KEF Forum Brings Together Officials and Independent Experts to Discuss Belarus Economy

On 5 November experts on the Belarusian economy and government officials will take a closer look at the challenges the Belarusian economy faces at the October Economic Forum (KEF) in Minsk. Hotel Europa will host a one day conference 'New Opportunities or Old Challenges? Scenarios for the Economy of Belarus.'

Deputy Minister of Economy Dzmitry Holukhau will open the event which will include speakers such as Pavel Daneyko from the Institute for Privatisation and Management, Marek Dąbrowski from CASE Warsaw and the academic director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies Aleksei Pikulik. KEF is an abbreviation for Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum, which in English means October Economic Forum. October is a month when many countries traditionally celebrate a harvest festival – and it is for this reason that the organizers decided to do something similar: they want to gather the most interesting ideas on the economy in Belarus that have accumulated over the past year.

Participants will ask questions through the news portal and Belarus Digest will broadcast the conference live. Belarus Digest interviewed Alexander Chubrik, director of the IPM Research Centre, about the idea of the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum and its first conference in Minsk.

Influencing the Decision-Makers

The key organisers include three economics think tanks - Research Centre of the Institute for Privatisation and Management (IPM Research Centre), Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC) and Centre for Social and Economic Research - Belarus (CASE-Belarus).

IPM Research Centre is an independent think tank which since 1999 works on economic and social research. BEROC is another Minsk-based think thank which conducts academic and applied research and arranges educational programmes on modern economics and outreach activities. THe Centre for Social and Economic Research – Belarus (CASE-Belarus) – is a Warsaw-based economic think tank working on the development of a market economy and civil society in Belarus.

These think tanks want to not only organise the conference with its focus on Belarus, but also show that there is much more in Belarus than the label of the last dictatorship in Europe. The approach of the organisers of the Forum is twofold: discussion of internal economic problems, but in the wider regional and global context.

Alexander Chubrik, director of the IPM Research Centre, told Belarus Digest that the organisers want to present Belarus to the world and the world to discussions about Belarusian economy. The organisers believe that their event can address the most pressing economic problems: “Certainly, the event will not give any ready prescriptions to all economic challenges, but it rather proposes a thorough diagnosis of the current economic situation of Belarus through involvement of various experts,” Chubrik said.

Involving Ordinary Belarusians

The organisers make the whole event as open and available for potential viewers as possible. In addition to establishing a platform for discussing the economy, they hope to familiarise ordinary Belarusians with current economic problems and their roots.

Chubrik points out the idea of the KEF to make conditions for a professional dialogue open to the public – those people interested in the issues raised will have a chance to address questions to the experts though the news portal Belarus Digest will also hosting a live stream of the conference.

The involvement of high level experts on the economy, including economic policymakers, combined with the openness of discussion for ordinary Belarusians via the Internet has rarely been practicised in the past.

According to Chubrik society's confidence in the government's economic policies has dropped over the past years in Bealrus. The openness of the conference may contribute to raising Belarusians level of in current or future economic policies. The interactive aspect of the conference allows ordinary people to get involved and raise issues that interest them.

Addressing the Economic Challenges

The first section of the Forum will look at trends on markets of the main trade partners of Belarus. After the currency crisis of 2011, an increase in exports briefly became the "engine" of Belarusian economic growth. But shortly thereafter the cost advantages that Belarus received after the 2011 devaluation and falling wages disappeared. The situation on foreign markets also worsened: its main trading partners do not have good relations with Belarus or are themselves in recession. The economic effects of integration initiatives, which involve Belarus, remain controversial.

The second section will look at the limitations of and opportunities present in the current Belarusian socio-economic model. Belarus has exhausted the usual sources of economic growth – evidence for which can be found in a number of recent studies. But stagnation, which characterises the current state of the economy, and slow economic growth, is creating additional problems: Belarusian business now faces a lack of qualified personnel, and without an increase in productivity and wages in the country, its labor market problems will be exacerbated and migration will only increase.

After the currency crisis of 2011, inflation and devaluation expectations have improved significantly, which not only reduces the effectiveness of Belarus' monetary policy, but also makes the money market particularly vulnerable to internal and external shocks. These challenges require decisive action, which cannot but affect the welfare of ordinary Belarusians.

This poses additional challenges to social policy – to support the most vulnerable groups and to develop mechanisms of social integration for those who lose their jobs as a result of changes in economic policy. These issues and challenges for social and economic policies will be considered in the work section.

The third section will look at the opportunities and limitations of regional development in Belarus. The panel will discuss the competitive advantages and weaknesses of the Belarusian regions, and possible directions for reform that would fully unleash the potential of each and maximize the potential to mitigate any negative impact at the regional level. The most important topics include the restructuring of public enterprises and the tightening of macroeconomic policies.

The Forum will also address the current tendencies of the global economy and also discuss those reforms which Belarus missed out on which its neighbours already completed back the 1990s.

Belarus Digest