Diplomatist: “Relations between Bulgaria and India are not of friends, but of relatives.” – these lines were said by the former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. How do you see the Bulgaria-India relationship shaping up?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: On 3rd March 2022 we marked 144 years of the Liberation of Bulgaria, and on 22nd December 2021 – 67 years of establishing diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and India. However, neither Bulgaria was founded 144 years ago, nor the relations between Bulgaria and India started with us diplomats 67 years back. Bulgaria, just like India, is a country with a long-standing history, culture and traditions. Throughout the almost 1350 years of its history, Bulgaria has never changed its name. The ties between Bulgaria and India date many centuries back. A proof that trade and cultural routes have existed between our countries existed 7 centuries ago is a 14th-century golden coin, belonging to Muhammad bin Tughluq, Sultan of Delhi. The coin has been recently uncovered by Bulgarian archaeologists during excavations near the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. Bulgaria and India have in common, however, not only ancient culture with immense historical and cultural heritage. Our countries share the ideals of democracy, rule of law and the spirit of tolerance. Over the last decades, Bulgaria has proved to be a reliable partner to India. Today our countries are driven by the desire to further deepen, diversify, modernize, and expand the partnership even to space and the highest technologies. Bulgarian device was on board of the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe, Bulgarian company delivers today high-speed broadband internet to more than 700,000 households in Delhi and many other states of India.
Diplomatist: What are the key industries for the Bulgarian economy?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: Despite the unstable foreign political situation all over the world as a result of the war in Ukraine, the supply chain disruptions and the COVID pandemic, Bulgaria has a leading position in terms of credit rating at the region of the Balkans in 2020-21. Based on the government debt to GDP ratio, Bulgaria ranks among the top EU countries in financial stability.
Situated in the midst of 5 Pan European corridors Bulgaria applies some of the lowest taxes in the EU, as 10% corporate tax, 10% flat tax on personal income, 0% corporate tax for investments in municipalities with an unemployment rate higher than the country’s average and 5% dividend tax. A 2-year value-added tax exemption for imports of equipment for investment projects over EUR 2.5 million, creating at least 20 jobs, is yet another advantage of doing business in our country.
The key industries for the Bulgarian economy are ICT, automotive industry and especially the production of auto components, pharmaceuticals, tourism and hospitality etc.
Bulgaria’s ICT sector is characterized as stable and constantly growing, making it one of the most profitable sectors in the country.
The country has a long, rich tradition in the ITC and electronics sectors (dating back to the Communist era) and is still known as the Silicon Valley of Southeastern Europe.
Bulgaria is also among EU member states, where the share of ICT in the formation of the gross added value is relatively high, ranking the country 5th in the EU.
Bulgaria is home to more than 10,000 ICT companies, 70 percent of which are only exporting. The Bulgarian ICT market’s turnover registered a 300 percent increase over the past 7 years, reaching EUR 3 billion. Nowadays, after 15 years of EU membership software business in Bulgaria is the best performing sector in the ICT industry.
New opportunities exist in the ICT sector, as Bulgarian companies move towards cloud services, mobility and social business.
Another sector with strong growth in Bulgaria is the automotive industry. In the last 10 years, the sector has attracted a lot of foreign investments, accommodating leading global producers of auto components. The Bulgarian automotive parts and components are exported and used by many international companies for their well-known car models. At present in every 8 of 10 cars made in Europe, you can find some auto parts made in Bulgaria.
Pharmaceuticals also show great potential in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian pharmaceutical market has been growing in double digits for the last decade, outpacing some other fast-growing markets in the Central and Eastern Europe region. In 2020, Bulgarian pharmaceutical market grew by 7% reaching USD 2.5 billion. Bulgaria ranks top 20 in the world in clinical trials performed, which is valued at USD 300 Million and offers great potential for research organizations.
Tourism and hospitality is also a very important industry for the Bulgarian economy. Bulgaria has everything to provoke the wanderlust of the experienced foreign traveler: a mild climate with four seasons throughout the year, wonderful summer beaches and winter resorts, rich culture and ancient history, mountains, rivers and seaside, delicious food and wine. Blessed with outstanding nature and natural resources, Bulgaria comes third in Europe in the number of cultural artifacts. In 2019, just before the Covid pandemic, Bulgaria attracted more than 9.3 million foreign tourists, much more than its own population of 6.5 mln. The Bulgarian tourism web portal https://bulgariatravel.org/en features a lot of information in English about the different types of tourism in Bulgaria – cultural, ecological, sea, mountain/ski, spa & wellness, congress, rural tourism, among others.
Diplomatist: What do you think is the real potential of the Bulgaria-India trade?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: Bulgaria is a good place to do business and has much to offer to Indian companies in terms of economic advantages and investment possibilities. Our country has all the key elements needed to make business and investment projects successful, including financial and macroeconomic stability, favourable tax regime, highly-skilled professionals, as well as the lowest operational costs in the EU.
