Veni, Vidi, Vici, Or My Personal Experience of Doing Business in Belarus

Belarus-Belgium economic collaboration
Fact box

The trade turnover in goods between Belarus and Belgium more than doubled by 2007 and tripled by 2008 compared to the figures of 2003. Following the world economic crisis in 2009 the trade turnover declined to the 2007 level and started to grow again in 2010. The volume of trade between the two countries reached its maximum in 2012. In 2015 the turnover reached US $ 377,4 million, export accounted for US $ 167,9 million.

In 2015 Belgium was ranked 10th among the top ten trade partners of Belarus in the EU.

Belarusian export to Belgium included metal production, woodwork, petrochemicals, fertilisers, flax, glass fibre, frozen fruit and vegetables.

source: Belarusian Embassy to Brussels

Filip A.G. Vandenbroele

About Filip A.G. Vandenbroele

Filip A.G. Vandenbroele is Honorary Consul of Belgium to Belarus. He has a broad experience in investment projects in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. In 1994, he seised the opportunity to start one of the first supermarket chains in Russia. Since 2000, he works mainly in Belarus for several strategic investors and western companies, developing new business projects in the food, sport infrastructure, automotive and pharmaceutical industries.

Back in the year 2000, I had literally just finished a project in the HoReCa sector (the food and beverages service) in Ukraine. Twenty minutes after landing at Brussels airport, I received a call from a Belgian company. They asked if I was interested in restructuring a wood processing company in Russia.

As a specialist in the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector, I was not particularly keen to try something so extremely new. Then I reminded myself that the basic rules behind how start-ups and business projects operate, in general are quite similar, so the sector doesn’t really matter that much. I also thought it would be nice to go back to Russia, where I had already worked, for six years, on an interesting retail and wholesale project. The thing is I didn’t end up going to Russia — after signing the contract I was told the plant that needed restructuring was in Minsk, Belarus.

To be perfectly honest with you, the name of the country meant nothing to me. It was a black hole. This will be a challenge, I thought. It was a challenge I faced— I restructured the business and made the company into a highly profitable one and, most importantly, I still live here! It was not an easy job and I had many difficult moments, as well as lonely periods, but I started to love the country and Belarusians.

The Belarusians are more European than Russian, in their mentality. Of course, there is a big difference between the urban and the rural populations, but overall, you find highly-skilled, exceptionally talented and motivated people but at the same time as impossible workers and bureaucrats, who prefer to follow the old Soviet style of living (including the cheap vodka). Fortunately, this latter group is dying out and most of the time they can also be avoided.

In general, I would say, stability and order are the key words to describe Belarus. My guests have always been impressed by how clean and orderly Minsk is. Some friends even called Belarus the Switzerland of the CIS countries (Commonwealth of Independent States). Compared to other countries in the region, Belarus has a very low level of corruption and crime.

In the 2000s Belarus was still very isolated — a business network similar, to those in Moscow and Kyiv, was non-existent. Fortunately these days, the foreign business community is much more active and many new business networking events are taking place in Minsk.

After 22 years’ experience in doing business in Belarus, Russia and the neighbouring countries, I don’t understand why so few foreign investors, who are interested in the region, operate from Belarus because it is far easier to so from Belarus. Isolation and the country’s negative image have played their role in this. Today, after the very successful hockey championship; the economic situation, which resulted from the recession in Russia and the European Union’s sanctions having been mostly lifted, I would expect more changes to take place. This underdevelopment could not have lasted for ever. There are many great opportunities here and even more development, which you can see with your own eyes and even be a part of. It’s the last country in Europe where one can still do that.

There are already a few foreign investments but the situation is still extremely modest. Why? Well, you can achieve a great return on your investment but you have to keep a low profile. Sometimes, access to material (wood, milk, waste, etc.) is also not easy. It is often monopolised by the state. Start-ups and operational issues are less problematic, as there is far more useful business information and outsourcing opportunities for the business. It is possible to start a business, even tomorrow, using outsourcing solutions and step-by-step you can start operating independently. The business climate has improved tremendously over that last few years and the authorities are showing a positive attitude towards business.

Belarusian companies are interested in western technology. The biggest problem is export financing and insurance. The currency controls oblige prepayment, which can only to be avoided by blocking the same amount in currency (at high interests). In spite of the sanctions’ lifting, EU officials haven’t realised many concrete actions and each country has its own policy.

Overall, my advice to foreign companies is just to come and see. Visas, the language and culture should not be barriers and are easy to overcome. I can quote Julius Caesar ‘veni, vidi, vici.” You will too, just come!

_______________

The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.

