How is Belarus to respond to the abolishment of EU trade preferences?

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Belarusian experts maintain that European officials risk to be denied entrance to Belarus. On June 21 the European Union will abolish trade preferences for Belarus. Under the measure, Belarus will annually lose almost EUR400 million. But we are not going just to sit and watch. “Belarus will be forced to take adequate measures towards the commodities from the European Union,” Andrej Eudachenka, Belarus’s Deputy Foreign Minister said recently.

The EU General Preferences System sets out customs preferences for 77 developing countries. The system includes the former Soviet countries, the former Eastern Bloc countries that have not yet entered the EU and China. The preferences (a 10% decrease in customs duties) are used by the countries that respect human rights, especially the rights of independent trade unions.

In the view of the International Labor Organization, Belarus does not respect the rights of trade unions. However, instead of improving its record on the rights of unions, the government in Belarus is set to make other steps. Economist Alexander Potupa reflects on which measures the government could resort to.

“They could try to raise import duties for some categories of European goods. But, naturally, the population will be affected the most,” he said.

Political commentator Yury Shevtsov does not share this viewpoint.

“I think retaliatory sanctions are unlikely. Maybe something symbolic and insignificant only…For example, there were cases when some European MPs or officials were denied Belarusian visas.

I think the deputy minister made this statement in a temper. Besides, the European market is a critical and principal issue. I don’t think that we will pull out from this market even if the real sanctions are introduced against us,” Shevtsov said.

It is not that easy to pull out. Re-orientation of the Belarusian goods, as promised by Lukashenka and the foreign ministry, is a hard, long-term and ungrateful business.

“The millions that we will lose is a too great amount of money for us to re-orient ourselves quickly,” Shevtsov added.

Belarus will have to do something anyway. Retaliatory measures, market re-orientation or improving the situation with the rights of the unions will require time. In every case, it will be the Belarusians to lose, in the first place. Besides, improving some matters in relations with the trade union has turned out to be late.

“Many organizations have gone bankrupt or been placed into harder environments. Naturally, many unions have lost their memberships. How can the government compensate for this?” Alexander Potupa asks.

But it looks like the government is set to retaliate to the EU instead of improving its domestic human rights record.