreen and approve even multi-million-dollar foreign investments.
Additionally, Belarus’ Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade is responsible for reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns (whether domestic or international).
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The UN Conference on Trade and Development reviewed Belarus’ investment policy in 2009 and made recommendations regarding the improvement of its investment climate. http://unctad.org/en/Docs/diaepcb200910_en.pdf
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
According to Belarusian law, drafts of laws and regulations pertaining to investment and doing business are subject to public discussion, although the authorities rarely pay heed to public views. Draft legislation is published on government agencies’ websites. The government officially claims that its policies are transparent, and the implementation of laws is consistent with international norms to foster competition and establish clear rules of the road. However, independent economic experts note that private sector businesses are often discriminated against in relation to public sector businesses. In particular, SOEs receive government subsidies, benefits and exemptions, including cheaper loans and debt forgiveness, that is generally unavailable to private sector companies. Observers report that Lukashenka and his inner circle control private businesses that receive preferential treatment from the government.
International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) have been a part of Belarus’ legislative framework since 2016. Public-interest entities, which include banks, insurance companies, and public corporations with subsidiary companies, are required to publish their financial statements, which comply with the IFRS. Such statements are subject to statutory audit. The IFRS in Belarus can be accessed at: http://www.minfin.gov.by/ru/accounting/inter_standards/docs/
International Regulatory Considerations
Belarus’ Ministry of Finance posts regular updates and information on budgetary policy, public finances, and debt obligations on its website: http://www.minfin.gov.by/en/budgetary_policy/ and http://www.minfin.gov.by/en/public_debt/.
Belarus is not a WTO member but continues to seek membership. Belarus planned to complete its negotiations on WTO accession at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in June 2020 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under its latest five-year development plan, the government asserts that it plans to bring the country’s legislation in line with WTO standards and secure Belarus’s actual accession to WTO no later than 2025.
Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU); EAEU regulations and decisions supersede the national regulatory system.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Belarus has a civil law system with a legal separation of branches and institutions and with the main source of law being legal act, not precedent. For example, Article 44 of Belarus’ Constitution guarantees the inviolability of property. Article 11 of the Civil Code officially safeguards property rights, but presidential edicts and decrees, controlled exclusively by Lukashenka, typically carry more force than legal acts adopted by the legislature. This risks weakening investor protections and incentives previously passed into law. There is sometimes a public comment process during drafting of legislation or presidential decrees, but the process is not transparent or sufficiently inclusive of investors’ concerns. Belarus has broadly codified commercial law but the law contains inconsistencies and is not considered business friendly.
According to the 2020 Human Rights Report: “The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Observers believed corruption, inefficiency, and political interference with judicial decisions were widespread.” Businesses complain the authorities selectively enforce regulations and criminal laws and that cases are often politically motivated. For example, in June 2020 executives at Belgazprombank were arrested on financial crimes charges and the bank was put under government administration after the bank’s chairperson Viktar Babaryka sought to compete as a candidate in the 2020 presidential election. In another example, in September 2020 the authorities arrested several employees of an IT company on financial crimes charges in what many said was retaliation for the political activities of the company’s CEO. In November 2020, Belarusian authorities allegedly seized over $500,0000 from local bank accounts associated with the charitable foundation @BY_Help, which sought to provide financial assistance to the victims of government oppression. At the February 2021 All Belarusian People’s Assembly, Lukashenka said he had ordered the closure of over 200 private businesses because of their perceived participation in the October 26, 2020 “People’s Ultimatum” organized by political opposition.
Each of Belarus’ six regions and the capital city of Minsk have economic courts to address commercial and economic issues. In addition, the Supreme Court has a judicial panel on economic issues. In 2000, Belarus established a judicial panel to enforce intellectual property rights. Under the Labor Code, any claims of unfair labor practices are heard by regular civil courts or commissions on labor issues. However, the judiciary’s lack of independence from the executive branch prevents it from acting as a reliable and impartial mechanism for resolving disputes, whether labor, economic, commercial, or otherwise. According to Freedom House’s 2018 Nations in Transit report, executive authorities can directly influence a judge’s decision-making if their political or economic interests are involved, and such influence usually takes the form of direct instructions from officials.
