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Stefan SOFRONIEV: "Every businessman is an "ambassador" of his country, and therefore should make every effort to present it properly and dignifiedly"

"Bilateral trade and economic relations between Bulgaria and Ukraine have demonstrated continuous positive development in recent years. Confirmation of their sustainable nature is the minimal drop in our trade in 2020, even after the changes that have occurred aroundthe world as a result of the Covid pandemic. The volume of our mutual trade is growing, and aside of the dominance of several main categories, the list of goods is becoming increasingly diverse.

Among well-represented and dominating Ukrainian goods in Bulgaria are foodstuffs and beverages, products of the woodworking and furniture industry, metallurgy, mechanical engineering, etc.", – we talk with Stefan Sofroniev, Head of the Office for Trade and Economic Affairs (OTEA) at the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Kyiv.

–In turn, Bulgarian producers consider Ukraine as a promising market, with large scale, increasing purchasing power and demand for high-quality products. Among the Bulgarian goods at the Ukrainian market are pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, household chemicals, foodstuffs and beverages, and others.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest from Ukrainian companies, as well as individual investors towards Bulgaria. This interest is due to the most favorable tax environment in the EU which our country offers, together with the direct internal access to the EU market. At the same time, all that is facilitated by well-developed transport links between our countries, as well as very close cultural and psychological identity of our nations.

- Mr. Stefan, can you share some figures from different areas of cooperation between Bulgaria and Ukraine?

–As I have already noted, since 2016, the trade turnover between Ukraine and Bulgaria has steadily increased, reaching almost $ 1 billion per year in 2019-2020. Traditionally, the balance of foreign trade is in favor of Ukraine.  In 2020, imports to our country from Ukraine stood at about 2% of Bulgaria's total imports. Together with the production of the Ukrainian metallurgical sector, which is a leading export category to our country, there are almost 20 commodity groups with a share of more than 1% in Ukraine's exports to Bulgaria, such as oils from various oilseeds, spare parts and equipment of the railway sector, products of the woodworking and furniture industry, food and beverages, etc.

Bulgaria's exports to Ukraine in 2020 accounted for about 1% of our country's total exports. In the nomenclature of our exports to Ukraine, there are more than 30 commodity groups with a share of over 1%. Among them are pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, fertilizers and related products for agricultural needs, household chemicals, various electrical appliances (both heating and cooling), machines oils and lubricants, machine batteries, food and beverages etc.

As of the end of 2020, the total amount of financial assets in Bulgaria originating from Ukraine exceeded EUR 150 million, and there are more than 1,000 registered companies and trade representative offices with Ukrainian capital.

In turn, a large number of Bulgarian companies and companies with Bulgarian participation operate in Ukraine, which is stipulated by the presence in the country of the largest historical Bulgarian diaspora abroad (more than 200 thousand people according to Ukrainian statistics as of 2010). Unfortunately, Bulgarian businessmen based in our country consider still Ukraine as largely risky place for investment, albeit an interesting one. This is due mostly to negative investment experience over the years, as well as relatively frequent cases of import frauds from Ukraine.

– Within what new areas, directions or deepening of existing ones, do you see prospects for cooperation between our countries?

– Every day in Kyiv I get amazed by the high level of penetration of high information technologies. This is a confirmation that there is a lot of highly qualified IT specialists in Ukraine, but also indicates that the general culture and hence – the demand for modern technologies are very high. I would also like to emphasize that the quality of services (trade, hotels and restaurants, maintenance, etc.) that I have been witnessing during my 3 years of stay here in many aspects has reached a level that many other countries can only dream of.

Taking into account Bulgaria's success in the relevant sectors in recent years, I believe that among the areas of cooperation in which we have additional potential for partnership are IT and high technologies, mechanical engineering and, in particular - the automotive industry, tourism (including hotel and restaurant business), furniture industry, construction, agriculture and others.

–Mr. Stefan, you have been living and working in Ukraine for several years. Can you give some examples of your achievements over the years of work in Ukraine, specific events, initiatives, etc.?

–Organizing and participating in various events in the field of bilateral trade and economic relations is an integral part of the work of the OTEA. Over the years, there has been a number of such events and success examples of our cooperation together with the Kyiv Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the UCCI, as well as other business structures in Ukraine and Bulgaria.

New Bulgarian goods entered the Ukrainian market, while others increased their presence.

Tourism is yet another area that falls under the professional scope of the OTEA. The partnership between our two countries has strengthened, as Ukrainian tourists visiting Bulgaria are steadily in the list of top 6 foreign nations visiting our country, which is becoming increasingly popular in Ukraine as a place for ski/winter tourism, SPA & Balneology, active tourism (among which golf), etc.

A proof of the successful work on the development of bilateral trade and economic relations between Ukraine and Bulgaria is the award given to OTEA-Ukraine in 2020 as the best OTEA of the Republic of Bulgaria in the world. The competition is an annual tradition of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and our Ministry of Economy to nominate the best 6 OTEAs of the Republic of Bulgaria abroad.

-Maybe you could share also some of your future plans?

-There are several well-known sayings in Bulgaria, meant not to rush to announce plans and intentions, such as: "Do not say HOP until you jump." Therefore, I would just mention that at the moment we are working together with the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to setup the Ukrainian-Bulgarian Business Council within the Chamber that would gather the companies in Ukraine, working with Bulgaria.

Soon, I hope, there will be also some pleasant surprises for experts and lovers of quality wine in Ukraine, related of course to our wonderful Bulgarian wines.

–The Embassy of Bulgaria is a frequent guest of the Kyiv CCI. A few words about the cooperation with the Chamber of the capital of Ukraine.

Kyiv CCI is one of our main business partners in Ukraine, with whom we regularly cooperate in the exchange of information on trade requests, new commercial and economic issues and others, aimed at supporting the activities of companies on both sides. The Chamber has repeatedly conducted effective professional international events, resulting into practical outcomes. Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank once again for the Diploma received from the leadership of the Kyiv Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the personal contribution to the development of foreign economic relations of the member companies of the Kyiv CCI, as well as for the opportunity to celebrate the National Liberation day of the Republic of Bulgaria on March 3, 2020 in the Chamber, which coincided with another International business event at your premises by the International Trade Club, a regular partner of KCCI. It turned out to be a very nice and pleasant combination! 

– Your wishes to the readers of BUSINESS PANORAMA magazine – businessmen of Ukraine and Bulgaria?

– For almost 2 years we have been living in extremely turbulent times. This requires unconventional approaches and additional efforts to maintain business and even more - to develop it or to succeed in implementing new initiatives. In this regard, I wish Ukrainian and Bulgarian businessmen motivation, energy and creativity. I call for rule of law and fair principles in business. We should all bear in mind that every businessman is an "ambassador" of his country, and should make every effort to present it properly and dignifiedly.

Stefan Sofroniev, Head of the Office of trade and economic affairs (OTEA), Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Kyiv, Ukraine, since 2018.

Previous mandate in OTEA at the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Beirut, Lebanon. In 2014, OTEA-Beirut was distinguished as one of the 6 best OTEAs of the Republic of Bulgaria abroad.

In 2020, OTEA-Ukraine (including OTEA of the Consulate of the Republic of Bulgaria in Odessa) took award for the first place.

Among the areas of cooperation in which we have additional potential for partnership are IT and High technologies, mechanical engineering and, in particular - the automotive industry, tourism (including hotel and restaurant business), furniture industry, construction, agriculture.

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