SHKLOV, 24 January (BelTA) – We need to protect Belarus' interests as we work with foreign partners and should not forget about import substitution, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said as he visited Shklov Newsprint Mill on 24 January, BelTA has learned.
An investment project to produce base paper for decorative facing materials was discussed. Initially, the mill cooperated with Papcel, a world-renowned supplier of equipment from Czechia. However, in the end, the project was delayed as some of the equipment turned out unsuitable. Litigation with the Czech company still continues. A bank guarantee did not help. The company filed for bankruptcy. According to the Shklov mill, this is an attempt to evade responsibility and payment due to the Belarusian side. The newsprint mill has already proved its case in international arbitration in Vienna. The issue, however, remains unresolved due to various actions on the part of the Czech company. The amount in dispute is nearly €10.3 million.
The plant has to fine-tune the paper production plant with the help of other partners. It will cost €6 million for the mill to compete the project. The deadline is late 2020. The first batch of base base paper is planned for 2021. The mill is projected to reach its designed capacity in 2023 (30,000 tonnes per year). The capacity of the domestic market is some 13,000 tonnes.
Aleksandr Lukashenko demanded that the interests of the Belarusian side be strictly protected, and this applies not only to this specific case.
The president ordered a report on possible use of all leverages in respect to the Czech side: “I am not afraid of using them. We must call them down. Such attitude is admissible. Will you pass this information over to [Belarus' Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir] Makei. I gave him instructions at a time of receiving the credentials from the Czech ambassador. The ambassador understood me. He said that the case is not worth spoiling the bilateral relations over.”
“They understand that they were not right. I want you to report on all possible leverages over this country. We need to show that one needs to show respect to commercial and other projects. These are mutual relations between the states. We have never had any problems with the Czech Republic. Moreover, I have asked the ambassador to deal with it and remove the problem,” the head of state said.
Speaking about the base paper production, he emphasized the importance of import substitution. “It [Shklov Newsprint Mill] should have satisfy the local demand of 13,000 tonnes by itself. Import of this product should not be allowed once the company reaches the designed capacity,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
According to the head of state, the country needs to defend its interests: “Look after our country. Stop keeping your heads on a swivel, trying to please everyone. We have our own interests, our state and people, and we must protect them whatever the cost. We produce foodstuffs, in abundance. Meanwhile food imports increase every year. The same applies to forest and local woodworking ... We have become too ‘decent', at the expense of the state and the people,” he said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that China and the United States even started a trade war for these reasons. “They cannot find an agreement. They are past the first stage only. Therefore, import substitution is the number one issue, especially this applies to the things we produce. Why do we bring in, pay money and give work to other people, if we can do it here?” the head of state asked rhetorically.
The president was informed about the social and economic development of Mogilev Oblast and Shklov District, the performance of Bellesbumprom Concern, the increasing contribution of the woodworking industry to the country's economy. The head of state asked to implement the plans that were announced. “You see what the situation is. I will not forgive anyone if the promises made to me are not fulfilled," he said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko got familiar with the manufacturing process and talked to representatives of the labor collective. He said that when a decision on the development of Belarus was made, the emphasis was placed on the sectors where there are raw materials and opportunities. Among them is woodworking. “Everything that you produce here is easy to sell, but you have to be proactive. You got stuck, and that's the problem. A lot of people know me from my youth. They know I can make people be proactive. So get things done, you have a professional man in the director's post. I believe you will fulfill the things what you have promised me. Everything that you need from the state you are already getting,” the head of state noted.
The labor collective gave the head of state a panel made of wood featuring Trofimov Spring which is located in the president's hometown, in the vicinity of the agro-town of Alexandria.