Business councils are a tool for shaping bilateral business agenda

№ 1, 2021

The business councils established by the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in cooperation with its foreign partners are among the important tools in promoting foreign economic ties of businesses. The councils are established to promote direct contacts between the Belarusian and foreign companies and they have a number of advantages.

Firstly, business councils offer an opportunity to discuss topical problems of the trade and economic relations expansion and to develop proposals for their solution; secondly, the councils provide the business community members with all necessary information. At the meetings, on the invitation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, representatives of state bodies, diplomatic corps, and businessmen make presentations aimed at promoting Belarusian goods and services to foreign markets. Thirdly, the business council is a place to meet with foreign partners. Given that the composition of the councils is not fixed, and meetings, as a rule, are timed to landmark events (high-level visits, forums, exhibitions, conferences, meetings of intergovernmental commissions), the business communication circle is quite wide. An obligatory element of any council meeting is B2B negotiations, so that Belarusian enterprises can expand the boundaries of their contacts. Besides, it has become a tradition to accompany council meetings by signing contracts and agreements. For example, in 2019, 78 documents were signed at the meetings of the business councils for a total amount of $1 billion.

The functioning of the business councils was not halted during the pandemic. Only in a concerted action it is easier for businesses to overcome difficulties, and for doing so it is necessary to maintain partnerships, to discuss existing problems and to find ways of addressing these problems together. Realizing this fact, the BelCCI, together with partner Chambers, held several business council meetings online.


Belarusian-Ukrainian Business Cooperation Advisory Council

 Belarus and Ukraine have long-term trade and economic cooperation experience. For our country, Ukraine is the second trade and economic partner after ­Russia. Belarus is one of the five largest economic partners of Ukraine. The countries are implementing more than 200 agreements, most of them have an economic agenda. Close ties have been established by Belarusian and Ukrainian enterprises in the fields of mechanical engineering, petroleum chemistry, food production, and woodworking. Nine assembly plants in the field of mechanical engineering have been created in Ukraine with the participation of Belarusian enterprises, and there are 324 enterprises with Ukrainian capital in Belarus.

The work of the Belarusian-Ukrainian Business Cooperation Advisory Council is of particular importance for deepening bilateral partnership relations. The Council was created in 2012 in order to provide additional tools for the joint decision making regarding the intensification of trade and economic relations and scientific and technical ties, ensuring unhindered access of Belarusian and Ukrainian goods to the domestic markets of both countries. It is an effective platform not only for discussing relevant issues of interaction, ­prospects and new initiatives, some existing "pitfalls", but also for deve­loping consolidated decisions in the field of enhancing trade and economic relations. The importance of this institution is also evidenced by the fact that over the last three years the Council meetings were timed to coincide with such large-scale events as the official visit of the President of the Republic of Belarus to Kyiv (2017), as well as the Forums of Regions of Belarus and Ukraine (2018 and 2019). The ninth meeting was supposed to take place in Grodno, Belarus, within the framework of the third Forum of Regions, but the second wave of the pandemic made adjustments to the plans of the organizers of both the forum and the meeting.

In such a situation, the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry decided to hold a meeting of the Advisory Council in the format of a videoconference. The event took place on November 11.

The online meeting was chaired by Vladimir Ulakhovich, the Chairman of the BelCCI, and the President of the ­Ukrainian CCI Gennady Chyzhykov. The event was attended by the heads of the regional Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the two countries, representatives of the Ministry of ­Energy of the Republic of Belarus, the Development Bank of the Republic of Belarus, the Belarusian Universal Commo­dity Exchange. More than 130 businessmen from Belarus and Ukraine took part in the event.

The participants discussed the development of Belarus-Ukraine trade and economic cooperation in the current situa­tion, the restrictions that have arisen and the measures taken in both states to overcome the difficulties caused by the pandemic, the tools to support Belarusian exports, the experience and prospects for the implementation of joint projects in the fields of innovations, petroleum chemistry, energy engineering, agriculture, food industry, and other.

The BelCCI Chairman said that in the current difficult conditions caused by the pandemic, the main task of business and Chambers of Commerce and Industry is to maintain existing ties, not to lose what has been achieved. Despite the fact there is a slight decrease in trade turnover in 2020, the companies of the two countries are implementing new projects, both in traditional fields and in the field of scientific research and new technologies. "The Advisory Council meeting is a positive message for businesses, the confirmation of the companies' determination to further develop cooperation, willingness to discuss and overcome the difficulties ­together," Vladimir Ulakhovich underlined.

