1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign 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 plans to attract a total of $5.5 billion net FDI in 2021-2025, largely through the China-Belarus “Great Stone” industrial park and Belarus’ six free economic zones.
The imposition of wide-ranging sanctions by the United States and many likeminded countries due to Belarus’ facilitation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made Belarus a less attractive destination for FDI. So, too, have the numerous restrictions and fees placed on investments from “unfriendly countries” by the GOB. An official decree signed by Lukashenka on March 14 provides for special fees for any early termination of contracts; prevents business partners from “unfriendly” countries from selling their shares in Belarusian joint stocks; increases taxation on any income of foreign partners, including dividends, royalties, and interests; and orders all debts to foreign partners be paid in Belarusian rubles.
Belarus does not have any specific requirements for foreigners wishing to establish a business. On paper, investors, whether Belarusian or foreign, receive legal protections and have the same right to conduct business operations in Belarus by incorporating 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.
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. 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. NAIP has a 24/7 support hotline service via a Telegram channel and email account to help foreign investors address their problems and concerns in Belarus.
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. 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. According to representatives of major foreign investors in Belarus, there were no reports of FIAC taking any meaningful effort to promote the FDI agenda in 2021 or 2022.
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 in terms of the size of individual investments are above average for the 20 countries covered by the World Bank Group’s Investing Across Borders indicators for Eastern Europe and the Central Asia region. In particular, Belarus limits foreign equity ownership in service industries. Sectors such as fixed-line telecommunications services, electricity generation, 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. These 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. Lukashenka and his administration review 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).
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
Individuals and legal persons can apply for business registration via the web portal of the Single State Register ( http://egr.gov.by/egrn/index.jsp?language=en ) – a resource that includes all relevant information on establishing a business and provides a single window for securing all necessary clearances and permissions from municipal authorities, tax and social security administrations, etc. Business registration normally takes no more than one day.
Belarus has a regime allowing for a simplified taxation system for all foreign-owned businesses. Under the 2010 law on supporting small and medium-sized entrepreneurship Belarus defines enterprises as follows: Micro enterprises – fewer than 15 employees; Small enterprises – from 16 to 100 employees; Medium-sized enterprises – from 101 to 250 employees.
The government does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. According to government statistics, Belarusian businesses’ outward investments in January-June 2021 totaled USD 2.78 billion, of which FDI was 94 percent. The GOB classified investment data following this period and no further investment information is publicly available.
3. Legal Regime
According to Belarusian law, drafts of laws and regulations pertaining to investment and doing business are subject to public discussion, though authorities rarely pay heed to public views. The government alleges 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 favor of public sector businesses. In particular, SOEs often receive government subsidies, benefits, and exemptions like cheaper loans and debt forgiveness that are generally unavailable to private sector companies unless such companies have close connections with Belarus’ ruling circles.
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/
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/ .
On March 24, 2022, the WTO announced it had suspended Belarus’ application to join the organization because of the GOB’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Belarus had been working to join the WTO since 1993.
Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU); EAEU regulations and decisions supersede the national regulatory system.
Belarus has a civil law system with a legal separation of branches and institutions and with the main source of law being legal acts, 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 weakens 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 laws, but the laws contain inconsistencies and are not considered business friendly.
According to the 2021 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. At the February 2021 All Belarusian People’s Assembly, for example, Lukashenka announced he had ordered the closure of over 200 private businesses because of their “illegal support” for the 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, political, commercial, or otherwise. According to Freedom House’s 2021 Nations in Transit report, for example, thousands of people were brutally repressed by Belarusian authorities following the fraudulent August 2020 presidential elections. No security officials were ever investigated for wrongdoing and none of the protestors who were prosecuted by the state received a fair trial.
Local economic court proceedings normally do not exceed two months. Court cases involving foreign persons are typically resolved within seven months unless an international agreement signed by Belarus dictates the resolution must take place sooner.
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.
Issued in 2016, Presidential decree number 188 authorizes the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade to counteract monopolistic activities and promote market competition.
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. However, Belarus has no law provisions that establish clear procedures for fair and timely compensation of an investor’s nationalized property. Belarus has signed 70 bilateral agreements on the mutual protection and encouragement of investments which include obligations regarding expropriation.
