ArmInfo. Interview of the Minister of Transport and Communication of Bulgaria Rossen Jeliazkov with ArmInfo News Agency, where he talks about the prospects for the development of Armenian-Bulgarian relations, about the need to stimulate trade and economic relations, about the upcoming visit of the RA Prime Minister to Sofia and many other things.
Mr. Minister, how would you characterize the state of the Armenian-Bulgarian trade and economic relations, and how do you see the future of these relations?
As you know, the reason for our meeting is the next 8th session of the Armenian-Bulgarian scientific, technical and economic cooperation. The last meeting was in December 2015. Since then, both Bulgaria and Armenia have not stood in place, developed and achieved significant results. I was in Yerevan for the last time in 2012 and I can say that the city has changed a lot, and now it has a rather nice new look. A change in the urban environment and infrastructure indicates the functioning of the economy.
An Armenian-Bulgarian business forum is currently being held in Yerevan. I am very impressed with the activities of your agency. I participated in the presentation in Yerevan under the same name "Why should we invest in the Armenian economy?", And I think that right now our representatives from various areas of the economy, in particular - light industry, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, information technology and many other things, will do necessary steps towards the development of bilateral cooperation. It is impressive that the large enough room chosen for the meeting of business representatives of the two countries turned out to be small.
More than 70 companies expressed interest and participated in our forum, of which more than 30 are Bulgarian. The friendly relations between Armenia and Bulgaria were laid centuries ago. As my Armenian counterpart Hakob Arshakyan noted, genetic friendship developed between us.
Therefore, attention to the business environment in both Armenia and Bulgaria is very important from the point of view of encouraging mutual trade. In this area, the situation is still not satisfactory, with a very strong surplus in favor of Bulgaria. Our goal is to ensure balance, especially in terms of products with high added value.
Therefore, we attach such a high value to a data-based economy, the so-called digital economy, for which time and space do not matter. However, we also do not lose our attention to the conventional economy, which relies on logistics - both in terms of air and ground space.
You expressed dissatisfaction with the level of existing cooperation between Armenia and Bulgaria. In your opinion, what is the main reason, or what impedes the stimulation of our bilateral relations in the trade and economic field?
First of all, it is a communication problem. The Black Sea separates us, and the main transport corridor passes through the ferry crossing of the Bulgarian Varna, the Ukrainian Black Sea (formerly Illichivsk), the Georgian Poti. This is the main destination for the transit of goods to Iran and the Far East. This is the transport corridor that we will need to develop and expand in the future. Therefore, it will be very important to have decisions regarding various international organizations, one of which is the Black Sea Economic Organization.
At the same time, this is also the development of such initiatives as the multi-modal corridor "Persian Gulf - Black Sea", and, of course, these are goods and services that will move along these corridors. Therefore, all formats at the governmental and non-governmental levels, such as, say, this forum, are important because they allow you to create partnerships, and above all between companies. In addition, it is an important indicator for governments that could encourage this particular activity. I mean barter, of course. It was pointed out the advantage of Armenia in investment and investment, as well as Bulgaria - as a member of the European Union.
We had excellent relations at the political level, good relations at the intergovernmental level, as well as between such entities as the Bulgarian Agency for the Encouragement of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and the Armenian Agency "Business Armenia" on the other hand.
During my meeting with my Armenian counterpart Arshakyan, we discussed issues related to the infrastructure and information technology sector, these are also funds that the EU envisages for the implementation of the Horizon Europe project for 2021-2027 with a cost of 100 billion euros. And you need to take advantage of both sides in the field of expertise, knowledge and artificial intelligence. We familiarized with the achievements of Armenia in this field.
I also understand that there will be structural changes in your government in support of this policy and I believe that this is the right direction. Future economies are data and digital based economies. The world is developing rapidly, and we, as small states, should not lag behind global trends.
What are your expectations from the meeting of the Armenian-Bulgarian intergovernmental commission and business forum in Yerevan?
On the one hand, we expect direct and specific contacts between partner companies on both sides, on the other hand, we need to go beyond the personal presence in this forum and within the framework of employers' organizations. And since at this forum the Association of Industrial Capital of Bulgaria (AICB) and the Association of Employers of Bulgaria are represented, messages about the results of this visit to Armenia will be reached by hundreds of companies within the association. In addition, in Bulgaria there is a serious interest in the labor migration process. The relevant ministries of our countries have already signed an agreement on the regulation of labor migration, which allows Armenians with the necessary labor qualifications to take advantage of the Bulgarian labor market, which is a guarantee of close contacts between the two states.
According to the National Statistical Committee of Armenia, the foreign trade turnover of Armenia with Bulgaria for January-December 2018 reached $ 259.1 million, which is 23.8% lower than the previous year's level. According to experts, the low activity of the intergovernmental commission largely contributed to the decline. Are the dates of the new meeting defined, and what issues are envisaged to discuss?
Is this true? We will understand in the future. If in 2018 positive changes are recorded, we will be convinced of our cooperation.
These formats are very important, as the business comes to where there are investment opportunities and benefits. In a market economy, there is no mechanism for governments to control these investments and processes. Therefore, the interest shown is evidence of potential in both markets, as well as a stable market environment in both states. This is also evidence that Bulgaria is seen as a bridge to the West, and Armenia to the East.
As for the next meeting of the intergovernmental commission, this issue will still be discussed, but we intend to hold it no later than two years later, that is, approximately in 2021.
Of course, there are other formats in which we discuss our bilateral issues. The Prime Minister of Armenia will pay a visit to Bulgaria soon. This visit is a good opportunity to discuss issues on our bilateral agenda and vivid evidence of the high level of political relations between the two countries.
Bulgaria is one of the active participants in the TRACECA project. What projects does Sofia intend to propose to activate this program?
TRACECA is a project that provides communication between Europe and Asia, and through the Caucasus - this is governed by an agreement between the countries participating in the project, as well as the goal and its step-by-step engagement. At the upcoming investment forum, Bulgaria will present two projects, in particular, related to the railway infrastructure on the Bulgarian territory (Varna-Rusel and Karnobat- Sindel) and the second project concerns the connection between the Danube River and the Black Sea, which is an essential part of the European transport system.
A few days ago, an agreement was signed in Tehran to create the Europe-Armenia-Iran-Qatar Internet. Do Bulgarian companies intend to take part in this project? I also co-chair the Bulgarian-Iranian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation. At the upcoming session with Iran, which is scheduled for next month, this issue will also be discussed. In the context of building better communication, such initiatives are of great interest, especially in the field of high-speed networks, which is, on the one hand, the guarantor of accelerated data exchange, on the other hand, it assumes and provides the best cyber defense.