Local economic court proceedings normally do not exceed two months. The term of such proceedings with the participation of foreign persons is normally no longer than seven months, unless established otherwise by an international agreement signed by Belarus.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign investment in Belarus is governed by the 2013 laws “On Investments” and “On Concessions,” the 2009 Presidential Decree No. 10 “On the Creation of Additional Conditions for Investment Activity in Belarus,” and other legislation as well as international and investment agreements signed and ratified by Belarus.
The GOB regularly updates the following websites with the latest in laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors: http://www.investinbelarus.by/en/ http://www.economy.gov.by/ http://president.gov.by/en/official_documents_en/
Competition and Antitrust Laws
Issued in 2016, Presidential decree number 188 authorized the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade to counteract monopolistic activities and promote market competition.
Expropriation and Compensation
According to Article 12 of the Investment Code, neither party may expropriate or nationalize investments both directly and indirectly by means of measures similar to expropriation or nationalization, for other purposes than for the public benefit and on a nondiscriminatory basis; according to the appropriate legal procedure; and on conditions of compensation payment. Belarus has signed 68 bilateral agreements on the mutual protection and encouragement of investments which include obligations regarding expropriation.
In 2018, there was one nationally-reported case of nationalization – the Motor Sich aircraft repair factory in Orsha. The GOB claimed it compensated the Ukrainian owner market value for its shares, but the owner expressed dissatisfaction with the compensation. There was no public information about the Ukrainian owner pursuing the case further.
In 2018, the Belarusian parliament drafted amendments to the 2013 law on investment to establish procedures for paying compensation for the nationalized and confiscated property, but Lukashenka refused to sign them into law. There have been no instances of expropriation of business property as a penalty for violations of law since 2018.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Belarus is a party to both the International Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning that local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards in compliance with the above conventions, national laws, and regulations. The enforcement of arbitral awards in Belarus is governed by Chapter 28 of the Code of Commercial Procedure.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Belarus and the United States signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), but entry into force is pending exchange of instruments of ratification. Most of the BITs concluded by Belarus include a provision on international investment arbitration as a mechanism for settling investor-State disputes and recognize the binding force of the awards issued by tribunals. Under Belarusian law, if an international treaty signed by Belarus establishes rules other than those established by local law, the rules of the international treaty prevail.
Since 2017, Belarus has faced three investment arbitration claims involving investors from the Netherlands and Russia. There were no known investment disputes between Belarusian government authorities and American investors in 2020.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Judgments of foreign courts are accepted and enforced if there is a relevant international agreement signed by Belarus. Courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. The Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has an International Arbitration Court. The 2013 “Law on Mediation,” as well as codes of civil and economic procedures, established various alternative ways of addressing investment disputes.
Belarus’ 2012 bankruptcy law, related presidential edicts, and government resolutions are not always consistently applied. Additional legal acts, such as the Civil Code and Code of Economic Procedures, also include certain regulations on bankruptcy-related issues. Under the bankruptcy law, foreign creditors have the same rights as Belarusian creditors. Belarusian law criminalizes false and intentional insolvency as well as concealing insolvency. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index, Belarus was ranked 74 in Resolving Insolvency (rankings available at http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/belarus ).
4. Industrial Policies
According to the GOB’s Strategy for Attracting FDI, priority sectors include pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical equipment, nanotechnologies and nanomaterials, optics and electronics, electric transport vehicles, 5G communications networks, and the information technology and telecommunications sector generally. The NAIP maintains a database of investment proposals at: https://map.investinbelarus.by/en/investbase/offers/ .
The GOB offers various incentives and programs for FDI depending on the sector and industry. GOB enters into specific investment agreements with other governments and may accord preferential incentives and benefits including but not limited to:
- Allocation of a land plot without auctioning the right to lease it
- Removal of vegetation without compensation during construction
- Full VAT deduction for the purchase of goods, services (works) or property rights
- Exemption from import tariffs and VAT on the imports of production equipment
- Exemption from fees for the right to conclude a land lease
- Exemption from duties for employing foreign nationals
- Exemption from compensation for losses sustained by the agriculture and/or forestry industries due to the use of a land plot under the investment agreement
- Exemption from land tax on land plots in government or private ownership, and from rent on land plots in government ownership, for a period starting from the first day of the month in which the investment agreement came into effect until December 31 of the year following the year in which the last of the facilities scheduled under the investment agreement started operations.
