For NDN Media Group & the Seoul City Magazine, Bulgaria Amb. H.E. Petko Draganov sat down with us to exchange his opinions about recent novel Corona 19 Virus, Bulgaria’s increased role within the EU framework, its improved investment environment for Korean investors and last but not least 30th diplomatic anniversary events etc. –Ed.
Let me start by expressing my support to the Korean Government and the Korean people in their effort to halt the spread of the new coronavirus. The Republic of Korea is offering the rest of the world a good model in tackling the pandemic, and we are all, my country included, involved in a similar tremendous effort. Like climate change and the need to preserve our planet through a swift transition to the green economy, the coronavirus pandemic is a global challenge, which requires a concerted and coordinated action by all nations at all levels. This makes enhancing our cooperation all the more relevant and worthwhile.
Please touch upon Bulgaria’s role and responsibility within EU in a circumstance where UK left EU?
An orderly negotiated withdrawal is the best option for Brexit. For Bulgaria, citizens’ rights have always been a priority and in the circumstance where UK left EU our guiding principles are reciprocity and non-discrimination. We need to use the transition period to forge our future relations ensuring maximum possible continuity in a number of important areas such as citizens’ rights, trade and security.
What are the ambitions or plans for Your Excellency’s tenure as Bulgaria Amb. to Korea to achieve diplomatic goals or outstanding diplomatic performances to bolster bilateral relations between Korea & Bulgaria?
My goal is to enhance our bilateral relations with the Republic of Korea and strengthen our cooperation in the fields of economy, tourism, the IT and energy sectors among others. I would also be paying special attention to the cooperation between our countries in the sphere of education and science, culture, youth and sports and people-to-people contacts.
In 2020 we are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Korea. There is a mutual desire on both sides to use this as an opportunity to enhance further the bilateral cooperation, trade and investment and people-to-people contacts.
What are Bulgarian Government’s strategy to promote Bulgaria’s external image all over the world, taking advantage of its cultural heritages and so on in various areas?
Bulgaria is an EU member state with a diversified and growing economy. In recent years it has been able to maintain macroeconomic and financial stability, which helped tackle the negative effects of the global financial and economic crisis. Bulgaria suffered fewer negative consequences than many other countries, while its GDP has been growing consistently, reaching $65.133 billion in 2018. Moreover, we are negotiating our membership in the OECD, and the number of tourists visiting Bulgaria is constantly higher than the country’s own population, and there is a notable increase in the number of tourists from Asia and Latin America.
By sectors, please diagnose the bilateral prospect between the two nations in 2020 such as economy cooperation, investment & defence areas and last but not least culture & people-to-people exchanges, to name a few.
Bulgaria gives priority to the development of trade, economic, scientific, and technical cooperation with the Republic of Korea. The Free Trade Agreement between the EU and ROK, which officially came into force on 13 December 2015, has removed 98,7% of the duties between our countries and has led to a significant increase of bilateral trade. I am especially looking forward to working together with the RoK on meeting the global challenge of containing and reversing climate change through a swift transition to a carbon-neutral Green Economy.
With regard to Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization issues, please mention Bulgaria’s standpoints & its recommendations for North Korea.
Bulgaria is a staunch proponent of the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and we believe it must be achieved by peaceful means. We hope that the diplomatic efforts to further sustainable peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula will persists.
My country will continue to support the ultimate goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In its bilateral contacts with the DPRK, Bulgaria follows a "critical engagement" policy, which seeks to preserve the channels of communication while upholding principled and firm positions on nuclear weapons non-proliferation and respect for human rights. We welcome the efforts by President Moon and his government towards sustainable peace, disarmament and cooperation in the region. In our view, it is of crucial importance that the DPRK engages in a constructive and meaningful dialogue with the international community.
Please introduce tourism merits for Korean travellers as well.
Tourism in Bulgaria has registered a significant growth in recent years and has lots to offer to Korean travellers. Bulgaria offers opportunities for different forms of tourism, such as cultural tourism, eco-tourism, golf and SPA tourism, to name but a few. Just like the Republic of Korea, Bulgaria has four distinct seasons, during which people can experience various seasonal activities, such as winter skiing, water sports and mountain hiking.
