Belarus's reputation as a hard place for private entrepreneurs is starting to fade as the Soviet-style economy implements reform. Silvia Antonioli reports.
Belarus is an unlikely champion of enterprise But private business in the former Soviet republic is motoring ahead The country is starting to shrug off a reputation as a hard place for entrepreneurs as the president who once denounced them as "leeches" now tries to charm them. Alexander Lukashenko is boosting the sector with a series of pro-business reforms He hopes this will encourage local and foreign firms to invest. 21VEK.BY BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, IVAN PLIUHACHOU, SAYING: "In the European Union and in the USA, they overestimate the barriers and the troubles small businesses and middle-sized businesses may have in Belarus." Belarus is still dominated by the state, weighed down by bureaucracy and dependent on Russian subsidies. Its record on human rights and democracy has also been widely criticised. But as Russia re-focuses on its own economic problems pressure is mounting over unemployment and low living standards Lukashenko has cut red tape, and is now reducing state interference and offering tax breaks. The start is promising. Belarus shot up to the 37th place in World Bank's ease of doing business index up from 91st in 2010 That puts is ahead of Russia, Ukraine, Hungary and even Belgium and Italy. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ADANI EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ELENA LINEVA, SAYING: "The corruption which is in Ukraine is unbelievable. I know it from the very good sources. And that is why I would prefer Belarus rather than Ukraine." The share of private sector jobs has risen to almost a third, up from 28 percent in 2010. Growth however is from a low base. The private sector's contribution to GDP is around 30 percent - still smaller than the 75 per cent seen in many of its neighbours.