Investment agreements concluded under the decision of the Belarusian Council of Ministers and with the permission of the President of Belarus may offer additional incentives and benefits not expressly provided for in legislation. Such incentives are provided on a case-by-case basis.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Each of Belarus’ six regions has its own free economic zone (FEZ): Minsk, Brest, Gomel-Raton, Mogilev, Grodno Invest, and Vitebsk. The tax and regulatory pattern applicable to businesses in these zones is simpler and lower than elsewhere in Belarus. To become a FEZ resident, an investor needs to make a minimal investment of EUR 1 million, or at least EUR 500,000 provided the entire sum is invested during a three-year period, as well as engage in the production of import-substituting products or goods for export.
In 2005, the President of Belarus signed the edict that established uniform rules for all FEZs. The list of main tax benefits for FEZ residents was revised in 2016 to include certain exemptions from the corporate profit tax (CPT), real estate tax, land tax, and rent on government-owned land plots located within the boundaries of the FEZ, among others. As of 2017, FEZ residents benefit from a simplified procedure of export-import operations. Resident enterprises are exempt from customs duties and taxes on facilities, construction materials, other equipment used in implementation of their investment projects. They are also exempt from customs duties and taxes on raw materials and materials used in the process of manufacture of the products sold outside the territory of the Eurasian Economic Union. Otherwise, FEZ residents pay VAT, excise duties, ecological tax, natural resource extraction tax, state duty, patent duties, offshore duty, stamp duty, customs duties and fees, local taxes and duties, and contributions to the Social Security Fund according to the general guidelines. For more details please visit:
FEZ Minsk: http://www.fezminsk.by/en/
FEZ Gomel-Raton: http://www.gomelraton.com/en/
FEZ Vitebsk: http://www.fez-vitebsk.com/en/
FEZ GrondoInvest: https://grodnoinvest.by/en/
FEZ Brest: http://fezbrest.com/en/
FEZ Mogilev: http://www.fezmogilev.by/
Created in 2005 to foster development of the IT and software industry, the High Technology Park (Hi-Tech Park or HTP) is a “virtual” legal regime that extends over the entire territory of Belarus. A physical campus of the HTP is found in the eastern part of Minsk and a satellite campus is located in Hrodna. The legislation behind the HTP was updated in 2017 with the signing of Presidential Decree No. 8 “On the Development of the Digital Economy.” The decree extended the HTP preferences from 2022 until 2049 and expanded the list of business activities in which HTP residents may engage, including but not limited to: software development; data processing; cryptocurrency and token-related activity; data center services; development and deployment of Internet-of-Things technologies; ICT education; and cybersports.
The HTP provides residents with beneficial tax preferences, including but not limited to: exemptions from VAT and CPT on sale of goods or services; exemptions from customs duty and VAT on certain kinds of equipment imported into Belarus for use in investment projects; immovable property tax and land tax benefits with regard to buildings and land within the boundaries of the HTP campuses; and caps on personal income tax at five percent for foreign entities. However, a cap on personal income tax at nine percent for employees was removed in late 2020 and the HTP’s employees must pay a regular income tax of 13 percent. Some analysts said that the tax increase was a politically motivated decision taken in response to IT workers taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations. Shortly after the fraudulent August 2020, hundreds of IT executives signed an open letter calling for the release of all political prisoners and for free and fair elections, arguing that the authorities’ violent response to peaceful protestors was damaging Belarus’s business climate and would prompt IT professionals and companies to consider leaving Belarus.
Foreign nationals who are hired on contract by an HTP resident company, or who are founders of a HTP resident company, or who are employed by such founders, are eligible for visa-free entry into Belarus for a stay of up to 180 days a year. Foreigners employed by HTP residents are not required to have working permit in Belarus and are entitled to apply for a temporary residence permit for the duration of their contract.
Government agencies are not allowed to inspect the operations of HTP residents without prior consent of the HTP Administration.