In 2021, there were no nationally-reported cases of nationalization, and there have been no instances of confiscation of business property as a penalty for violations of law. It should be noted, however, an official decree signed by Lukashenka on March 14 provides for special fees and penalties for businesses from “unfriendly” countries, including the United States, looking to leave the Belarusian market.
Belarus’ recent actions in response to Western sanctions indicate the government is prepared to violate its commitments under international agreements and domestic law. However, Belarus is party to the following dispute resolution mechanisms:
Belarus and the United States signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), but entry into force is pending exchange of instruments of ratification. This is unlikely to take place in the near future given the breakdown of relations between the two countries over Belarus’ continued human rights abuses and support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 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 U.S. investors in 2021.
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.
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, production of construction materials, electric transport vehicles and light industry products, 5G communications networks, and the information technology and telecommunications sector generally. Potential investors should be aware, however, that following the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, approximately one-third of all IT workers in Belarus have left the country. Industry insiders expect the outflow of tech workers to continue.
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.
In 2021, Belarus did not develop or introduce any incentives for investment in green energy production or distribution.
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, Lukashenka 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: http://www.gomelraton.com/en/
FEZ Vitebsk: http://www.fez-vitebsk.com/en/
FEZ Brest: http://fezbrest.com/en/
FEZ Mogilev: http://www.fezmogilev.by/
FEZ GrondoInvest: https://grodnoinvest.by/en/
FEZ Brest: http://fezbrest.com/en/
Employing five percent of Belarus total workforce in 2021, Belarus’ six FEZs attracted 23 percent of all FDI, accounted for 21 percent of total exports, generated 18 percent of all industrial production, and contributed five percent of the country’s GDP.
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 now pay a regular income tax of 13 percent. Following continued human rights abuses by Belarusian authorities in response to the protests and the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, approximately one-third of all IT professionals have relocated outside of Belarus. Industry insiders expect the outflow to continue as the government continues its repressive tactics and as Western sanctions make doing business with international partners more difficult.
In a January 28, 2022 address to parliament, Lukashenka suggested tech workers employed by foreign companies were disloyal and likely received politically-motivated instructions from their employers. Lukashenka said he was weighing whether the HTP was doing the country more good or harm. He hinted that he would insist on a renegotiation of many of the benefits of residency at the HTP, but the exodus of IT professionals caused the government to change course and offer as yet undeclared incentives for companies to keep their employees at the park.
Foreign nationals who are hired on contract by an HTP resident company, 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 per 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.
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 extends from Moscow to Berlin. Before the launch of Western sanctions against Belarus and the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Great Stone resident companies had access to Lithuania’s Klaipeda seaport on the Baltic Sea. According to a master plan approved in 2013, Great Stone was planned to 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; 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 permitted to purchase land in the zone whereas 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.
Following the start of the war in Ukraine in late February 2022, several residents of Great Stone have terminated their operations in the special economic zone and departed Belarus.
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 people 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.
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 2021 Human Rights Report, the government monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority and filtered and blocked internet traffic. For several days following the August 2020 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. On March 24, 2022, Lukashenka instructed authorities to explore banning YouTube and social media applications because they were ostensibly casting Belarus’ facilitation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in a bad light.
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 ).
Belarus has made progress in improving legislation to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) and prosecute violators. However, challenges for effective enforcement include a lack of sufficiently qualified officers. According to information provided by Belarus’ National Center of Intellectual Property, Belarus adopted a law upon Belarus’ 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. Authorities reported there was one criminal and 89 administrative cases pursued in 2020. No criminal and 178 administrative cases were prosecuted in 2021. In 2020 and in 2021 the National Center of Intellectual Property registered no complaints from U.S. companies or their representatives regarding violations of intellectual property rights.
In July 2021, the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs of July 2, 1999 (the Geneva Act) came into effect in Belarus and the country became the 66th member state to accede to the Geneva Act and became the 75th member of the Hague Union. In November 2021, Belarus adopted an IPR strategy through 2030 defining significant aspects of the country’s IPR system that need to be strengthened. In December 2021, Belarus acceded to the Industrial Design Protection Protocol to the September 9, 1994 Eurasian Patent Convention. The accession is set to come into effect in April 2022.
