Bulgaria Opens Up for Business
This is Nottingham
It is not often Nottingham sees two ambassadors in town – each the counterpart of the other. Nottingham born Jonathan Allen is HM Ambassador to Bulgaria Konstantin Dimitrov is the Bulgarian Ambassador to London. And they were both guest speakers in Nottingham to promote trade between each others' countries.
Bulgaria is a country with little national debt, a highly-educated workforce that is good at maths and which has a liking for English, seen as the international business language.
Mr Allen was appointed to the job at the age of 36 and pledged at the time to return to his home city to help build trade and investment bridges with Bulgaria.
Huge sums of EU money are being poured into the development of highways and the modernisation of infrastructure.
And that means there are opportunities for Notts business to provide know-how and deliver projects.
Bulgaria is an attractive country to invest in because the workforce is highly skilled and multi-lingual, said Mr Allen. It joined the EU on January 1, 2007 and today has the lowest operational costs and tax rates in Europe.
Bulgaria received EU funding of more than 12 billion euros for the period 2007-2013. This is being invested in areas such as roads, railways and the country's ports on the Black Sea.
According to Peter Hogarth, regional director of UK Trade and Investment in the East Midlands, the region, unlike any other in the UK, exported more to Bulgaria than it imported.
One East Midlands health company decided that, as a result of the seminar, they would actively explore Bulgaria as a business base and plans to visit with the help of the British Embassy in Sofia.
Mr Allen said Nottingham had identified similar fields for growth as Bulgaria – health, bio-tech and pharmacies – which he found encouraging.
The UK and Bulgaria has a bilateral growth agreement. Mr Allen said: "It is very good for the UK because here we have the poorest state in the EU saying 'we want to see single market competition. We want free trade, we want a liberal economic approach'."
Mr Allen pointed to physical regeneration in Bulgaria such as a tech-park which was the brainchild of the Bulgarian president and his minister for the economy.
"We are trying to help them come up with the right solutions," said Mr Allen.
"There is no point in putting up quirky looking buildings which are just real estate unless there is something going on inside such as research linked to teaching hospitals and big companies, for example.
"Some of the big bio-tech companies are starting to come over to Bulgaria not only because it is a low-cost location to work in but because there are interesting populations with classic degenerative diseases who have detailed records going back hundreds of years, making them an interesting sample."
A Notts educational company, TTS, has taken itself off to Bulgaria and last week was visiting state-owned and private kindergartens.
"We were encouraged by the turnout and reaction to this seminar in Nottingham," said Mr Allen.
Mr Allen said that, with notice from UK companies, his embassy can help arrange meetings and get traders and investors into government departments.
Bulgarian ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov was seeking expertise from British energy companies in areas where the country needed new or renewed infrastructure – internet, energy and power de-commissioning. He also said that Bulgaria was a good destination for tourism.
He said Bulgaria had a stable financial culture with its currency since 1997 linked first to the Deutschmark and subsequently to the euro.
This had laid the groundwork for stability. The country had a budget deficit of less than three per cent and public indebtedness of only 15 per cent of GDP. A ten per cent corporate and personal tax rate was very attractive, he said. Bulgaria also has a stable banking sector, which adhered to a stricter criteria than the EU average.
Bulgaria is expected to benefit from a Turkish-led project for a high speed train linking central Asia across the Bosphorus and into Europe, opening up access to the Bulgarian railway system.
"It will be up to Bulgarian investors to continue it from the Bulgarian-Turkish border into central Europe using the availability of private, national and EU financing – and hypothetically into western Europe."
The EU is making 6 billion euros available to Bulgaria for infrastructure in the current six year plan, available to improve competitiveness and innovation.
Mr Dimitrov said his government had worked to reduce the burden of red tape and regulation and had moved some of the administration away from Sofia to key regional centres.
"This invited greater flexibility and a reduction in the potential for corruption because vested interests are disrupted if they aren't physically concentrated as they used to be," he added. "The trend is very positive but we have some way to travel."