For more information on HTP, please visit: http://www.park.by/
The Great Stone Industrial Park is a special economic zone of approximately 112.5 square kilometers located adjacent to the Minsk National Airport and Belarusian highway M1, which connects Moscow to Berlin. Great Stone resident companies also have access to Lithuania’s Klaipeda seaport on the Baltic Sea. According to a master plan approved in 2013, Great Stone will eventually include production facilities, dormitories and residential areas for workers, offices and shopping malls, and financial and research centers. Great Stone is primarily a Belarus-China joint venture but any company – regardless of its country of origin – can apply to join the industrial park. Interested companies must submit either a business project worth at least USD 500,000, to be invested within three years from the moment of the business’ registration; or submit a business project worth at least USD 5 million without any time limit for investment; or submit a business project worth at least USD 500,000 tied to research and development.
As of 2020, Great Stone residents receive, among other preferences, certain exemptions on income tax, real estate and land taxes, and dividend income; the right to import goods, including raw materials, under a preferential customs regime; full VAT repayment on goods used for the design, building, and equipment of facilities in Great Stone; exemptions from environmental compensatory payments; and a preferential entry/exit program allowing Great Stone residents and their employees to stay in Belarus without a visa for up to 180 days. Great Stone residents are also exempt from any new taxes or fees through 2027 should the government make adverse changes to the tax code. Great Stone residents are also permitted to purchase land in the zone; foreign land ownership in the rest of Belarus is highly restricted. The special preferential legal regime of Great Stone will be valid until 2062. The list of priorities planned for implementation in the park include projects in electronics, biomedicine, chemistry, and mechanical engineering.
For more information on Great Stone, please visit: https://industrialpark.by/en/home.html
Small and medium-sized cities and rural areas in Belarus are defined by a 2012 presidential decree as settlements with populations under 60,000. Individual entrepreneurs and legal entities working in rural settlements of less than 2,000 receive additional tax benefits and exemptions.
Since 2012, companies and individual entrepreneurs operating in all rural areas and towns enjoy the following benefits in the first seven years after registration: exemption from profit tax on the sale of goods, work, and services of a company’s own production; exemption from other taxes and duties, except for VAT, excise tax, offshore duty, land tax, ecological tax, natural resources tax, customs duties and fees, state duties, patent duties, and stamp duty; exemption from mandatory sale of foreign currency received from sale of goods, work, and services of a company’s own production, and from leasing property; no restrictions on insuring risks with foreign insurers; exemption from import tariffs on certain goods brought into Belarus that contribute to the charter fund of a newly established business. The special legal regime does not apply to banks, insurance companies, investment funds, professional participants in the securities market, businesses operating under other preferential legal regimes (e.g. FEZ or HTP), and certain other businesses.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The GOB does not mandate local employment. Foreign investors have the right to invite foreign citizens and stateless persons, including those without permanent residence permits, to work in Belarus provided their labor contracts comply with Belarusian law. The GOB often imposes various conditions on permission to invest and pursues localization policies. Other performance requirements are often applied uniformly to both domestic and foreign investors.
According to official Belarusian sources, licenses are not required for data storage. Law enforcement regulations governing electronic communications do not include any requirements specifically for foreign internet service providers. Beginning in 2016, internet service providers are required, by law, to maintain all electronic communications for a one-year period. IT companies operating in Belarus were not aware of any requirements for IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.
According to the 2020 Human Rights Report, the government monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority and filtered and blocked internet traffic. For several days following the August 9 election, internet access and mobile communications were severely restricted. While authorities blamed foreign cyberattacks for the disruptions, independent experts attributed the disruptions to the government. Since August 2020, there have been repeated internet and mobile communications disruptions, usually coinciding with major protests and police actions to disperse them. Private internet service providers notified customers that the shutdowns were requested by the government on national security grounds. Telecommunications companies reported that authorities ordered them to restrict mobile internet data severely on the days when large-scale demonstrations occurred.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Property rights are enforced by the Civil Code. Mortgages and liens are available, and the property registry system is reliable. Investors and/or duly established commercial organizations with the participation of a foreign investor (investors) have the right to rent plots of land for up to 99 years. According to the Belarusian Land Code, foreign legal persons and individuals are denied land ownership except for land in the Great Stone Industrial Park, which foreign persons can acquire. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked Belarus 14th on ease of property registration ( http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/belarus ).
