Lukashenka cuts sharply limit on duty-free imports by post

Alyaksandr Lukashenka, by his February 11 presidential edict, reduced the maximum value of goods that a person may receive from abroad by post free of duty from €200 to just €22 a month.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka, by his February 11 presidential edict, reduced the maximum value of goods that a person may receive from abroad by post free of duty from €200 to just €22 a month.

The limit on the weight of goods that may be imported by mail free of duty was lowered from 31 to 10 kilograms.

The edict, which will take effect in two months, is seen as a crackdown on Belarusians' growing habit of purchasing goods from foreign-based online stores.

The number of packages sent by foreign online stores to Belarusians rose from 1.9 million in 2013 and 6.3 million in 2014 to 11.8 million last year.

Mikhail Myasnikovich, chairman of the Council of the Republic, said last November that the value stated on the package of goods purchased by Belarusians from foreign-based online stores was understated in an effort to help the buyer avoid paying taxes and customs duties.

The rate of the duty to be imposed on goods valued at more than €22 was not immediately known, but proposals considered by authorities last year suggest that it may be between €10 and €15.

The State Customs Committee consider it necessary to take measures to reduce the inflow of online purchased consumer goods into Belarus, Yury Syanko, head of the Committee, told reporters in December.

The amount of online purchased goods delivered to Belarusian residents has been increasing rapidly in recent years, from about 3,000 packages a day four years ago to up to 70,000 packages a day at present, Mr. Syanko said.

The State Customs Committee does not propose restricting the import of online purchased goods for personal use, but it is necessary to prevent online shopping at foreign websites from being used for commercial purposes, Mr. Syanko said.

In particular, there are instances where each household living in one apartment building purchases a tablet computer from a foreign online store and then these tablets are gathered together and put up for sale, Mr. Syanko said.

There are limits for bringing goods from abroad without having to pay customs duty and people have the right to bring in goods duty free for their own use within the limits, but if online purchased goods are intended for sale, authorities have to toughen their approach, Mr. Syanko said. «This is what we are working towards,» he added.

Belarus has already proposed to the other member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) that the value and weight limits for duty-free import by parcel post be lowered, Mr. Syanko said. It is premature to say what the limits will be because the talks are still in progress, but they should be the same for all the EAEU countries, he noted.

The possible introduction of a tax on purchases from foreign online retailers was discussed at a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Commission in Moscow on November 24, but some representatives of EAEU member countries spoke against such a tax.

«The matter will continue to be discussed,» Aleksei Likhachev, Russia’s first deputy minister of economic development, told reporters in early December.

«We say that the best thing now is to decide on the introduction of such a fee at the level of the Eurasian Economic Commission, but if the Commission delays the process, we [Belarus] will go faster,» Belarusian Deputy Trade Minister Iryna Narkevich said in mid-December.

«A balanced approach should be taken,» she said. «There would not be a ban but rather restrictions on the part of the EAEU. Belarus supports such restrictions. The [EAEU member] countries are currently in the negotiation process. They need to discuss the matter with all concerned agencies and businesses.»

«I have a good attitude towards purchases from foreign online stores because this satisfies our citizens’ needs,» Ms. Narkevich said. «If some goods cannot be purchased in our country, if something is not manufactured in our country or if something of the right color or the right size is not available, the person’s right to buy should be respected. But we, as a trade regulator, try to ensure that all goods are available in our country. And foreign brands are already actively working to open their outlets in our country. We are not interested in our people shopping abroad in such huge numbers and we would rather like them to buy from us.»

Belarus will propose that packages of goods purchased from foreign online stores should be taxed, Mikhail Myasnikovich, chairman of the Council of the Republic (Belarus’ upper parliamentary house), said in late November.

Such packages have «ruined trade and created problems for the [domestic light] industry,» Mr. Myasnikovich said.

Two draft agreements on purchases from online stores outside the EAEU are reportedly under consideration by the Eurasian Economic Commission. One of the agreements would provide that packages valued at less than €22 and weighing less than one kilogram should not be taxed, and that a tax of €15 should be imposed on packages valued at between €22 and €150 and weighing between one and 10 kilograms.

The other draft agreement would provide that a tax of €10 should be imposed on packages valued at less than €150 and weighing less than 10 kilograms, and that a tax of €10 plus 30 percent of the customs value should be collected on packages valued more than €150 and weighing over 10 kilograms.