By Svetla Dimitrova
Trade relations between Bulgaria and Moldova have expanded significantly in the past 20 years, but there is room for further improvement, both sides say.
In 2010, the overall trade turnover between the two countries marked a 28.7% year-on-year increase, reaching 66m euros, according to the Bulgarian Economy Ministry. Last year, it exceeded 77.6m euros, Moldovan Prime Minister Vladimir Filat said during a visit to Sofia last month.
Nearly 56,700 citizens of the former Soviet republic travelled to Bulgaria last year, up from slightly more than 46,600 in 2010, representing less than 1% of all foreign tourists who visited the Balkan nation, official figures show. Meanwhile, Bulgarians accounted for 2.7% of all foreign tourists who visited Moldova in 2011.
As of this year, Moldovan nationals holding Schengen visas can freely travel to Bulgaria.
“There are opportunities for further development of the bilateral economic relations,” Milen Lyubenov, deputy head of the Bulgarian Embassy in Chisinau told SETimes in the wake of Filat’s April visit.
Some specific opportunities he cited included the free economic zones in Moldova, as well as the industrial parks being developed there. Furthermore, as a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Moldova enjoys the right to duty free imports from the other ten member states, where Bulgarian goods were quite popular during communist times.
That, according to the diplomat, provides a good business opportunity for Bulgarian companies.
“In addition, Moldova began talks on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU in March and is planning to complete the process in 2013, which will further improve the investment conditions in the country,” said Lyubenov.
During his visit to Bulgaria, Filat expressed hope for more Bulgarian investments in Moldova.
“We share the same European past and we want to have a common European future. We have many things in common and I hope that in the nearest future, we will increase the number of Bulgarian investors willing to launch businesses in Moldova,” he said at an economic forum in Sofia.
According to Lyubenov, there are opportunities for co-operation in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, wine production, the food and textile industries, and infrastructure projects.
In Sofia, Filat and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov discussed ways to expand bilateral economic co-operation, including in the energy sector.
“The construction of the gas interconnector with Romania will start in May,” Borisov said after the talks. “Technically, the gas link that is being built between Moldova and Romania will bind us into one system.”
Reiterating Sofia’s backing for Chisinau’s EU bid, Bulgarian leaders offered their country’s assistance to Moldova on its path to EU integration.
“Moldova is particularly interested in exchanging information on the adoption of laws that will drive us closer to the EU, as European integration is our main goal,” Filat told Bulgarian Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva. “Any contribution on behalf of the EU member states is very important for us.”
Late last year, Bulgaria was among eight EU member states that signed a letter in support of Moldova’s European path.
During Filat’s April visit, the two countries signed an intergovernmental agreement on co-operation in cases of disasters.
“The accord defines the general framework for co-operation in the fields of disaster prevention, preparedness and response, as well as the terms and procedures for providing voluntary assistance in cases of disasters on the territory of either country,” the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said in a statement for SETimes.
The envisioned activities include provision of rescue equipment, holding of joint expert meetings, conferences and drills, as well as exchange of information and training.
According to the Moldovan Embassy in Sofia, Chisinau also has signed agreements in the field of emergencies with Belarus, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.