Intellectual Property Rights
Belarus has made progress improving legislation to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) and prosecute violators. However, challenges for effective enforcement include a lack of sufficiently qualified officers. The United States expects Belarus to continue improving its IPR regime as part of its WTO accession negotiations and will continue to assist Belarus with technical consultations to that end. According to information provided by Belarus’ National Center of Intellectual Property, Belarus adopted a law upon Belarus’s accession to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Marrakesh Treaty on facilitating access for the blind and visually impaired persons or people with other disabilities to printed information. Belarus received the status of a full member under this agreement in October 2020. In 2018, the government amended Article 4.5 of the Administrative Code to allow greater prosecution of industrial property and IPR violations, but authorities reported no criminal cases were pursued in 2020. In 2020, the National Center of Intellectual Property registered no complaints from U.S. companies or their representatives regarding violations of intellectual property rights.
Belarus was removed from USTR’s Special 301 Report in 2016 and is not included in the Notorious Markets List.
Belarus is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, among others. For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Belarusian government officially claims to welcome portfolio investment. There have been no reports in 2020 on any impediments regarding such investment or a free flow of any financial instruments. The Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange is open to foreign investors, but it is still largely undeveloped because the government only allows companies to trade stocks if they meet certain but often burdensome criteria. Private companies must be profitable and have net assets of at least EUR 1 million. In addition, any income from resulting operations is taxed at 24 percent. Finally, the state owns more than 70 percent of all stocks in the country, and the government appears hesitant and unwilling to trade in them freely. Bonds are the predominant financial instrument on Belarus’ corporate securities market.
In 2001, Belarus joined Article VIII of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, undertaking to refrain from restrictions on payments and transfers under current international transactions. Loans are allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to get them. However, the discount rate of 7.75 percent (as of March 2020) makes credit too expensive for many private businesses, which, unlike many SOEs, do not receive subsidized or reduced-interest loans.
Businesses buy and sell foreign exchange at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange through their banks. Belarus used to require businesses to sell 10-20 percent of foreign currency revenues through the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange, however in late 2018 the National Bank abolished the mandatory sale rule.
Resources for Rights Holders
U.S. Embassy MinskEconomic Sectiontel.+375 (17) 210-1283e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Money and Banking System
Belarus has a central banking system led by the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, which represents the interest of the state and is the main regulator of the country’s banking system. The President of Belarus appoints the Chair and Members of the Board of the National Bank, designates auditing organizations to examine its activities, and approves its annual report. Although the National Bank officially operates independently from the government, there is a history of government interference in monetary and exchange rate policies.
As of March 2021, the banking system of Belarus included 24 commercial banks and three non-banking credit and finance organizations. According to the National Bank, the share of non-performing loans in the banking sector was 4.8 percent as of January 1, 2021. The country’s seven largest commercial banks of systemic importance, all of which have some government share, accounted for 85 percent of the approximately USD 90.5 billion in total assets across the country’s banking sector. There are five representative offices of foreign banks in Belarus, with China’s Development Bank opening most recently in 2018. Regular banking services are widely available to customers regardless of national origin.
Belarusian law does not allow foreign banks to establish operations of their branches in Belarus. The subsidiaries of foreign banks are allowed to operate in Belarus and are subject to prudential measures and other regulations like any Belarusian bank. The U.S. Embassy is not aware of Belarus losing any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years. Foreign nationals are allowed to establish a bank account in Belarus without establishing residency status.
According to the IMF, Belarus’s state-dominated financial sector faces deep domestic structural problems and external sector challenges. Domestic structural problems include heavy state involvement in the banking and corporate sector, the lack of hard budget constraints for SOEs given state support, and high dollarization. Externally, Belarus’s economy remains exposed to spillovers from the Russian economy and Belarus’s foreign currency reserves offer a limited buffer to potential external shocks. The banking sector remains vulnerable to external shocks, given the high level of dollarization and the exposure to government and SOE debt. The political unrest following the August 2020 election led to deposit outflows from the banks, exacerbating risks to the banks’ financial portfolios. In September 2020, S&P Global Ratings downgraded Belarus’s long-term sovereign rating from stable to negative, citing the growing risks for the financial stability of Belarus’s banking system.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
According to the GOB, Belarus’ foreign exchange regulations do not include any restrictions or limitations regarding converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with investment. Foreign exchange transactions related to FDI, portfolio investments, real estate purchasing, and opening bank accounts are carried out without any restrictions. Foreign exchange is freely traded in the domestic foreign exchange market. Foreign investors can purchase foreign exchange from their Belarusian accounts in Belarusian banks for repaying investments and transferring it outside Belarus without any restrictions.
