BEIJING, Nov 8 (Reuters) - After being repeatedly downgraded by Western rating agencies, economically straightened Belarus signed a deal on Tuesday with China’s Dagong Global Credit Rating Co Ltd hoping to seek a more generous assessment of its sovereign debt.
The agreement is part of a package to boost trade and economic ties between Beijing and Minsk. The ex-Soviet republic has been gripped by a financial crisis since last March and has also been hounded by Western governments for rights abuses.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has incurred the anger of the European Union and the United States by cracking down on the opposition following his disputed re-election last December.
“Belarus, which has been discriminated against and treated unfairly by Western rating agencies for a long period of time, has been closely watching the performance and influence of Dagong,” the Chinese rating agency said.
As part of the deal, Dagong will receive data from Belarus, while Minsk will officially recognise the rating given it by Dagong.
Vicotr Burya, Belarus’ ambassador in Beijing, said that he hoped the rating from Dagong “would present a true picture of his country’s investment environment to Chinese and other investors”.
Belarus, whose shaky $55 billion economy has had difficulty securing external financing, is not favored by global rating giants like Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s.
Standard & Poor’s cut Belarus’ rating to B- from B in late September, removing it from CreditWatch and assigning it a negative outlook.
Moody’s currently gives a B3 rating to Belarus long-term foreign currency debts.
Dagong has yet to publish its rating for Belarus.
It said the deal with Belarus had “broken the monopoly” of Western rating agencies in emerging European countries and demonstrated its growing international clout.
Dagong now provides sovereign ratings for 68 countries, and says that about a dozen of those countries have contacted Dagong for customized rating services.
Belarus last month let its rouble float freely to satisfy the International Monetary Fund, from which it hopes to receive up to $7 billion in credit to help solve its financial crisis. The crisis was partly caused by overspending by Lukashenko’s government in the run-up to last December’s election.
Cash-rich Beijing has been trying to boost its economic presence and political clout in the former Soviet Union.
In June, China agreed to lend $1 billion to Belarus, mostly to be used to build a cellulose plant which may then export its produce to China.
In early 2009, China and Belarus signed a 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) three-year currency swap deal. ($1 = 6.351 Chinese Yuan) (Reporting by Zhou Xin, Xie Heng and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Susan Fenton)