The Bulgarian-Chinese business forum held in Sofia by the Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion Agency is but the latest step in a number of engagements at political and business level between the two countries in recent years as Bulgaria seeks to build economic relations with the Asian giant.
By the end of 2012, China already ranked fourth among Bulgaria’s non-EU trading partners, according to official figures from Sofia.
Trade between Bulgaria and China in 2012 reached close to $1.9 billion, representing an average increase of 30 per cent a year for the past 10 years.
Of course, like other countries potentially engaging with investment in Bulgaria, Beijing finds itself dealing with the third government so far in this year of 2013.
Tracking back over the meetings at forums and during official visits, China in the course of this year has been engaged in talks, respectively, with Boiko Borissov’s centre-right government, the Marin Raykov caretaker government and the current Bulgarian Socialist Party administration – the last-mentioned under pressure from protesters nationwide to resign, a call also that has come from some business associations.
The same current administration in Sofia has spoken of an improved environment for foreign investors, though just what this will mean specifically continues to be lost in a fog of generalities and vague intentions.
Nonetheless, the China story continues to unfold.
According to local media in the Bulgarian capital, at the Bulgarian-Chinese business forum in Sofia on July 1, a representative of China’s state-owned Tianjin State Farm Agribusiness Group said that China intends investing more than $50 million in 9000 hectares of agricultural land in Bulgaria.
Thirty Chinese and 150 Bulgarian enterprises took part in the forum, which is also part of a wider picture in which China is working on a large-scale plan to build trade relations with countries in Central and Eastern Europe, planning that by 2015 trade with the region will amount of $100 billion a year.
In late May, in the final days of the Raykov cabinet, representatives of more than 300 companies from Bulgaria and China met at a Bulgarian-Chinese business forum in Bulgaria’s second city, Plovdiv, an event that was in turn a sequel to the Invest in Bulgaria forum that was held in China’s Shanghai in November 2012. Reports at the time said that the Chinese enterprises that were showing interest in Bulgaria included industrial, agricultural and tourism firms.
In April, a delegation from Chinese bus manufacturing firm Yutong came to Bulgaria on an inspection tour of the Black Sea port city of Bourgas, a trip reportedly motivated by the company considering putting part of their manufacturing process in Bulgaria. Other cities and towns were also said to be Yutong’s checklist before any decision is made.
At the end of 2012, the then-economy, energy and tourism minister Delyan Dobrev, a member of the Borissov government of the time, said that not only had Chinese investments in Bulgaria increased by so had the number of Chinese tourists, by 31 per cent. Dobrev was speaking at the end of a year which had seen, among other initiatives, the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Albena set out its stall at a large international tourist fair in Beijing.
Recent years also saw Bulgaria establish a toehold for its wine markets in the Chinese markets. According to official figures, in China in 2012 about one per cent of imported wines were from Bulgaria.
High-level engagements have included meetings with Chinese parliamentary delegations, in May and September 2012.
In May 2012, a business delegation from Guangdong, including representatives of chemical and textile companies as well as producers of machinery and equipment, visited Bulgaria. During the visit, a memorandum of co-operation was signed between Bulgaria’s Economy Minister and China’s department of foreign trade. The memorandum had been agreed on by the Bulgarian government in August 2011, and provides for opportunities for joint industrial projects, joint ventures and the opening of offices and representative offices of various companies.
Meeting a Chinese business delegation in March 2012, then-economy minister Dobrev highlighted the potential use of EU funds for investments in personnel, equipment and modernisation of enterprises. The government, Dobrev said, had decided that every large investor would be provided with a personal assistant to help ease their way through dealing with institutions and the bureaucracy (what became of this decision and whether it is currently practiced is unclear).
China, according to Dobrev, had expressed interest in Bulgarian wine, foodstuffs and sectors such as information technology, the building of power plants, motorway construction and motor vehicle manufacturing.
His comments followed the launch of the most high-profile investment in Bulgaria involving China, the February 2012 launch of Great Wall cars, manufactured under licence in Lovech by a Bulgarian company.
(Photo of Shanghai: Vladimir Fofanov/sxc.hu)