Since 2015, the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange has traded the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Russian ruble in a continuous double auction regime. Local banks submit bids for buying and selling foreign currency into the trading system during the entire trading session. The bids are honored if and when the specified exchange rates are met. The National Bank uses the average weighted exchange rate of the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Russian ruble set during the trading session to set official exchange rates from the day on which the trades are made. The cross rates versus other foreign currencies are calculated based on the data provided by other countries’ central banks or information from Reuters and Bloomberg. The stated quote becomes effective on the next calendar day and is valid until the new official exchange rate come into force. The IMF lists Belarus’ exchange rate regime in the floating exchange rate category.
There were no reports of problems exchanging currency or remitting revenues earned abroad.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Belarus does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund. The GOB manages the State Budget Fund of National Development, which supports major economic and social projects in the country.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Although SOEs are outnumbered by private businesses, SOEs dominate the economy in terms of assets. According to experts, the share of Belarus’ GDP derived from SOEs is at least 70 percent. Belarus does not consider joint stock companies, even those with 100 percent government ownership of the stocks, to be state-owned and generally refers to them as part of the non-state sector, rendering official government statistics regarding the role of SOEs in the economy misleading. According to media reports, SOEs receive preferential access to government contracts, subsidized credits, and debt forgiveness. While SOEs are generally subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors, private enterprises do not have the same preferential access to land and raw materials. Since Belarus is not a WTO member, it is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).
The GOB officially claims to welcome “strategic investors,” including foreign investors, and claim that any state-owned or state-controlled enterprise can be privatized. However, Belarus’ privatization program is in practice extremely limited. Notably, in April 2020, the government sold its controlling share in Belarus’ fifteenth-largest bank, Paritetbank. Otherwise, there was no privatization of state-controlled companies from 2018 to 2020. One SOE was bought by private investors in 2017, and no companies or shares were privatized in 2016. In early 2019, Belarus’ State Property Committee approved a list of 23 joint stock companies for full or partial privatization in 2019. Also in 2019, the World Bank concluded a pilot SOE privatization project that identified and helped prepare 12 Belarusian SOEs for privatization. However, the GOB allowed sale of the government share in these companies on the condition that the purchasing investors preserve existing jobs and production lines.
The State Property Committee reported that the government sold its minority share (under 25 percent) in two enterprises in 2019. The State Property Committee announced in early 2021 that it has no plans for any mass privatization in Belarus in 2021. For a list of open-joint stock companies whose shares are available for privatization, as well as a description of the assets and conditions for privatization, visit: http://gki.gov.by/en/inf_for_investors-ifi_on_priv/ .
Investors interested in assets on the published privatization list are encouraged to forward a brief letter of interest to the State Property Committee. A special commission reviews offers and makes a recommendation to the President on the process of privatization – via tender, auction, or direct sale. Investors may also send a letter of interest regarding assets that are not on the State Property Committee list and the government will examine such offers.
Additionally, the State Property Committee occasionally organizes and holds privatization auctions. Many of the auctions organized by the State Property Committee have low demand as the government conditions privatizations with strict requirements, including preserving or creating jobs, continuing in the same line of work or production, or launching a successful business project within a limited period of time, etc.
In 2016, Belarusian joint stocks were allowed trans-border placement via issuing depositary receipts, but to date this instrument of attracting investments has not been used in Belarus.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Belarusian laws and policy include no notion or definition of responsible business conduct and consequently take no measures to encourage it. Independent trade unions and business associations promote the concept of responsible business conduct.
In the aftermath of the fraudulent 2020 presidential elections, civil society organizations and opposition political figures sought to draw the attention of multinational companies and foreign investors to the human rights situation in Belarus. For example, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions worked with a Norwegian fertilizer company that was one of the main customers of state-owned potash producer Belaruskali to improve respect for worker rights at Belaruskali. Belaruskali workers had gone on strike to protest the 2020 election and the authorities’ violent crackdown on protestors, resulting in the dismissal and criminal prosecution of workers. Civil society will likely continue to engage foreign investors and companies on political considerations in Belarus.
