Belarusian Popular Front sets up group for initiating referendum on car import duty

The group held its first meeting in Minsk on February 28. Around 100 people took part in it.

The Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) has set up a group that that would collect signatures for a referendum on the recent increase in the import duty rates on cars.

The group held its first meeting in Minsk on February 28. Around 100 people took part in it.

Under Belarus’ laws, a group for initiating a national referendum must include between 100 and 200 members.

BPF Deputy Chairman Ihar Lyalkow was appointed to lead the group, which other members of the opposition party, as well as activists of Alyaksandr Milinkevich’s Movement For Freedom and the organizing committee for Belarusian Christian Democracy joined.

The members are required to notarize their consent to collect signature for the referendum. The group plans to file an application for registration with the central election commission on March 25.

The BPF in December 2009 announced its plans to initiate the referendum.

The rates of Belarus` import duty on automobiles were raised for legal entities and sole entrepreneurs to Russia’s levels on January 1. They are expected to increase for individuals on July 1, when the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia comes into full existence.

“This is against the interests of Belarus,” BPF Chairman Alyaksey Yanukevich said at the group’s meeting on Sunday. “Increased customs duty rates will deal a blow to common people, sellers and the public treasury, especially to families that are not rich and have to buy inexpensive cars.”

Business expert Alyaksey Babaytsaw said that the volume of car sales was approximately the same in Belarus and Russia in 2008, totaling 21 cars per 1000 people.

But the sales dropped to 9.7 cars per 1000 people in Russia and to 17 in Belarus amid the global economic crisis, the expert said.

To reach the sales levels of 2008 in the context of the increased import duty rates, Belarus will need 10 years, he said.

He warned that many Belarusians would have to opt for old Russian cars, as it would take four to five years for the country to set up its own car assembly plants.