Investment in Belarus
The investment climate of the country is one of the main factors for an investor when making a decision. There are states in which a positive investment image has already been formed. Countries such as Belarus are currently in the process of creation of investment environment. The most objective assessment of investment attractiveness is created by international rating agencies, which regularly publish a country risk assessment for investment. Among the most popular ratings are the Big Three (Fitch, S&P 500, Moody’s.)
The investment climate in Belarus
In the assessment of investment climate from the Moody’s international rating agency headquartered in New York, Belarus holds an average position in the CIS, and is even higher than some European countries (such as Greece).
Stable and safe are countries outside the pink circle. Belarus is currently on the list of less stable countries, although the country assessment over the past four years has improved from “very poor quality and exposed to very high credit risk” (Caa1) to “speculative and exposed to high credit risk” (B3). Belarus has perspectives for growth, but due to not very stable conditions, competition is developing more slowly, which gives a place for new opportunities.
The Ease of Doing ranking is compiled by the World Bank to compare the ease of business activities in the country. According to the investment evaluation of this rating, Belarus ranked 49th. For comparison, the country ranked only 129th in 2007. Although in recent years this is not the best estimation of the investment attractiveness of our country, the investment attractiveness was rated at the 37th place in 2017 and 2019.
Reasons to invest in Belarus
According to the Doing Business report, which is published by the World Bank every year, Belarus ranked 49th among 190 countries in 2020 and outranked the countries such as Italy, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, etc. Over the past 20 years, the country has created and continues to create business environment for attraction of investors to Belarus.
What key benefits for investors are created today in Belarus:
Strategically advantageous location
Belarus is in an advantageous geographical location. Local companies have an excellent opportunity to work for key fast-growing and receptive markets: countries of the European Union (508.2 million consumers) and the CIS (including Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) with 282 million consumers.
The advantageous geographical location is supported by the membership of Belarus in international integration associations. In particular, it is the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
Highly qualified workforce
90% of the population has secondary or higher education. More than 50% of workers have higher education. Belarus has historically strong training in technical specialties and in the field of basic sciences. By the number of graduates in these areas, we are not only ahead of our neighbors, but also ahead of countries such as Germany and Sweden.
Competitive investment and tax climate
In Belarus, there are some preferential treatments that are useful to foreign and local companies in order to optimize costs and tax payments. Let us consider the main ones. There are six free economic zones, as well as preferential tax treatment zones (Hi-Tech Park and the Great Stone Industrial Park) in Belarus. The country also has preferential legislation for companies located in small, medium-sized cities and rural areas.
6 free economic zones
Benefits: 0% corporate income tax for 5 years; 10% VAT. Free economic zones (FEZ) are created in all regional cities of Belarus and in Minsk. Their purpose is to promote the development of high-tech industries throughout the republic, as well as to increase the jobs and production volumes.
0% corporate income tax for 15 years; 0% VAT. One of the largest technology and IT clusters in Eastern Europe built under the principle of extraterritoriality. Currently, there are more than 750 companies among the HTP residents.
Great Stone Industrial Park
0% corporate income tax for 10 years. The Great Stone is the Belarusian-Chinese project that represents a special economic zone with unprecedented conditions for the production development. An important advantage of the industrial park – convenient logistics. It is located near the Minsk National Airport.
Tax benefits for businesses operating in small cities and rural areas
0% corporate income tax for 7 years, 0% VAT for 5 years. Tax benefits for businesses operating in small cities and rural areas are intended to stimulate the production development not only in the capital and regional cities, but also in small settlements.
Developed transportation and logistics infrastructure
Every year, 100 million tons of cargo from Europe passes through Belarus. The bulk (90%) of cargo movement is between the EU and the Russian Federation. Transportation infrastructure includes:
- Railways: 5503 km, including 899 km of electric paths.
- Roads: 86.491 km, including 74.838 km of paved roads.
- Oil pipelines: 2983 km.
- Gas pipelines: 7502 km.
Belarus is open for attracting investment in all economic sectors, excluding the production of weapons and narcotic substances.
The most promising business areas to invest in Belarus:
- Pharmaceutical industry
- Food industry
- High-tech industry
- Equipment manufacturing
In respect of business investment in Belarus, the greatest growth has been observed over the past 5 years in the information and communications sector, as well as in the real estate operations sector. In 2017-2018, the highest growth in investment was in the mining industry, manufacturing sector, construction, activities in the field of administrative and support services.