The President of the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Gennady Chyzhykov drew attention to the fact that in such a difficult time of restrictions such meetings are extremely important. According to the Ukrainian statistics, exports from Ukraine to Belarus in 2020 decreased by 18 percent, and Belarusian exports to Ukraine dropped by 27 percent. Therefore, the business community needs to intensify cooperation in order to overcome the reduction in trade turnover and return to the previous level of interaction. The key to this is communication and meetings, ­including virtual-format.

During the Advisory Council meeting, the businessmen from Belarus and Ukraine confirmed their intention not only to restore the cooperation level but to increase it. An online contract-signing ceremony was held as part of the meeting. Nine agreements in the field of petroleum chemistry were signed, as well as a contract between the institutions of the Academies of Sciences of Belarus and Ukraine on joint innovative projects, and six cooperation agreements between regional Chambers of Commerce and Industry.


Belarus-Kazakhstan Business Council

The Republic of Kazakhstan is one more strategic trade partner for Belarus. Belarus-Kazakhstan relations are based on mutual trust and respect. In terms of export volumes to the Kazakhstani market, our republic occupies the third position among the CIS countries, and this fact speaks for itself. Traditionally, Belarus provides Kazakhstan with tractors, motor vehicles, combines, furniture, pharmaceuticals, dairy and meat products. Cotton fiber, rails, raw zinc, flat products, petrochemical products are supplied from Kazakhstan to Belarus. There are 49 enterprises with Kazakh capital in Belarus, including 13 joint ventures and 36 foreign ones. There are 256 companies with Belarusian "roots" in Kazakhstan.

The agreement on the creation of the Belarus-Kazakhstan Business Council was signed by the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Foreign Trade Chamber of Kazakhstan in 2017. At the Council meetings, businessmen consider topical issues of bilateral trade and economic co­operation, the prospects for the development of industrial cooperation, trade ties, logistics issues. Negotiations are held between participants from Belarus and Kazakhstan.

On November 24, a meeting of the Belarus-Kazakhstan Business Council was held via videoconferencing. The participants of the meeting were: the BelCCI Chairman Vladimir Ulakhovich, the Chairman of the Board of the Foreign Trade Chamber of Kazakhstan Ayan Yerenov, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Kazakhstan Pavel Utyupin, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Kazakhstan to Belarus Askar Beisenbayev, representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture of both countries, the Belarusian Universal Commo­dity Exchange. More than 120 representatives of Belarusian and Kazakhstani companies joined the broadcast on Zoom and YouTube.

The BelCCI Chairman emphasized that the economies of the two countries complement each other. "Our complementarity is reflected in the trade commodity range. Products of Belarusian engineering have been in steady demand in the market of Kazakhstan for many years, and the seven assembly plants that operate there are the infrastructure that will help us to develop our industrial cooperation further. Belarusian products enjoy good demand," he said. According to the BelCCI Chairman, the Business Council is a special form of interaction where enterprises work directly with the support of Chambers, diplomatic missions and ministries not only to confirm intentions but to turn them into new business and commercial projects.

The Ambassador of Belarus to Kazakhstan Pavel Utyupin noted that despite the decrease in exports to ­Kazakhstan this year, bilateral trade and economic relations have the basis and potential for revival. "We were happy to notice a growth in shipments of chilled beef, sugar, special-purpose vehicles, medicines, cheese, and quark. Export of products of the mechanical engineering industry slightly shrank," the Ambassador added. In order to invigorate trade, as he said, Belarus and Kazakhstan should intensify industrial cooperation, establish more joint ventures, and strengthen cooperation in agriculture, construction, and transport.

For his part, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Belarus Askar Beisenbayev noted that in 2020 international trade declined due to the global economic crisis and the pandemic. "These factors have also affected the trade between our countries, but I hope that this is temporary. In 2019, the trade stood at $1 billion, and this is not the limit. This figure should be much bigger – there is room for improvement. It is important to develop cooperation, hold meetings and forums of regions of Belarus and Kazakhstan because this area holds great potential," Askar Beisenbayev said.

The Business Council meeting participants discussed the state and prospects of bilateral cooperation in various sectors, the measures that are taken to support enterprises and facilitate bilateral business contacts, exchanged experience of working at a time of the pandemic and outlined the ways of further cooperation. The businessmen of the two countries received answers to practical questions on interaction in the current situation, established ties for further elaboration of specific joint projects.