CUSTOMS SET UP RECORDS
The Customs Agency broke the republican record for collected proceeds in October, remitting to the budget BGN268,509,157, up BGN25,894,483 from the same month of last year. Thus, the customs' reveniues into the budget for 2002 reached BGN2,193,687,945.The good news was announced during the week at a press conference, which coincided with the successive quarterly report of the UK consultants Crown Agents. The joint Bulgarian-British event was attended by the Finance Minister milen Velchev, the Customs Agency Director Assen Assenov and his deputies, and the higher managerial team of Crown Agents in Bulgaria, headed by Morris Campbell and John Brown. Despite the record, according to experts it is still too early to chill the champaigne. The Customs Agency's financial plan for 2002 projects total proceeds of about BGN2.7BN. Mr. Assenov personally believes that with the expected BGN500MN from customs dues and taxes for November and December, the plan will be fulfilled.Although the contract with Crown Agents does not include a specific commitment for increasing the revenues from customs, it is clear for everyone that such hopes are set on the British consultants. Not so long ago the governors were pointing out the 96-percent growth, achieved by Crown Agents during their work in Latvia. In Bulgaria it is presently about 6 per cnet, or BGN124,880,423. Is that much or little as compared to the USD33MN, which the Government will pay to the British experts within three years, is yeat to be estimated. But there can be no doubt that the announced good financial results have come just in time to calm down the tension, haunting the British project.The achieved record high collectibility of customs dues and taxes was also a dig at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). By accident or not, the presentation of the customs' report for the first nine months of 2002 and of Crown Agents' report (which was filed on October 28) coincided with the consequtive visit of the IMF Mission to Bulgaria). A year ago the IMF Resident representative in Sofia Piritta Sorsa was one of those who warned that the deal with Crown Agents could turn out quite risky. But the record high proceeds, collected by the customs, will be a trump-card in the hands of Mr. Velchev during the forthcoming difficult negotiations with the international financial institution. During these negotiations the Finance Minister will have to give a proof of the Bulgarian administration's capability to ensure the projected high revenues into the 2003 budget (something that is questioned by the IMF experts). As a matter of fact, at the press conference for the customs' success Mr. Velchev did not miss to make such a suggestion, pronouncing as entirely realistic the projected customs proceeds of BGN180MN for next year. At that, independent of the forthcoming liberalization of Bulgaria's foreign trade regime within the framework of the EU, CEFTA and the World Trade Organisation.