The China-Belarus Industrial Park Great Stone is one of the most ambitious projects of modern-day Belarus. Ten years ago, when the park was only an idea, there was nothing but a forest here. Today, the first factories are already up and running. The park is testing unmanned vehicles and 5G, while investors benefit from the most favorable business terms the region has not known before.
Head of the Administration of the China-Belarus Industrial Park Great Stone Aleksandr Yaroshenko recalls the time when everything began. The idea to set up a platform to facilitate investment between Belarus and China was put forward in 2010. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in 2014; a year later the first resident companies got their registration certificates. The official birthday of the Great Stone park is 12 May 2015, when the park welcomed the leaders of Belarus and China.
The first building was erected by China Merchants Group, a shareholder of the industrial park.
The park was named after the village of Great Stone where the park was built. The first stage of the Great Stone project provided for building up an area of 850 hectares. This part of the project was completed one year ahead of schedule. “Over four years we built all the infrastructure facilities, about $260 million was invested. Roads, communications - everything was planned like for a big city. Thus, we created prerequisites for the arrival of investors,” Aleksandr Yaroshenko said.
According to the head of the Great Stone administration, the efforts resulted in the registration of 62 resident companies from 15 countries. "The European Union, the USA, Russia, Switzerland, Israel, the United Arab Emirates - the geography is extensive, which suggests that the project has grown international and that it welcomes investors from any country. Twenty-two out of 62 resident companies have already built factories here and begun to manufacture products, provide services and conduct R&D projects. The park has become recognizable. It has become an exemplary project of the Belt and Road initiative,” he noted.
The industrial park is a special economic zone. Many benefits are provided only in this territory. Investors are attracted by tax and customs preferences, relaxed requirements during the construction and production phase.
The World's Free and Economic Zones Federation (FEMOZA) recognized Great Stone the world's fastest growing special economic zone in 2019. Asiamoney Magazine named the park the best project of the Belt and Road initiative in Central and Eastern Europe. The Financial Times included Great Stone in two nominations of its FDi Free Zones of the Year 2019 rankings.
From the very beginning Great Stone focused on high technology and innovation. “The priority for us was to identify the industries that will shape the future of our economy. The projects that have already been implemented confirm that the chosen lines of business, namely electronics, new materials, engineering, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, hold great promise,” Aleksandr Yaroshenko noted.
The first to launch production here was Chengdu Xinzhu Silk Road Development. It makes supercapacitors for electric buses. MAZ-Weichai manufactures Euro-5 and Euro-6 engines for MAZ. The plant to manufacture transmissions is on track to be complete this year. This product has not been manufactured in Belarus before. Zoomlion Corporation is also completing the project to build a construction equipment plant. U.S. resident IPG Photonics Corporation produces laser equipment.
The country's largest trade and exhibition center spanning 22,000 m2 is already up and running here.
The park is finishing the construction of an innovative R&D commercialization center. It is being built using China's technical and financial assistance. The building in the form of an infinity sign will become a springboard for start-ups.
“The center will generate ideas that can be implemented in the park by investors from any country. The project can be supported both technically (land allocation) and financially, because a pool of interested investors has already been put together. They are ready to allocate money for the ideas that will provide a serious breakthrough in technologies and innovations in the future,” Aleksandr Yaroshenko said.
The head of the administration admits that the pandemic has affected the work of the park, although new resident companies were registered during this time as well. Four out of seven new companies are related to the healthcare sector. For example, a resident company from the Czech Republic will produce innovative prosthetic implants, which are in demand on the market. Another 17 promising projects are in the pipeline.
The first unmanned vehicle has been tested in the park. The prototype was produced in China. The Great Stone is eager to produce unmanned and electric transport. A free charging station for electric cars has already been installed in the park.
According to Aleksandr Yaroshenko, the park has created a barrier-free administrative environment. The One Station service has been developed here, and all administrative procedures can be carried out inside the park. “Things that work only here include the One Station service, the right of ownership of land, a non-regression clause [for 10 years],” he said.
“One Station serves as a coordination center in the Great Stone park. Resident companies have access to all administrative procedures within the park. The principle of operation is very similar to a one-stop shop principle and similar services in other countries. The key difference is that representatives of government agencies arrive at the One Station upon request and provide necessary procedures and services in the park. Many decisions are made within a day.
Representatives of the Great Stone park study the experience of other free economic zones and industrial parks. “It is clear that we should by no means lag behind. We should be ahead of other foreign parks in terms of legislation. I think that all these points should be considered as a whole. The success stories of resident companies that have already implemented projects motivate investors. The team of managers that works with potential investors and develops the park is of crucial importance,” said Aleksandr Yaroshenko.
The China-Belarus Industrial Park Great Stone is located in the direct vicinity of Minsk and the transport corridor Moscow-Berlin. The park borders on Minsk National Airport. It is the largest project of the Belt and Road initiative in Belarus. China, the one that proposed the Silk Road idea, is not the only party interested in logistic capabilities of the park. Europe's largest river port, the Port of Duisburg, became a shareholder of SZAO Industrial Park Development Company in 2018.
This port, China Merchants Group, Belarusian Railways, and the Swiss company Hupac Intermodal SA are creating a consortium to build an international multimodal terminal. It will handle cargoes transported between China and Europe. The construction of the freight terminal will begin in 2020. It will be one of the key projects of the park. The Belarusian side has already started building a railway line to connect the terminal with the country's railway network.
The head of the park administration noted: “The head of state has decided in favor of building a fast railway line between Minsk and the national airport across the industrial park. It will give our investors new opportunities in terms of workforce since people will commute to their new jobs primarily from Minsk.” Fast tram service may become available in the future, too.
Admittedly, not all the employees of the park will have to commute from other cities. Some of them already live in the industrial park's first residential building with panoramic windows. The house offers 156 finished apartments with furniture and household appliances. There is a shop, a first-aid station, and a post office on the first floor of the building.
Nearly $584 million has already been invested in the development of manufacturing enterprises and the infrastructure of the China-Belarus Industrial Park Great Stone. “Chinese partners would like the social infrastructure – residential buildings, retail, public catering outlets – to be developed more rapidly. By the way, a fast-food chain has contacted us and has been permitted to design an outlet. Certainly, there will be more than one residential building. An entire city block will be built as well as a kindergarten, a school, and a clinic. These are the buildings, which are already being designed,” Aleksandr Yaroshenko noted.
The park may become home to more than 130,000 people in the future. Instead of a simple industrial park it will be a city of the future, the administration believes. The first residential complex of the smart, environmentally friendly, and comfortable city is supposed to be built by 2025.