The Bulgarian-Indian trade is developing upwards. The increase of the bilateral turnover in the last ten years has been more than threefold. In 2021, despite the Covid pandemic, the bilateral turnover reached for the first time USD 401 million, which is an increase of 35% and Bulgarian exports to India surged to USD 164 mln, a growth of 24%. These figures do not include the Bulgarian defence exports to India, the exports through third countries, as well as the trade with services. Bulgaria exports to India mainly carbonates, sunflower oil, fertilizers, different kind of machines and instruments, pharmaceuticals, electrical transformers, pumps and some agricultural products such as coriander and wheat. Our imports from India include mainly chemicals, medicines, aluminium, tobacco, textile products etc.
We would like this trade growth to increase further and to diversify our exports to India as well. One category of goods that holds great potential for export from Bulgaria to India are agricultural & food products and beverages. Another is Bulgarian perfumery and cosmetics – Bulgaria is a famous producer and exporter of rose oil and rose oil-based products and we rank 1st in the world in lavender production. Bulgaria is well-known in Europe as the country of roses and rose oil. We can seek further opportunities to expand our exports of products on the higher end, such as pharmaceuticals, machines for the food processing industry, auto parts etc.
Trade and investment between Bulgaria and India are on an upward trajectory. In the last few years the advantages of the Bulgarian ICT sector have already attracted many leading Indian IT companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, HCL Technologies, Sutherland Global Services and Feuji Inc. We have also successful Indian investments in Bulgaria in the agricultural sector (Namdhari Seeds), auto components (Varroc Group), pharmaceutical (Elder Pharmaceuticals), cinema theatres (Cine Grand), food processing, tourism, etc.
Bulgaria has the potential to attract much more Indian investments and provide favorable opportunities for activities in a number of areas such as information and communication technologies, electronics and electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, auto parts, high-tech industries and services, agriculture and food industry, transport and logistics, infrastructure and tourism.
At the same time, Bulgarian business has shown a growing interest in investing in India in sectors such as IT, pharmaceuticals and renewable energy in the context of the “Make in India” initiative. At present we are really proud that the company “Excitel Broadband”, set up in New Delhi by Bulgarian entrepreneurs, is among the top 3 broadband Internet providers in India with more than 700 000 customers (mostly in New Delhi) and at present expanding its activities in 20 more cities in India.
Diplomatist: How in your opinion, Bulgaria can become a key partner of India in the defence sector?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: Bulgarian companies in the field of defence industry are very well presented in India for more than five decades. Bilateral Cooperation in the defence sector is also gathering momentum over the last three years with Bulgarian companies establishing joint ventures with Indian companies under the “Make in India” initiative. In the field of Science & Technology there are also several projects under implementation.
Bulgarian companies, with the support of the Embassy of Bulgaria in New Delhi, participate regularly and successfully in India’s flagship Defence exhibitions – “DefExpo” and “AeroIndia” as well as in organised International conferences in this field in India. Recently some of the leading Bulgarian companies in the field of defence industry – KINTEX, Arsenal, EMCO and Armaco took part in the 2nd International Conference on Defence & Security, organised by PHDCCI with the support of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises of India on 30-31 March 2022 in New Delhi. During the conference, the representatives of the Bulgarian companies had productive B2B meetings with Indian companies.
Diplomatist: Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. It has been 15 years. How do you see Bulgaria’s contribution to the EU?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: The motto of the European Union is “United in diversity”. It signifies how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent’s many different cultures, traditions and languages.
Bulgaria, a country with over 13 centuries of history and a cultural heritage that embraces ancient civilizations, has, no doubt, enriched the EU, contributing towards its diversity in terms of language, alphabet, cultural and historical heritage, and natural beauty. I would like to back up this statement with some facts.
Bulgarian has become one of the official languages of the EU in 2007. Moreover, the Cyrillic has become the third official alphabet in the European Union. The Cyrillic alphabet has been created in the medieval Bulgarian state, and today it features even on every euro banknote.
Despite the fact that it occupies only 2% of Europe’s territory, about 40,000 historical monuments have been registered in Bulgaria, 36 cultural reserves, 160 monasteries, and roughly 330 museums and galleries. With so well preserved cultural heritage, Bulgaria ranks third in Europe in the number of historical and cultural monuments. Seven Bulgarian cultural monuments are included in the World Cultural Heritage List of UNESCO.
In terms of biodiversity, Bulgaria is in second place in Europe. The plants are over 12,360 species, as 3,700 of them are higher species. 763 species have been included in the Red Book of Bulgaria. About 750 plants have been registered as medicinal, and 70% of them are economically valuable species.
Bulgaria holds second place in Europe in the number of natural mineral springs. To date, more than 600 mineral springs have been discovered and explored, of which more than 80% have healing properties and a water temperature of 20˚ to 103˚ C. The healing properties of mineral waters, according to their composition are suitable for the treatment of various diseases.
Bulgaria is a very hospitable and tolerant country. Bulgaria is proud that people, belonging to various religions and denominations peacefully coexist, and actively promotes inclusive approaches.