Belarus does not allow private military or security companies.
Department of State
Department of Labor
Official sources claim that most corruption cases involve soliciting and accepting bribes, fraud, and abuse of power, although anecdotal evidence indicates such corruption usually does not occur as part of day-to-day interaction between citizens and minor state officials. In Belarus, bribery is considered a form of corruption and is punishable with a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail and confiscation of property. The most corrupt sectors are considered to be state administration and procurement, the industrial sector, the construction industry, health care, and education. In 2020, Belarusian courts convicted 684 individuals “on corruption-related charges.” However, corruption and financial crimes charges are often used by the government for political purposes. Furthermore, the absence of independent judicial and law enforcement systems, the lack of separation of powers, and a harried independent press largely barred from interaction with a nontransparent state bureaucracy make it difficult to gauge the true scale of corruption.
Belarus has anti-corruption legislation consisting of certain provisions of the Criminal Code and Administrative Code as well as the Law on Public Service and the Law on Combating Corruption. The latter is the country’s main anti-corruption document and was adopted in 2015. Belarusian anti-corruption law covers family members of government officials and political figures. The country’s regulations require addressing any potential conflict of interests of parties seeking to win a government procurement contract. The list of such regulations include the July 13, 2012, law “On public procurement of goods (works, services),” the December 31, 2013, presidential decree “On conducting procurement procedures,” and the March 15, 2012, Council of Ministers resolution on the procurement of goods (works, services). Government organizations directly engaged in anti-corruption efforts are prosecutors’ offices, internal affairs, state security and state control agencies.
Belarus is a party to several international anti-corruption conventions and agreements. The Republic of Belarus has ratified major international anti-corruption treaties, such as the Convention of the Council of Europe 173 On criminal liability for corruption (S 173) (concluded in Strasbourg on 27 January, 1999); the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, signed by Belarus in Palermo on 24 December, 2000, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (concluded in New York on 31 October, 2003); and the Civil Law Convention on Corruption (concluded in Strasbourg on 4 November, 1999) (ratified in 2005). Belarus also signed several the intergovernmental agreements to address corruption. Belarus is currently considering joining the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
In 2019, the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) publicly declared Belarus non-compliant with GRECO’s anti-corruption standards. This was GRECO’s first ever declaration of non-compliance. According to the COE, Belarus failed to address 20 out of 24 recommendations made in 2012; had not authorized the publication of the 2012 report or related compliance reports; and was non-responsive since 2017 to requests from GRECO to organize a high-level mission to Belarus. The majority of GRECO’s recommendations related to fundamental anti-corruption requirements, such as strengthening the independence of the judiciary and of the prosecution office, as well as increasing the operational autonomy of the law enforcement and limiting immunity protection of certain categories of persons. However, the COE contends that limited reporting indicates that corruption is particularly alarming higher up in the government hierarchy and in procurement for state-run enterprises.
According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Belarus climbed from 66 to 63 out of 180 countries in the rankings. In Belarus’ region, Poland ranked 45, Lithuania 35, Latvia 42, Ukraine 117, and Russia 129.
Resources to Report Corruption
General Prosecutor’s OfficeInternatsionalnaya Street 22Minsk, Belarus+375 17 337-43-57 email@example.com
Ms. Oksana Drebezova
Belarus National Contact
Levkova Street 15-113
+375 29 619 71 25
10. Political and Security Environment
10. Political and Security Environment
In 2020, Belarus experienced widespread peaceful protests in the leadup to and after the fraudulent August 2020 election that were met with violence by state security services. However, in the Embassy’s estimation, the potential is low for widespread, politically-inspired violence that would adversely affect foreign property interests.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Belarus has a highly skilled, well-educated workforce, due to its advanced system of higher and specialized education. Wages are lower than in Western Europe, the United States, and Russia.
Belarus has been a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1954 and is a party to almost 50 ILO conventions. In 2004, the ILO made several recommendations regarding workers’ rights to organize and freedom of association. However, Belarus has not adequately responded to the 2004 ILO Commission of Inquiry.
