Diplomats Praise Bulgaria's Business Environment, Advise Less Red Tape, Corruption
Bulgaria is overall attractive for business investors due to low taxes, stable fiscal system, low labor cost, but still needs to eliminate bureaucracy, corruption and reform the judicial system in order to do better.
A total of 10 ambassadors in Sofia and diplomats joined around the opinion Friday during a panel discussion held in the frame of the first Bulgaria: Business UP investment conference.
"The investment climate in Bulgaria - look from outside, Ambassador's meeting" panel was moderated by Bill Drysdale, Chairman of the British Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce
Drysdale opened the discussion with a foreign investment success story - Lufthansa Technik, the enormous plant at Sofia airport, employing excellent Bulgarian technicians and German engineers. He pointed out that aircraft from all over Europe and from 20 airlines are flown to Sofia to be serviced, making the investment a classic win-win case study.
"I am very optimistic about Bulgaria. I have been here for 15 years, and I am much more positive than the average Bulgarians, who should start being happy people," said Drysdale.
The discussion was joined by H. E. Karel van Kesteren, Ambassador of Kingdom of the Netherlands, H. E. Mr. Marc Michielsen, Ambassador of Belgium, H. E. Guo Yezhou, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, Dr. Michael Angerer, Commercial Counselor, Austrian Embassy, commercial section, H. E. Thrasyvoulos Stamatopoulos, Ambassador of Greece, H. E. Tove Skarstein, Ambassador of Norway, H. E. Chun Bee-ho, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, H. E. Philippe Autie, Ambassador of France, and Tim Buisseret, Head of UK Trade&Investment.
Dr. Michael Angerer, Commercial Counselor for the Austrian Embassy explained that Austrian companies have 2 reasons to invest in Bulgaria – the growing internal market and the fact the country is a good place to do business from Bulgaria. He gave as examples companies such as M-Tel and EVN, companies in highly-technical fields such as production of machine tools, of precise tools, of cranes that are exported to Austria, as well as high-technology parts, but added that manpower needs improvement and better training.
H. E. Mr. Marc Michielsen, Ambassador of Belgium, mentioned as Belgium's success stories the fact that his country is among the top 10 investors in Bulgaria, the Delhaize Group, owner of the Piccadilly retail chain, KBC bank, as well as smaller companies. He stressed these businesses come to Bulgaria not only for the 10% tax, but because of a strategic view for long-time development. The diplomat praised Bulgaria for the easy tax system and qualified workers, but listed as weaknesses other "fields of administration that could be compared to Kafka stories in terms of bureaucracy."
"This is not a good sign for investors. You must improve administrative work, eliminate red tape, be as stringent as you are with fiscal laws, and try to have a well-performing Court system," Michielsen concluded.
H. E. Philippe Autie, Ambassador of France, also said that French investors have plenty of success stories, but stressed that Bulgarian cannot rely only on fiscal advantages and labor cost because investors can always find a cheaper place.
"Bulgaria needs a strategy based on assets other than low cost," said the Ambassador. He listed as priority needs better education for middle management, attracting back Bulgarian students from abroad, innovation and research, where the country lags behind in Europe.
H. E. Thrasyvoulos Stamatopoulos, Ambassador of Greece, stressed that Bulgaria is known for discipline and stamina, explaining that the full room after such long day was proof of it. Success is joint, not simply Greek success, he said, noting the EUR 3 B in investments, the extensive presence of the Greek business in the entire spectrum – from heavy industry to hotels, from banking to beverages. The diplomat explained that the Greek companies function as Bulgarian enterprises; they are export oriented, and provide 80 000 jobs. Like his colleagues, he listed as major challenges, the bureaucracy, the work of local authorities, the need of a stable legislative framework to eliminate frequent changes in the public procurement law, and amendments to the investment law to speed licensing procedures, class A certificates etc., among others.
H. E. Chun Bee-ho, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, talked about the biggest South Korean investment in Bulgaria to date – the largest photovoltaic park in the Balkans near the village of Samovodene and the town of Zlataritsa. The diplomat recommended to follow his country's experience and told the participants how 10 years ago his government collected complaints and requests from all European companies doing business in Korea, made them public, sent the report directly to the Head of State who ordered all ministers to undertake measures, and the business environment has been improving ever since.
H. E. Karel van Kesteren, Ambassador of Kingdom of the Netherlands, voiced his satisfaction over the fact that last Friday he went to the official opening ceremony of a factory in Bulgaria built by the Dutch, making water purification systems exported to Turkey, but stressed there is a need of more such projects and of speeding up administrative procedures.
H. E. Tove Skarstein, Ambassador of Norway, voiced satisfaction from the increasing bilateral trade - by 56% from Bulgaria to Norway and by 50% from Norway to Bulgaria and explained the Embassy hired new people to help through the obstacles with trade. Skarstein listed as a success story a solar park in the southern town of Sandanski where the Embassy helped the Bulgarian company to find a Norwegian partner.
Her recommendations included more e-government, more transparency, less corruption, increasing knowledge of the English Language, especially in local municipalities, improving the Court system to instate sense of security, and equipping Bulgarian embassies abroad to better promote Bulgaria.
Tim Buisseret, Head of UK Trade&Investment, noted that he would not want to dwell on the advantages of Bulgaria for investors since they have already been mentioned, but still noted the country's' EU membership, geographic location, and availability of EU funds. He spoke of major companies like Astra Zeneca, Glaxo Smith Kline, but also mentioned as great examples the the Edinburgh-based oil and gas explorer Melrose Resources contributing 10-15% of Bulgaria's gas supply, and the company Samel 90 in the town of Samokov – the latter an example of very successful partnership with the UK and two-way export in the manufacturing of radars components and their assembly.
"We have a common historical fate with Bulgaria from the past to the present, and Bulgaria can use our experience. I hope that we will soon be joined also by the Schengen zone and Eurozone," concluded Toma? Bican, Deputy Head of Mission at Embassy of the Slovak Republic
The First International Investment Conference "Bulgaria: Business Up" was held in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Friday.
"Bulgaria: Business UP" is a new initiative designed to analyze and promote Bulgaria's advantages as a foreign investment destination.
The goal of the "Bulgaria: Business UP" investment conference was to present to the international business community the highly favorable investment climate in Bulgaria as well as the variety of opportunities for successful and sustainable business that the country has to offer.
"Bulgaria: Business UP" was organized by Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency), the largest Bulgarian English-language media, and Novinite.bg, a Bulgarian-language news website, together with the InvestBulgaria Agency.
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