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 Bern 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
The Belarusian government officially claims to welcome portfolio investment. There have been no reports in 2021 on any impediments to such investment. In 2019 and 2020, Belarus received $500 million and $1.34 billion worth of portfolio investments, respectively. 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 and 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 are available to foreign investors. However, the discount rate of 12 percent established in March, 2022 makes credit too expensive for many private businesses, which, unlike many SOEs, do not receive subsidized or reduced-interest loans. Belarus’ National Bank had predicted a rate of 9-10 percent in 2022 but the war in Ukraine, which prompted the fall of the Belarusian ruble against major foreign currencies, combined with a year-on-year inflation rate of 10 percent in January-February forced the National Bank to revise its outlook.
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.
The Belarus Affairs Unit at U.S. Embassy Vilnius
telephone: +370 (5) 266-5500;
Sanctions imposed by the United States have prohibited any commercial activity with some Belarusian banks, including Dabrabyt Bank and Belinvestbank. Belarusian subsidiaries of sanctioned Russian banks are also under sanctions and include Bel/VEB, VTB Bank Belarus, and Sberbank Belarus. Potential investors should review the Department of Treasury website at https://home.treasury.gov/ for updates as trade restrictions on Belarusian banks continue to develop.
Sanctions introduced by the EU prohibit contact with the National Bank of Belarus and have blocked access to the SWIFT secure messaging system for a number of banks, including Dabrabyt Bank, the Development Bank of Belarus, and Belagroprombank. Potential investors should review the website of the European Commission for updates and further details at https://ec.europa.eu/info/index_en .
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.
In February 2021, the banking system of Belarus included 23 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 5.3 percent as of January 1, 2022. At the beginning of 2022, the country’s six largest commercial banks of systemic importance, all of which have some government share, accounted for 85 percent of the approximately 92.3 billion Belarusian rubles 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 branches in Belarus. 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’ 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’ economy remains exposed to spillovers from the Russian economy and Belarus’ 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. In March 2022, S&P, Fitch, and Moody’s ratings services all downgraded Belarus’ debt rating to CCC or Ca “highly vulnerable to defaults.”
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 value. According to the Belarusian ministry of taxes and duties, the share of small and medium-sized private enterprises in the revenues of the country’s consolidated budget was 35 percent in 2021, the same as in 2020. 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 says that any state-owned or state-controlled enterprise can be privatized. However, Belarus’ privatization program is extremely limited in practice as the government only sells enterprises which operate at a loss and in which the state holds a minority share of less than 25 percent. Lukashenka has expressed skepticism of privatization and during the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly in February 2021 claimed privatization in Belarus was only in the interests of his political opposition.
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.
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 often places strict requirements on privitizations, including preserving or creating jobs, continuing in the same line of work or production, or launching a successful business project within a limited timeframe.
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 policies 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 Yara through its relationship with state-owned potash producer Belaruskali to improve respect for workers’ rights and safety at Belaruskali. Yara later suspended its dealings with Belaruskali due in large part to Western sanctions. Civil society organizations outside of Belarus continue to engage foreign investors and companies on political considerations inside the country. Many multinational corporations decided in 2021 and 2022 to withdraw from the Belarusian market and terminate advertising contracts with state-owned Belarusian media because of continued human rights abuses by the GOB and its support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus does not allow private military or security companies.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities;
- U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; and;
- Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory
Department of the Treasury
Department of Labor
- Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor Report;
- List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor;
- Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World and;
While Belarus officially recognizes the need to develop and implement environmentally friendly economic policies, no significant action was taken by the GOB in 2021.
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 sentence of 10 years in jail and confiscation of property. The most corrupt sectors are considered to be state administration and procurement, the industrial sector, agriculture, trade, and the construction industry. 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 the lack of independent press 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. In December 2021, Belarus’ parliament adopted in the first reading amendments to its anti-corruption law, seeking to improve prevention and streamline the interaction of government agencies in fighting corruption.
The country’s regulations require addressing any potential conflict of interest of parties seeking to win a government procurement contract. The list of these regulations includes 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 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.
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 the prosecutor’s office, as well as increasing the operational autonomy of law enforcement and limiting the immunity protections provided to 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 2021 Corruption Perception Index, Belarus fell from 63rd down to 82nd place out of 180 countries in the rankings and received 41 of 100 possible points on its scale, down from 47 in 2020. For comparison in 2021, Poland ranked 42nd, Lithuania 34th, Latvia 37th, Ukraine 122nd, and Russia 136th.