The Constitution, the Labor Code, and presidential decrees are the main documents regulating the Labor Market in Belarus. Prior to the 1999 Presidential Decree No. 29, most labor contracts in the country were open-ended work agreements. Decree No. 29 established a new option to employ workers on 1-5 year-long term contracts and to transfer current employees to these new type contracts. In 2019, more than 90 percent of employees in Belarus were working on term contracts. The term contract system generally favors the employer. The employer can choose not to renew a contract upon its expiration without giving the employee a cause for dismissal. Technically, the employer can also refuse an employee’s proposed resignation before the contract term is up, which would then require the employee to argue their case in court. The employer, on the other hand, can terminate the contract at will. There are several protected employee groups that are exempt from early termination: pregnant women, women with children of up to 3 years old, and single parents with children under 14 years old. Additionally, the employer is obligated to renew contracts with women on maternity leave and with those employees who are approaching retirement age at the end of their prior contract. Retirement age in 2021 was 57.2 years for women and 62.5 years for men.
Severance pay in the case of reduction in force is 13 weeks of salary, and eight weeks’ notice is required for dismissal. However, severance pay only applies to workers on open-ended work agreements, less than 10 percent of all labor contracts in 2020. The law provides a standard workweek of 40 hours and at least one 24-hour rest period per week. Under the law, Belarusians receive mandatory overtime and nine days of holiday pay. Overtime is limited to 10 hours a week, with a maximum of 180 hours of overtime per year. A non-standard work regime is allowed provided that the employee is provided with up to seven days of additional annual leave. In general, employees must be granted at least 24 calendar days of paid leave a year.
There are special provisions on employing foreign citizens who have no permanent residence permit. Such citizens must secure a work permit, which can be usually granted only if an unemployed Belarusian citizen cannot perform the required work. To date, the Embassy has not heard of discriminatory or excessively onerous visa, residence or work permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors, nor of restrictions placed on the numbers or duration of employment of foreign managers brought in to supervise foreign investment projects. In practice, however, few firms, excluding Belarus’ IT sector, employ significant numbers of foreigners. Those that do, tend to hire Russian citizens, who benefit from Russia’s and Belarus’ common employment regulations streamlined thanks to their membership in the EAEU.
Although the law provides for the rights of workers, except state security and military personnel, to form and join independent unions and to strike, it places serious restrictions on the exercise of these rights. The government severely restricted independent unions. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively but does not protect against anti-union discrimination and the government did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining. The Department of State’s Report on Human Rights Practices for 2020 provides more information: https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/belarus/
The official unemployment rate in Belarus has been steady at or just below one percent. According to ILO methodology, unemployment in Belarus was approximately four percent. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance Programs
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
According to official statistics, Belarus received $1.4 billion in FDI (on a net basis) in 2020, while government forecasted for 2020 at least $1.7 billion. Belarus received $1.3 billion in FDI in 2019, $1.6 billion in 2018, USD 1.2 billion in FDI in 2017, and $1.3 billion in 2016. The list of top-10 countries, which invested in Belarus in 2020 includes Russia (21.7 percent), Cyprus (17.7 percent), Netherlands (8.4 percent), Germany (5.4 percent), USA (3.0 percent), Lithuania (2.6 percent), Switzerland (2.2 percent), UK (1.9 percent), Czech Republic (1.7 percent), China (1.7 percent), are considered the top ten foreign investors in Belarus.
|Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2020||$60.2||2019||$63.08||www.worldbank.org/en/country|
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2020||$42.2||2020||N/A||BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$39||2019||$4||BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data|
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||2020 (not on net basis)||10%||2018||34.8%||UNCTAD data available athttps://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html|
* Source for Host Country Data: The National Bank of Belarus ( http://www.nbrb.by ); Ministry of Economy ( https://www.economy.gov.by/ ); National Statistical Committee ( https://www.belstat.gov.by/en/ ).
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||14,417||100%||Total Outward||1,440||100%|
|Russian Federation||4,537||31.4%||Russian Federation||1,152||80%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||151||100%||All Countries||5||100%||All Countries||147||100%|
|International Organizations||74||49%||China||3||57%||International Organizations||74||50%|
|United States||57||38%||Russian Federation||1||27%||United States||57||39%|
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Minsk
46, Starovilenskaya St.,
Minsk, 220002, Belarustel.
+375 (17) 210-1283