RELATED ARTICLES

Business Opportunities in Belarus Encourage Outside Interest

Emerging Europe and the EBRD host the Outlook on Belarus conference in London

Belarusian Economy on a Diet to Change its Financial Outlook

Belarus: The Importance Of Diversification

The Next Four Months Crucial For the Belarus-EU Relations

Smart, reliable and promising

Belarus is Bringing Opportunities for European Companies

Great Stone

Brexit Makes Waves Across the European Union and Beyond

Belarus Is One of the Top Outsourcing Destinations of 2016

Belarus Is Ready to Begin With Venture Capital Investments

Belarus: Navigating the geopolitical storm

New investors interested in Belarus’ Great Stone Industrial Park

Belarusian Economic Recovery May Downgrade Intended Reforms for Competitiveness

Foreigners choose Minsk and Gomel as Belarus’ most attractive FDI destinations

Belarus is the most creative EEU country

“e-Belarus”: Embracing the Internet and its Possibilities

Belarus-Turkey Investment Forum to increase investment and trade between the two countries

Belarus and Singapore Share the Same Factors for Economic Success

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Breaking trade barriers with CIS has never been easier

Invest in Belarus: looking beyond politics to the future

Belarus’s Election Tests the EU’s Global Strategy

From Denmark to Belarus — A Personal Experience of Business

Emerging Europe Live: CEE — The Outsourcing Destination

Belarusian Tech Companies Lead a Global Technological Advance in Outsourcing and Product Development

Why Is Belarus Tech Booming?

Belarus: Changing Old Ideas And Mixing With the New in Belarus’ Export Market

The Eurasian Economic Union Fails to Bring Belarus Closer to Big Brother

Belarus 2020: Turning the Vicious Circle Into an Upward Spiral

The EU Is Encouraging Belarus to Join the World Trade Organisation

PandaDoc — Rolling Sales Procedures Together So Everyone Succeeds

Innovation Brings Great Opportunities to the Belarusian Economy

Outsourcing in Germany: Stop Talking at and Start Talking to

EBRD Emerging Europe Outlook on Belarus 2016

Lukashenka seeks to avoid commitment to Russia’s geostrategic goals

The Reality Is More Interesting Than the Misconceptions

One Belt One Road: a Big Task for Europe

Are Labour Shortages Driving Economic Growth?

The Great Stone Industrial Park — Making Doing Business Easy in Minsk

FocusEconomics: Belarusian Economy to Grow in Q4 2016 and Onwards

World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2016 Resume For Emerging Europe

Young Well-Paid IT Specialists Are Making Belarus Known Internationally

Germany and Belarus: Thinking Globally Acting Locally

Foreign Investors: Belarus Offers Opportunities But Further Improvements Are Needed

Cautious Upturn in Emerging Europe Haunted by the Spectre of Uncertainty

Donald Trump

Encouraging SME’s Development Will Help Build Belarusian Economy

Long-time Neighbours Need to Share Awareness, Plus Trade & Investment

Will European Business and Institutions Bolster the New Trends That Have Appeared in Belarus?

Italy and Belarus: A Relationship Based on Complementarities and History

Brexit Is a Great Opportunity to Attract Foreign Investors to Belarus

The Belarusian Banking Sector Moving Towards Modernisation Despite Some Challenges

The Shopping Experience Is Set To Go Global in Belarus from 2017 Onwards

The Belarusian Economy: The Challenges of Stalled Reforms

The Belarusian real estate market is on the up

Central And Eastern Europe At the World Property Market

The UK and Belarus: A Partnership to Introduce the Real Belarus to Europe

Belarus Has To Make an Extra Effort To Change Investors’ Perceptions

‘No’ To a Monetary Union With Russia

HTP: Belarus’ Engineers Are Leading a Cool Revolution

The EU’s Benign Neglect Of Eastern Europe

OECD: Belarus Has to Find Its Own Belarusian Model to Emerge

Belarus Is Where the New Silk Road Heads For Europe

Belarus US Business Relations Thrive as Conditions Improve

Belarus and the EBRD:
Working to Expand the Country’s Strengths and Success

The essence of the Customs Union is protectionism

The Belarusian Financial Sector: An Industry in the Process of Restructuring

Will the New Five-day Visa-free Regime Encourage More Visitors to Belarus?

Winds of Change for Belarus’ Reinsurance Industry?

The Proof of a Country’s Readiness to Attract Foreign Investors Lies in the Development of the Insurance Market

Falling Student Numbers and Declining R&D Result From Lack of Funds

Belarus: MOST Builds a Bridge to the Future

Belarus: On the Way to a Market Economy?

Germany Is Not Letting Belarus’ Small Downturns Put it off Looking for Investment Opportunities

Belarus Has Set an Example for Others to Follow

The Deep Roots of Currency Crises in the Former Soviet Union

Emerging Europe Live: Life in Belarus As Seen by Foreigners

High-Tech Park in Minsk is growing rapidly

UK Shores: the New Frontier, a View on a Series of Fortunate Events

Belarus Is Making the First Steps onto the International Finance Floor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *