Belarus Set to Liberalize Policies

MINSK -- Belarus is ready to liberalize its economic policies as it seeks a $2 billion cushion against the impact of the global financial crisis from the International Monetary Fund, an official said Wednesday.

As an IMF mission held talks with senior officials in Minsk, Belarussian Central Bank deputy head Vasily Matyushevsky told reporters that he was optimistic about the loan.

"Our macro goal is for this credit not to be used at all. In the current situation, we don't need this money. ... But we don't know how deep the global crisis is," he said. "Belarus is asking for the loan, but it is not in crisis."

Asked if the IMF had made the loan conditional, he said: "So far, experts haven't raised such conditions. But in any case, Belarus will move toward liberalizing the key economic policies."

Belarus, traditionally close to Russia both politically and financially, has taken tentative steps toward Western investors in the past year, selling some state assets to European firms and planning its debut eurobond.

That issue had to be postponed because of poor market conditions as the credit crunch spread across the globe.

In September, Belarus raised the maximum threshold for foreign banks' participation in the country's banking system to 50 percent from the previous 25 percent.

Matyushevsky said the government still hoped that Germany's Commerzbank would buy into Belarus' state bank Belinvestbank. "Given that Commerzbank is faring well in the current conditions and Belinvest is not faring badly, talks are continuing, and we are optimistic about the outcome," he said.