Diplomatic relations between Estonia and Belarus were established on 6 April 1992. Estonia opened its consulate general in Minsk on 21 July 1995, and as of January 2009 Estonia has an embassy in Minsk. Estonia’s first ambassador to Belarus Jaak Lensment presented his credentials to President Lukashenko on 25 October 2010. Currently, Estonia is represented in Belarus by Ambassador Merike Kokajev, who presented her credentials to President Lukashenko on 13 December 2016.
The Belarusian consulate general in Tallinn became an embassy in May 2010. The first Belarusian Ambassador residing in Tallinn, Anatoly Stepus, presented his credentials to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on September 18, 2014.
The first high-level visit took place from 5-7 October 2009, when Belarus was visited by Estonian Minister of Agriculture Helir-Valdor Seeder. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet made a working visit to Minsk from 20-21 October 2009. In February of 2013, the Minister of Culture of Belarus was in Tallinn and opened the Belarusian Cultural Days. In November of 2013, the Belarusian Ministry of Forestry visited Estonia. In November of 2014, Estonian Agriculture minister Ivari Padar visited Belarus along accompanied by a business delegation.
- Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Estonia and the Government of the Republic of Belarus on international motor carriage (enforced on 11.06.1996);
- Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Income Tax and Capital Tax and the Evasion of Taxes (enforced on 22.07.98);
- Agreement on Air Traffic (enforced on 26.06.00);
- Agreement on Co-operation in the Field of Railroad Transport (enforced on 13.07.01);
- Agreement on Commercial and Economic Relations (enforced on 30.04.02);
- Agreement on Co-operation and Mutual Assistance in Customs Issues (enforced on 11.09.02);
- Agreement on the Fight Against Crime (enforced on 03.02.2004);
Estonia-Belarus trade 2009-2015 (million euros)
Source: Statistical Office of Estonia
In 2013, trade turnover with Belarus was 138.7 million EUR, placing Belarus in 24th place among Estonia’s trade partners. Estonian export to Belarus was 51.4 million EUR (0.4% of total exports), placing Belarus in 25th place among Estonia's export partners. Goods totalling 87.2 million EUR in value (0.6% of total imports) were imported from Belarus, making the country Estonia’s 24th import partner.
Primary articles of export in 2013 were machinery and equipment, transport vehicles and chemical products. The main import articles were mineral products, metals and metal products and wood and wood products.
In 2014, total trade turnover was 109.2 million EUR (0.4% of total trade), which put Belarus at 27th place among Estonia's trade partners. Of this, export made up 42 milion EUR (0.3% of total exports), and import 67.2 million EUR (0.5% of total imports).
Main export articles in 2015:
- Machinery and equipment - 22.8%
- Animal products (fish and fish products) - 20.4%
- Chemical products - 18.6
- Prepared food products and beverages - 7.9%
Main import articles in 2015:
- Mineral products - 43.5%
- Metal and metal products (iron alloy products) - 13.8%
- Wood and wood products - 12.7%
According to Bank of Estonia data, as of 30 September 2014 Estonia's direct investments in Belarus totalled 95.2 million EUR (1.9% of Estonia’s total foreign direct investments). The sectors Estonia has primarily invested in are the processing industry (48%), wholesale and retail trade (11%) and real estate (9%).
As of the same date, Belarusian investments in Estonia totalled 44 million EUR (0.3% of all direct investments made in Estonia). Investments were mainly made in transport and warehousing (38%), wholesale and retail trade (29%) and financial and insurance activity (11%).
According to the Commercial Register, as of 14 March 2014, there were over 300 businesses with Belarusian participation registered in Estonia.
Since 2002 Estonia has organised seminars and supported the organisation of conference for Belarusians or on Belarusian topics. In October 2002 a WTO seminar was arranged by the Foreign Ministry for Belarusian civil servants; in 2004 Belarusian civil society organisations were supported within the framework of the project “EASTGATE”; and in December 2005 the Foreign Ministry was a co-arranger of a conference about Belarus. In 2010 the Estonian Red Cross implemented a project to train the first aid teachers of the Belarusian Red Cross. In 2008, 2011 and 2012 the Foreign Ministry supported the organisation of a congress of the Belarusian diaspora in Tallinn.
