Belarus: Market traders shut down over imports row

Closed gates at a market in Brest Image copyright TUT.BY
Image caption Shoppers in the western city of Brest found most market stalls closed

Market traders across Belarus have shut up shop in protest at controversial new rules aimed at persuading them to sell more domestically produced household goods, it's reported.

From the start of the year traders who want to sell the imported goods - which mainly come from Russia - must present proof of origin, something Russian wholesalers generally do not provide, the independent TUT.BY news website reports. Rather than face fines for failure to comply, most retailers of toiletries, clothes, cleaning materials and toys have simply not reopened in the New Year. Anatol Shumachenka, the head of the Perspektyva small business association, says up to 90% of its traders failed to open up this week nationwide.

Even the trade ministry acknowledges that 68% of outlets are still shut, although ministry official Viyalyeta Brazouskaya told the official Belta news agency that this is down to "some of them being on holiday, or extending their New Year and Christmas break, or perhaps the cold weather".

Traders say that's not the case. "We aren't on holiday, we just can't work under these new rules," Alena Kustus, a stallholder in Brest, tells TUT.BY. She adds that the first half of January is usually one of their busiest times. Perspektyva has asked for a meeting with trade ministry officials next week, and is awaiting a response, the Belapan news agency reports.

Markets play an important role on the Belarusian consumer market by supplying relatively cheap imported goods. The country's authoritarian government instead wants them to help the struggling state sector by selling Belarusian alternatives. But traders complain that local goods are of poor quality, and prices charged by state-run wholesalers are too high to make it worth their while trying to sell them on.

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