Tourism is a great way to create people-to-people interaction. With its pristine beaches, ancient sites, and natural wonders, 9 of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Bulgaria has become a popular tourist destination for many Europeans. On average, roughly 8 million foreigners visit our country each year. While South Koreans are amongst the top 50 nationalities to visit Bulgaria, with more than 12,000 Koreans visiting in 2018, I believe this number can be much higher. Our land can offer a lot to the Korean traveller. For example, visitors can take advantage of our numerous affordable golfing resorts – some have been ranked in the European top 30. For those who prefer a relaxing holiday, the country has the second highest number of hot springs in Europe after Iceland. As one of the oldest nations in Europe, Bulgaria has an abundance of historical and cultural sites – like the oldest gold treasure in the world, found in the city of Varna or the mystique Madara Horseman near Shumen.
Within the framework of EU, are there any plans or strategies for the Government of Bulgaria to enlarge its influence in the region?
The European Union (EU) is forging strong economic and political relations with the Republic of Korea. Education, science and technology and climate change are important areas of cooperation. There are key agreements between the EU and RoK as strategic partners, covering all three pillars of political, trade and security issues, as well as more specific arrangements in several fields, offering a wide scope for cooperation and room for further development of relations between the European Union and the Republic of Korea. In this context, Bulgaria is free to pursue its own interests, and we regard your country as a priority partner in Asia. Through the framework of EU, as well as the excellent relations between Bulgaria and RoK, there is a huge potential for further increasing bilateral cooperation.
How is investment climate in Bulgaria for Korean investors to penetrate into EU markets including Central and Eastern Europe?
Bulgaria is firmly on the map of international investment flows, with a positive tendency of an increasing number and size of projects implemented by both foreign and local companies.
Bulgaria is establishing itself as a leading destination for investment also thanks to the tax regime (a flat 10% corporate and individual rate), combined with the availability of skilled labor and the lowest operating costs in Europe. Bulgaria, as an investment destination, has no competitor in Central and Eastern Europe in terms of the combination of three positive major macroeconomic indicators: credit rating, financial stability and the lowest government debt as a share of GDP.
The agreement signed with the OECD to carry out an Investment Policy Review of Bulgaria, is yet another guarantee that Bulgaria respects the highest standards of investor protection.
We have been seeing considerable increase in interest in Bulgaria as an investment destination, both in production and in high value added business services. Bulgaria has attracted a significant number and large-scale projects in the automotive, electronics, electrical, information technology and outsourcing sectors, the chemical industry, logistics, transport equipment and mechanical engineering.
The Investment Promotion Act (IPA) provides an opportunity for investors whose projects are certified under this law to benefit from financial incentive measures to recover compulsory social security contributions and to build elements of the technical infrastructure.
Please touch upon 30-th anniversary commemorative events to mark the two countries’ diplomatic ties this year.
In 2020 we are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Korea. As I mentioned before, there is a mutual desire on both sides to use this as an opportunity to enhance further the bilateral cooperation, trade and investment and people-to-people contacts. With this important goal in mind, the Embassy of Bulgaria in Seoul is planning many events, which we hope will bring Bulgaria and its culture, traditions and way of life closer to the Korean audience. The above-mentioned initiatives include: the exhibition “The Letters of Bulgaria – Alphabet of Europe” dedicated to the Cyrillic Alphabet, which was created in the 9th century in Bulgaria and today is used by some 50 countries in Europe and Asia (Russia, former Soviet Republics, Western Balkans, Mongolia and others). The exhibition will be organized in May with the kind cooperation and support by the Korea Foundation; a Bulgarian film screening in cooperation with the Korea Foundation again in May this year. A concert by a renowned Bulgarian artist and a reception are being planned for the second half of 2020 and we will make sure to keep your readers posted on all these interesting events.
The anniversary will also be used as a means to continue the active political cooperation through preparing and carrying out visits within the year by the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva to Seoul as well as the long awaited visit to Sofia by President Moon Jae-in. We hope that President Moon will be able to visit Bulgaria at a mutually convenient time and we are working on this visit with the Korean authorities.