Author: Erikas Saukalas, an Associate Partner, Head of International Relations Division in METIDA
Belarus is a vast country, which market is potentially increasing, and it has started to attract lots of entrepreneurs seeking for new business opportunities. But our neighboring state seems to lack goods and services with good quality, thus, first companies to settle there are likely to become leaders in production or service provision.
In Belarus, the value of imported goods has been gradually increasing. For example, in 2010 the country received a 22 percent increase in comparison with 2009 year. Also, last year the import reached 46 milliard dollars and was 32 percent higher than in 2010. Lithuanian practitioners from different areas have spotted the rapid changing in Belarus and attempt to become its main advisors in business.
Lithuanian export to Belarus has been also augmented, but the rise is not so dramatic as it used to be. For example, in 2010 the export bumped up to 48 percent when comparing with 2009, whereas in 2011 the export was only increased to 27 percent and reached 3,6 milliard litas.
Furthermore, Belarus is currently experiencing the arrival of new trade companies from other countries specializing in pharmaceutical preparations, foodstuffs, clothing and footwear. Naturally, the newcomers face some difficulties, especially if they are from western European background, as Belarus is a very pro-Russian country. In addition to this, only a small number of Belorussian citizens can speak English or any other popular language.
European companies in Belarus have started to look for legal services. This was one of the reasons why Metida Law Firm of Reda Zaboliene opened its branch office in Minsk, in September. Metida lawyers are ready to help European business enterprises with their IP object registrations, surveillances of trademarks, patents and designs, preparations of legal contracts, dealing with counterfeiting and piracy. The firm would also represent clients in courts and pretrial institutions.
Lithuanian companies providing legal services in Belarus have some advantages over local specialists. Firstly, Europeans trust Lithuanians, as they are simultaneously neighbours of Belorussians and members of the EU. Likewise, Lithuanians share the same history with Belorussians, therefore, the mentality of the latter could be easily understood by the former. Finally, Lithuanians offer their clients high quality services for a reasonable price.
Especially beginners in the market need legal advisors competent in giving information on business atmosphere in the country, tax system, ways how to establish a company and registration of IP objects, such as trademarks, designs and patents. These processes are necessary for a smooth start in business.
Likewise, the experienced market players in Belarus should take precautions for intellectual property protection and surveillance by looking for the possible infringements of their rights. Belarus has different procedures of registration and protection of trademarks, design and patents, but the list of protected object and the scope of protection are similar to the ones in other countries.
Huge corporations intending to expand their business in Belarus tend to perceive Eastern Europe as one homogenous market. Belarus together with Russia and Kazakhstan belong to a customs union. A customs union allows a non-restricted market of goods and services, therefore, European companies in Belarus should ensure the protection of their IP objects also in other member states, not only in Belarus.
Belarus used to be one of the 11 Republics of Soviet Union that are being loosely organized by the Commonwealth of Independent States. Although other member countries do not have such liberal regimes that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan do, in the future, large regions might be attractive to European companies too.