The sector of creativity, sports, entertainment and recreation has shown the highest growth in 2018 (75% compared to 2017). In absolute terms, the manufacturing industry (5.62 billion BYN) continues to be the leader, closely behind it – real estate operations (5.59 billion BYN). Investment in other sectors, largely, do not exceed 1 billion BYN.
As for the volume of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), different sources provide different information. According to official statistics provided by the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, the bulk of FDI in Belarus comes from Russia (46.4%) and Cyprus (16.1%).
What obstacles continue to prevent Belarus from attracting foreign investors?
The key difficulty in Belarusian investment lies in the relatively poor development of investment infrastructure. The stock market in the country is in the doldrums, so we cannot hold out hope of attracting investment through the sale of company shares on the stock exchange.
When investing in state-owned or partially state-owned enterprises, it is important to consider their role in the social life of the country: at this point of time, they provide jobs. Private investment, which will lead to massive reductions, could turn out negatively for the investor.
Private business in Belarus is actively developing, especially in the field of high technologies and new business models. Every year, the number of export-oriented companies that are ready to attract investment is increasing. However, for effective work on the Belarusian market, it is important to strictly comply with local legislation and the rules of doing business in Belarus.
Lack of property protection. One of the main obstacles mentioned by all participants was the lack of property protection. Potential investors fear administrative pressure on owners.
The large share of property in the economy is owned by the state (70-75%). This leads to an indefinite allocation of the state role as the owner and regulator. For example, the Ministry of Industry runs many factories as a co-owner, while regulating legislative activities in this area.
Guarantees to foreign investors:
Conditions for the effective work of foreign investors are being created today in Belarus, which are supported by both international agreements and national legislation. Investment policy takes into account current trends and requirements.
Full equality of rights to foreign investors
Belarus has adopted the Investment Code, which regulates investment activities in the country. The legislation provides for the support of foreign investors and guarantees from the Government of Belarus.
Protection against discrimination about types of ownership
The Government guarantees equal discrimination-free protection of rights and interests to all investors regardless of the form of ownership and national status. Investments cannot be nationalized.
Freedom to repatriate profits outside of Belarus
The Government guarantees the investor the right to independently manage the results of investment activities (reinvest profits, transfer income abroad after payment of taxes and other obligatory charges).
Guarantees to foreign investors are provided under bilateral agreements that are currently concluded with 52 countries (on avoidance of double taxation). Belarus is a party to many international multilateral treaties. National Agency for Investment and Privatization is operating in Belarus.
Examples of successful investment projects in Belarus
Today Belarus may boast of successful international investment projects. In 2019, about 10 billion USD were invested in the real sector alone. The projects were implemented jointly with the partners from Russia, Poland, Germany and the UK.
Among the successful cases, a co-project of Belarus and Switzerland for the production of “Stadler Minsk” urban and railway transport, as well as the Belarusian-Chinese project “BelGee” for the production of cars can be highlighted.
Among the local investment projects, we would like to note the growth of the Belarusian companies that attracted investment. Among the most successful cases is the online hypermarket 21vek.by, which attracted “Zubr Capital” investments in April 2017. The investor received a minority stake in the company, the amount of investment – from 3 to 7 million USD.
In comparison with the company's performance in 2017 and 2020, a tremendous growth is noticeable.
At this moment, the company is a leader in the local market with more than 1,700 employees, its own logistics, pickup point network and the largest assortment in the country. It is now possible partly owing to the focused strategy of development and attraction of investment in the business.
Expert opinionNikolay Shestak Managing PartnerThere are growth points in Belarus, such as Hi-Tech Park and the Great Stone Industrial Park, which offer tax benefits and preferences for doing business in Belarus. Every year, the legal framework is being improved, which allows to effectively attract investment in business. The negative phenomenon such as corruption is practically absent. It is also worth noting the industriousness and attentiveness of the Belarusian workers and managers. All this together gives the country a high investment potential. Despite all the risks that the investor faces, Belarus is a promising and attractive country for investment. At this moment, there is low competition among investors, which means that the chance of “collecting creams” and investing in the best projects is increasing.Nikolay Shestak Managing Partner