General Prosecutor’s Office
Internatsionalnaya Street 22
+375 17 337-43-57
Ms. Oksana Drebezova
Belarus National Contact
Levkova Street 15-113, 220007
Minsk, Belarus+375 29 619 71 25
In 2021, the GOB repressed, imprisoned, or forced out of the country tens of thousands of peaceful protestors who had taken to the streets in opposition to the fraudulent August 2020 presidential election. There were numerous reports of beatings and torture of those arrested at the hands of security forces. Politically motivated trials against members of the opposition and rival presidential candidates and their supporters resulted in prison sentences of up to 17 years for organizing and taking part in protests. Protests against Belarus’ facilitation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine similarly resulted in repression, arrests, and unjust prison terms for protestors across Belarus. As of March 2022, human rights organizations report at least 1,100 political prisoners in Belarus. Many international businesses have suspended their operations in Belarus as a result of the ongoing human rights violations.
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. Provisions of Decree No 29 were included in the country’s Labor Code in January 2020.
In 2020, 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 58 years for women and 63 years for men.
Severance pay in the case of reduction in force is prescribed in law as 13 weeks of salary and eight weeks’ notice is required for dismissal. However, severance pay only applies to workers on open-ended work agreements which comprise 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 per year.
There are special provisions for employing foreign citizens without a permanent residence permit. Such citizens must secure a work permit, which is usually granted only if an unemployed Belarusian citizen cannot perform the required work. This is verified by local Belarusian employment offices. 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 the developing Union State of Russian and Belarus, and Belarus’ 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 restricts independent unions. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, but does not protect against anti-union discrimination and the government does not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining. Following the post-presidential election protests in late 2020 and early 2021, the GOB ordered the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus to push private firms and companies across the country form pro-government unions. Independent economic experts say at least half of all privately-owned businesses in Belarus made a show of establishing these unions to satisfy the government, but the new unions are ineffectual and unpopular.
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 for many years. According to ILO methodology, unemployment in Belarus was approximately four percent.
Belarus has been a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) of the World Bank since December 1992. In July 2011, Belarus ratified amendments to the Convention on Establishing MIGA and concluded agreements on the legal protection of guaranteed foreign investment and the use of local currency. According to the Belarusian Ministry of Economy, these agreements finalized procedures for Belarus to become a full member of MIGA.
The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC – formerly known as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) is not active in Belarus and does not provide political risk insurance for investments in this country. Under Section 5 (Sense of Congress Relating to Sanctions Against Belarus), paragraph C (Prohibition on Loans and Investment) of the Belarus Democracy Act signed by the president on October 20, 2004, no loan, credit guarantee, insurance, financing, or other similar financial assistance should be extended by any agency of the United States government (including the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) to the Government of Belarus, except with respect to the provision of humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The Belarus Democracy Act of 2020 updates this provision of the 2004 law to extend these restrictions to the IDFC.
In 2021, Belarus received $1.33 billion worth of FDI, much of which came from reinvested profits from foreign investments in the manufacturing and banking sectors. Following the introduction of sanctions in response to Belarus’ facilitation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the GOB classified all information about FDI ostensibly for national security reasons. Available statistics indicate FDI in 2021 was down 6.2 percent from the previous year and down 26.7 compared to 2014. The banking sector, in particular, saw a drop in FDI of 42.5 percent in 2021 which independent economic experts attribute to sanctions on Belarusian state-owned banks.
Russia, the Netherlands, Cyprus, the Baltic countries, and Germany were the largest investors in Belarusian economy in 2021. Minsk and the Minsk region accounted for approximately two thirds of all FDI in 2021.
* Please note, some data from host country data sources is not currently available outside of Belarus due to government restrictions on internet access. This includes data from the National Bank of Belarus ( http://www.nbrb.by ); Ministry of Economy ( https://www.economy.gov.by/ ); and National Statistical Committee ( https://www.belstat.gov.by/en/ ).
|Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2021||$68.2||2020||$60.2||https://data.worldbank.org/
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2021||$21||2020||42||BEA data available at
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||2020||$8||2019||$4||BEA data available at
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||2020 (not on net basis)||10%||2018||34.8%||UNCTAD data available at
|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.|
Belarus Affairs Unit, U.S. Embassy Vilnius
Akmenu g. 6
Vilnius, 03106, Lithuania
tel. +370 (5) 266-5500