Trend’s exclusive interview with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
Question: How do you assess the current level of economic relations between Azerbaijan and Bulgaria? What are the prospects for increasing the volume of bilateral trade turnover between the two countries?
Answer: Bulgaria attaches great importance to its relations with Azerbaijan and considers the country as a priority partner given the wide prospects for developing cooperation in various fields of mutual interest. The Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership signed in March 2015 reflects the common will to further strengthen our ties.
Taking into account the excellent relations between our countries and the established legal basis for cooperation, we consider that the volume of bilateral trade does not meet the potential of Bulgaria and Azerbaijan and we would like to intensify our trade and economic relations, including through the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation.
I am fully convinced that there is great potential for cooperation with Azerbaijan in the field of diversification of energy resources and routes of supply.
On January 16, 2018, within my visit to Baku, I was honored to attend, together with my Azerbaijani colleague – Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, the official ceremony of opening the first ever scheduled air service linking Baku to Sofia. I am persuaded that this direct line will contribute to the development of the bilateral business and economic ties, and will promote tourism in Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.
Q.: Bulgaria will chair the Council of the EU in 2018. What will be the priorities of Bulgaria’s chairmanship? Which issues related to EU-Azerbaijan cooperation will be in focus of Bulgarian chairmanship?
A.: We believe that the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU is an additional opportunity to expand the cooperation between our Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.
The Western Balkans is a key foreign policy priority of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council. It is vital to reaffirm the European perspective of the region.
Our main priorities are: "The Future of Europe and Young People - Economic Growth and Social Cohesion"; "European Perspective and Connectivity for the Western Balkans"; "Security and stability in a strong and united Europe"; "Digital economy and skills of the future". They follow from the Trio Estonia-Bulgaria-Austria programme and are attuned with the European Commission’s legislative agenda for 2018.
We strongly support the Eastern Partnership as a strategic dimension of the European neighborhood policy and key factor for stability in Eastern Europe. The Bulgarian Presidency pays also special attention to the Danube and Black Sea region.
Bulgaria welcomes the progress of the negotiations on a new comprehensive agreement between the European Union and Azerbaijan, which will set up a new stage in the relations between them.
Q.: Currently, the Southern Gas Corridor project, which envisages Azerbaijani gas supply to Europe, is well underway. Bulgaria will also receive this gas via the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB). How do you assess Azerbaijan’s role in ensuring the energy security of Bulgaria and Europe in general?
A.: Bulgaria is interested in the implementation of strategic energy and transport infrastructure projects linking the EU and Azerbaijan such as the Southern Gas Corridor. We highly appreciate the role of Azerbaijan for the energy security and natural gas supply diversification of Bulgaria and Europe. Azerbaijan is not only a major gas source, but also holds a key role in the realization of the Southern Gas Corridor which will guarantee Europe’s energy security.
Bulgaria and Azerbaijan enjoy very good partnership in the energy field. An expression of this partnership is the contract concluded between Bulgargaz and SOCAR for the supply of natural gas to Bulgaria starting from 2020. We expect the construction of the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) to start in June 2018, and the extension to Turkey to be ready by July. Thus, the delivery of the contracted 1 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from the Shah Deniz Stage 2 to Bulgaria will be guaranteed.
Q.: Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia launched Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in late 2017. Is Bulgaria interested in using Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway for transporting its goods?
A.: We consider Baku – Tbilisi – Kars railway line as a strategic transport project, which could bring benefits not only for Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey but also for Bulgaria and other European countries.
The railroad will facilitate the economic cooperation between Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.
As you know, the EU welcomed the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line in a special statement with regard to the further improvements of the transport links between Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia.
Q.: Which preferences can Bulgaria offer to Azerbaijani businesses for attracting their investments in the country’s economy? Which spheres in Bulgaria are the most promising for Azerbaijani investments?
A.: We would like to develop the bilateral trade and economic relations and to make the most of the opportunities for joint investment. In this regard, we would welcome a stronger interest of the Azerbaijani investment policy towards our country. Bulgaria's membership in the EU creates prerequisites for joint production and supply of goods for the EU and neighboring countries. Despite the negative effects of the global financial and economic crisis, Bulgaria succeeds in maintaining macroeconomic and financial stability. We have the most favorable taxes in the EU and a highly skilled workforce.
The government also applies a number of additional incentives to encourage foreign investment. There is great potential in sectors such as energy - gasification and gas distribution, building, tourism, including real estate, agriculture and food industry, pharmaceutics , etc.
Q.: Bulgaria has always supported Azerbaijan’s fair position in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. How do you see the ways of resolving this conflict?
A.: The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has no military solution and may only be resolved through a political settlement. Bulgaria’s position of principle is that the conflict can be solved only through negotiations and the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group and its co-chairs, with the assistance of the European Union, as well as through active dialogue between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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