As of 2011 Belarus, along with the other European Union Eastern Partners, is among Estonia’s development co-operation partner states. In 2011 support was given for the publishing of a book on the development of Belarus’s civil society over the past five years and the creation of the documentary film “The Renaissance Generation”.
In co-operation with the Ministry for Education and Research and institutes of higher education, Belarusian university students are being offered the opportunity to study in Estonia. Scholarships are offered for both master’s and doctoral studies in Estonian institutions.
From 2008-2012the Foreign Ministry supported the Belarusian Humanitarian University with over 79 000 euros donated through the European Humanities Trust Fund.
The Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership also offers opportunities for co-operation. In April and November of 2010 Belarusian diplomats participated in training programmes on public sector reform organised by the Estonian School of Diplomacy within the framework of Eastern Partnership.
For the 2011/2012 academic year the Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership in co-operation with the Estonian School of Diplomacy is supporting the studies of Belarusian university students in the course “International relations and European integration”. Scholarships are being funded by the Estonian and Finnish foreign ministries and the US State Department.
In June of 2011 Belarusian diplomats and state officials participated in the third Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership seminar aimed at Eastern Partner countries entitled “Public sector reform for negotiating within the context of Eastern Partnership”, which took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. Representatives of Belarus also participated in the public administration seminar organised in May 2012 in Tbilisi and the seminar held in October in Tallinn and Helsinki.
In August 2012, 14 representatives of civil society in Belarus participated in a seminar on parliamentarianism and democracy in Tallinn. The study trip was organised by the Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership and the Estonian School of Diplomacy along with the Riigikogu; the seminar was funded by the Estonian Foreign Ministry and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA). The seminar was opened by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.
In co-operation with USAID, training in e-governance and involvement took place for 40 representatives of civil society in Belarus in 2012. In Estonia the e-Governance Academy helped to carry out the training. A total of four training sessions were held. The first was meant for media representatives, the second for directors of NGOs, the third for representatives of the education sector, and the fourth for youth organisations.
About 12 000 Belarusians live in Estonia. Estonia supports the aspirations for cultural self-determination of the Belarusians living here and contributes to the development of an active Belarusian community. There were six different Belarusian cultural associations or societies across Estonia, which merged in 2001 to become the Estonian Association of Belarusians. The Estonian government has financially supported the activities of the various societies.
On the initiative of the societies, Estonian-Belarusian cultural festivals have taken place, in which groups from Belarus have also participated.
In recent years the Estonian Embassy in Minsk has helped to bring Estonian culture to the people of Belarus. Cultural contacts have been diverse and frequently extend beyond the countries’ capitals. Many Estonian youths have participated in contests for young performers in Belarus, and concert series and recording sessions have been organised together with Belarusian musicians. There are also many contacts among internationally recognised representatives of high culture. For example, since 2010 Andres Mustonen has participated in the Bashmet International Music Festival in Minsk, heading Hortus Musicus or the Belarusian National Symphony Orchestra.
In 2011 the Estonian Society Mixed Choir performed in Minsk together with the Belarusian Public Broadcasting Orchestra, conducted by Erki Pehk. Pehk has established many creative contacts between Estonia and Belarus. Pehk conducted the Belarus Philharmonic in large halls in 2012 as well, including at the concert of the Estonian National Men’s Choir, when the performance of Estonian and international music was recorded by Belarusian radio. Erki Pehk did a lot of introducing Estonian music via the radio in 2012 – he also conducted performances by Estonian soloists that were recorded by Belarusian radio.
Estonian visual arts have also attracted a great deal of attention in Belarus. In 2012 an exhibit by Marit Murka was shown in Minsk; it was the second Murka exhibit to be displayed in Belarus in recent years. In 2012 the biennial COLORFEST was once again organised, and the Estonian Artists’ Association sent an exhibit giving an overview of the recent works of Estonian artists.
The biggest of events of 2013 will surely be the Estonia Theatre’s exchange programme with the Belarusian Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Belarusian cultural days in Estonia. In February the Estonia Theatre gave five performances in Minsk while the Belarusian Opera and Ballet Theatre was giving five performances in Tallinn. The guest performances given in Tallinn were also part of a Belarusian cultural week, within the framework of which it was possible to get acquainted with Belarusian folk music through performances by the group Kupalinka and view a contemporary Belarusian photography exhibit opened in the gallery of the Estonia Theatre.
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