Bulgaria has also been a champion of women empowerment and equal rights between men and women. A small example would be the information technology sector, which has been on the rise over the past ten years in Bulgaria. Bulgaria ranks first in the European Union in the number of women in the IT sector. Bulgaria also holds first place in terms of the number of girls and young women studying IT.
Diplomatist: Bulgaria has become a bit of a hotspot for Bollywood. What steps have been taken to promote Bulgaria to the Indian public to familiarize them with the richness of Bulgarian culture?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: Bulgaria is definitely the place to be for a film shooting! Its rich natural diversity, breathtaking landscapes, cultural inheritance and 4 seasons during the year together with the lowest corporate tax in Europe of only 10%, as well as high-quality professional crews make Bulgaria one of the most preferable places for international film industry.
I am proud that the Indian film producing community has discovered Bulgaria as an exciting shooting destination. Bollywood’s biggest stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Ajay Devgan have been several times in Bulgaria for shooting and we expect much more Indian tourists to visit Bulgaria, which beauty was captured in the famous Bollywood movies “Dilwale”, “Shivaay”, “Bahubali”, “Brahmastra” and many others. As a result, in the last three years before the Covid pandemic, we had every year annual growth of 25-30% of the Indian tourists in Bulgaria.
In the last few years, the Embassy of Bulgaria to India organized plenty of meetings with famous Indian film producers and took part in many international conferences in India in the field of tourism and film shooting, organized by Indian chambers, in order to promote Bulgaria as a popular tourism and film shooting destination.
With more than 400 world-famous Hollywood and Bollywood movies shot in Bulgaria over the last 10 years, Bulgaria became one of the best rising film destinations in Europe.
Bulgaria as a shooting destination is going to become even more attractive, as Bulgaria is currently in the process of implementing a Fiscal Incentives’ Scheme, supporting audio-visual production in the country. According to that Scheme certain expenses for films, produced in Bulgaria, which respond to specific cultural and economic contribution criteria, are going to be eligible for reimbursement by the country.
Diplomatist: Looking ahead in time, what major events can we expect in bilateral cooperation in 2022?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: We are all hopeful that in 2022 we shall see a reinvigoration of the political dialogue, a restart of cultural and educational cooperation, and further reactivation of the business contacts. High-level visits, some of which were scheduled for 2020 or 2021 are in the pipeline and will hopefully be realised within 2022. We are hoping to welcome the External Affairs Minister to Bulgaria. We expect the inter-parliamentary cooperation to be strengthened by the exchange of visits of honourable members of Parliament. Bulgaria is expecting high-ranking officials at the XV International Defence Equipment Exhibition Hemus 2022 and other international expos. Bulgaria counts that within this year a direct flight route between Bulgaria and India might be established. Bulgaria is also working to expand its representation by Honorary consuls throughout India. All of the above will contribute to further boost the bilateral cooperation in all spheres, including, business, education, cultural exchange, people-to-people contacts, while increasing the tourist flow.
Diplomatist: How does the world see Bulgaria?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: Answering your question with one sentence, I would say that the world sees Bulgaria as an ancient culture, yet modern democracy, firmly committed to the rule of law, reliable partner, investment and tourist destination. Bulgaria has firmly walked the path of shared European and trans-atlantic values, which has culminated when my country joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007, fifteen years ago.
I would like to elaborate, by telling how I hope the world sees Bulgaria, measured by its achievements. Let me give you a few examples.
Bulgaria is a strong advocate of the rights of children, putting emphasis on early childhood development, combatting all forms of violence against girls and boys, and on the participation of children. Upholding the rights of children was also among the priorities of Bulgaria’s first membership in the Human Rights Council 2019-2021, as well as during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2018. Bulgaria has also been a champion on equality between men and women and remains deeply invested in the UN’s work towards gender equality, human rights, the empowerment of women and girls and the eradication of gender based violence.
In the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum ranked Bulgaria 38 among the 156 countries surveyed, marking an increase by 11 places compared with 2020. In the 2022 Women, Business and law report by the World Bank, Bulgaria is among the best performing countries in the world with a score of 90.6 points out of a maximum of 100, on issues relating to the legal and institutional frameworks that shape the economic opportunities of women and lead to improving gender equality.
Diplomatist: What are your thoughts on the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Dimitrova: We at the EU together with our transatlantic and like-minded partners have been united in making unprecedented efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to the security crisis caused by Russia. The Russian Federation has not reciprocated these efforts and instead opted unilaterally for a grave and premeditated act of aggression, for which Russia bears full responsibility. Bulgaria condemns in the strongest possible terms the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation. The military attack of Russia against Ukraine – an independent and sovereign state – is a flagrant violation of international law and the core principles on which the international rules-based order is built. Bulgaria reiterates its unwavering support and commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, within its internationally recognised borders and stands by the people of Ukraine during one of the darkest times of its contemporary history. My country, along with many other European states, has deplored the tragic loss of life and human suffering caused by the Russian aggression, and has accommodated already over 70000 refugees from Ukraine.