Constituted officially in January 2015, the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kirgizstan has brought the elimination of customs and tax formalities at frontiers between these countries crossroads between Europe and Asia.
Currently they represent a single economic space, which target is the establishment in 2015 of the so-called Eurasian Union, an asymmetric equivalent to the European Union in their region, with a single currency and the expected accession of new countries (Armenia, Kirghizstan, Tajikistan…), but with a very clear protagonist: the Russian Federation.
The largest country on earth goes currently through a period of development and deep changes at an unprecedented rhythm.
Russia possesses almost 40% of global resources in natural gas, 22% of oil and 16% of coal, as well as highly abundant drinking water (20% of world reserves) and precious stones, not to mention its fishing resources or its huge deposits of zinc, aluminum, plumbum, iron, nickel, platinum, titanium, gold (7th biggest reserves in the world), copper, phosphates and mercury.
Fostered by a price boom in commodities and after overcoming its own crisis in 2009, Russia has opted for the progressive removal of customs barriers, extensive public investments and the modernization of its industry. Until 2014, with the only inflexion of its brief crisis, the country’s GDP has grown at a stable annual rate of 4-5% since 2008.
Despite the current recession and the mutual sanctions policy between the West and Russia, since December 2014 the ruble has experienced a remarkable appreciation due to the stabilization of oil futures and the truce in Ukraine. Today, according to Forbes, Russia is the fourth most attractive market for investment, behind only the US, China and India. The international consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers sees Moscow as the first city in his study of the most important capitals in emerging economies. Many macroeconomic forecasts are placing the country as the 5th largest economy in less than 20 years.
In this context there is no lack of examples of Spanish companies succeeding in Russia: Roca, Gestamp, Imaginarium, Inditex, Mango, Gallina Blanca, OHL or Talgo bear witness to this.
However its potential of expansion and the market volume that it can reach are still huge: Russia still receives less than 0,5% of total Spanish investments abroad, despite its sustained growth (it already is the 9th largest economy in the world, thus surpassing Spain’s), its enormous purchasing power, its necessity (still inescapable) to cover its needs with foreign products and its recent accession to the WTO.
The main frontier of the Eurasian Union with the European Union, Belarus is a country that now, thanks to the integration policies of the Customs Union, has become an access gate to a market with over 200 million potential consumers. Despite all the prejudices which can generate at first glance the so-called “last dictatorship of Europe”, the attractiveness of Belarus goes much further than being a source of cheap and qualified labor.
According to the international index “Doing Business 2015” of the World Bank, this middle-sized Eastern European country (which counts about 10 million inhabitants) ranks today in the highest position of its history as regards its potential to carry out profitable businesses. Out of 185 countries, Belarus occupies the 12th position in “starting a business”, the 7th in “registering property”, the 29th in enforcing contracts and the 34th in dealing with construction permits.
Despite the simplification of its administrative procedures and the privileges to investment in free economic zones, eco-agriculture and secondary cities, Belarus is not an easy market: it doesn’t always respect private property (as the recent cases of Spartak and Kommunarka have revealed) and being on good terms with the established power is essential to success (more than 55% of the country’s entrepreneurial structure still belongs to the State).
Nevertheless, this great Eastern European unknown grew at annual rates of 10% until 2009 and in 2014 its economy is expected to grow by 3.5%. Its legal security tends to increase sustainably with new laws, which protect the entrepreneur and the growing importance of entities like investment funds. Actually, its condition of signatory state to the ICSID Convention places foreign investors in a more secure position than that of its local competitors, due to the impartial judgment of the ICSID and the important legal guarantees which it entails.
However, the Spanish presence in Belarus is still marginal. The current moment, in which legal improvements are being implemented, support for the foreign investment is growing and the country is getting ready for a faster modernization, can be the ideal time to look towards this country and to take positions in its economy, now that the risks are compensated by a still feeble competence. Spaniards who have already taken the initiative in sectors as tourism, new technologies, catering or industry, tend to emphasize an evident fact: due to its location and the strength of its people, Belarus will open completely in the near future. When this occurs, those who will have anticipated this development will enjoy a decisive advantage with respect to late-comers.