In April 2001, in a Message to the Republic of Belarus Parliament, President Alexander Lukashenko stressed innovative development as a priority vector for the Belarus economy. President Lukashenko stressed his opinion that only an aggressive innovation strategy, promoted to the level of state policy, can serve as the basis of a competitive economy.
A strategic course to create an economy based on science and technologies was declared in Belarus in the early 1990s (such as the 1993 law "On State Scientific and Technical Policy"). Over time, more than 25 laws and decrees of the President, as well as more than 40 resolutions of the government, numerous legal acts were adopted in the country.
For successful implementation of innovation policy an innovative infrastructure is needed. On the initiative of the Ministry of Education an Information-Marketing Network for Universities and Enterprises was created. Within the network platform, enterprises place their orders for research and development and Institutes of Higher Education place their proposals to solve enterprises’ technical problems and other tasks. In addition to technoparks and the marketing network, there are two innovative centers, 11 technology transfer centers, three international technology transfer center and a number of other innovative infrastructure-related entities. The National Academy of Sciences set up its own network of intermediary organizations, represented by the Association of Academic City (20 members), the Innovation Centre at the Technology of Metalworking Institute (Mogilev), along with 32 scientific & technological and business structures. Within the Academy structure, the Republic Technology Transfer Centre, which has five regional offices and 15 branches in different institutes and other organizations, was formed. Most, if not all, innovative infrastructure entities were created on the initiative of government organizations.
In the early 1990s, to create an innovation infrastructure, work on FEZ (Free economic zones) was also launched.
The process from the very beginning was centralized: from 1996 to 2002, were created six free economic zones that are located on a territorial basis. They are FEZ "Brest" (established in 1996), FEZ "Minsk" (1998), FEZ "Gomel-Raton" (1998), FEZ "Vitebsk" (1999), FEZ "Mogilev" (2002) and FEZ "Grodnoinvest" (2002). Also, in many ways the High-Tech Park (HTP) in Minsk falls under the notion of "free economic zone", although formally to the FEZ it does not belong.
Under the law, Belarusian free economic zones are contained territories, combining functions of export, production and free customs zones. Companies that have the status of FEZ residents pay a limited amount of tax. In addition, a number of tax preferences are granted, as compared to the standard tax regime.
FEZ Territory is not for everyone
Free economic zones, as devised in the 1990s, were intended to be real oases for businesses. However, the authorities limited the scope of the types of businesses allowed to develop within the FEZ, very quickly. Priority was given to various industries, as only industries can contribute to the economic growth of the country.
In addition, FEZ residents are prohibited to engage in many potentially hazardous activities, such as manufacture of arms and ammunition, radioactive and other endangered materials.
Thus, the state assumed responsibility for safety control of innovation within society and, initially established rules for innovation policy implementation a careful attitude toward the environment, and an observance of humanitarian values.
For fifteen years, Belarusian FEZ proved their effectiveness as a means of attracting foreign investments to the country. It is within the FEZ, that quite successful new ventures operate, such as the "Santa Braemar" facility, for example.
However, FEZ also encounter many problems. Despite all the benefits granted to FEZ residents, among them is a large share of unprofitable enterprises.
Today, Belarusian FEZ have to work to take into account the realities of the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space, as well as the fact that Russia joined the WTO. At present, a priority task is harmonization of FEZ legislation within the Customs Union member countries, as well as in the Single Economic Space.
Positive FEZ results include:
- Increase of production volume, export of goods and services;
- Job creation;
- Impact on macroeconomic performance;
- Increased tax revenues and fees to different budget levels, as well as extra-budgetary funds.
Thus, innovation policy and Innovative Culture in the Republic of Belarus are systemic. The State plays a key role in the implementation and development of innovations. There are different opinions on the effectiveness of this approach. However, the main and significant advantage of Belarus’s Innovative Culture development is that due to a clearly formulated systems approach to the issue. The population has formed a perception of its involvement and responsibility for their nation’s overall well-being and prosperity.
The FEZ "Gomel-Raton" is an example of a successful functioning FEZ. It is located in one of the highly developed industrial regions of the country, at the intersection of modern highways leading to industrial centers in Russia, Ukraine, Baltic States and Central Europe, as well as to the ports of the Baltic and Black Seas.The FEZ "Gomel-Raton" is a high-tech base for radio electronics, instrument making, machine-building, electrotechnical and cable enterprises. Moreover, companies have free production space, warehouses, developed infrastructure, complete engineering communications. FEZ "Gomel-Raton" is self-contained; its residents’ are concentrated in the manufacture of export products, development of new and high technologies. A free trade export-import area, financial, trust and management activities are planned.