THE MOSCOW MEETINGS OF LIDIYA SHOULEVA
The two-day working visit of Deputy Premier Lidiya Shouleva in Moscow woke the interest towards Bulgarian-Russian economic relations. Imports from Bulgaria increased 18%, the Russian PM Mikhail Kasyanov announced. That had not happened in the last years. Bilateral tunover is also going up. If things continue in the same direction, we could double commercial exchange within five years, noted Vice Premier and Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin, who co-chairs on the Russian part the intergovernmental commission for trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation. Common interests in automotive industry were again a topic during the conversations in Moscow. The Russian Union of Car Manufacturers proposed to resume joint productuion of spare parts for Russian automobiles and to organize sale of Russian agricultural equipment in Bulgaria. Russia's new customs code allows a considerable reduction of customs duties of some Bulgarian goods, imported into Russia, Ms. Shouleva pointed out during her meeting with her counterpart Mr. Kudrin. Cooperation for utilization of opportunities was promised by German Gref, Russian Minister of Economic Development and Trade. It is known that Bulgarian goods became some 20-25% more expensive due to the depreciation of the US dollar and the payments in euro. Some Bulgarian companies, especially in the sphere of cosmetics and perfumeries, faced difficulties in the export of their articles to Russia still prior the introduction of the new customs regulations. On the background of the general incerase of prices on the Russian market, however, Bulgarian goods manage to regain their positions. By the end of 2004 Russia will complete the repayment of its foreign debt to Bulgaria, Mr. Kudrin underlined. From the acknowledged Russian debt of USD88.5MN, USD25MN remained to be paid back by military supplies, and USD14.5MN - by Russian commodities. However, as no buyers for these goods turned up, Russia will pay its debt in cash, Mr. Kudrin noted. He also promised to personally control the problem regarding the visas of Bulgarian drivers of cargo trucks. The issue has been on the agenda of all Bulgarian-Russian meetings for a second year now. The Russian side did not hide its disappointment with the failure of Russia's Unified Energy System (UES) in the forthcoming privatisation of Bulgarian energy distribution companies. The ctriteria for divestment tenders are clear and objective, Vice Premier Shouleva explained. Five European companies satisfied the requirements and the drop-outs were the Russian subsidiary of UES for the Scandinavian countries and the US company. The condition for participation is an international credit rating and experience on liberalized energy markets, Ms. Shouleva specified. Nevertheless, Russia maintains its interest towards privatisation in Bulgaria, especially in power engineering. In front of the Chairman of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Evgeni Primakov, Ms. Shouleva raised the issue of participation of off-shore companies on Russia's side in deals in Bulgaria. This renders difficult export insurance and subsidizing and impedes the operation of Bulgarian producers, she underlined. Moreover, bilateral agreements and trade concessions are not effective when off-shore companies are involved. We seek transparent partners with transparent purposes, Ms. Shoulva said. She also delivered to Mr. Kudrin a letter with a proposal on the licencing regimes in defence industry, but denied to comment. There will be negotiations and experts should be obviously given a chance to discuss agruable issues more calmly. Problems concerning the two countries' real estates were discussed at Ms. Shouleva's meeting with Kremlin Property Manager Vladimir Kozhin. Vice PM Shouleva raised the issue of reciprocity of terms. Bulgaria is quicker in settling legal formalities. It has already presented the documents for the Russian Embassy in Sofia, while the Russian side has not yet settled the formalities regarding the Bulgarian Embassy and the Bulgarian Industrial Centre in Moscow. Russia's claims for the ownership of Bulgartabac Holding were also a topic of the conversation. So far the claims have been only mentioned and no documents presented. Bulgaria is ready to consider them and present the available documents, Ms. Shouleva said. Vladimir Kozhin showed interest towards deliveries of Bulgarian foods and consumer goods. The Kremlin Property is a huge holding with its own enterprises and infrastructure. In the Bulgarian Industrial Centre in Moscow Ms. Shouleva talked with businessmen, representing the recently established Business for Bulgaria alliance that includes BRK Cosmetics, Solvex, Sparky and Videxim. The businessmen believe that the Government should react more flexibly to the changes on the Russian market. Ms. Shouleva agreed that the business people need to be informed about the consequences of the steps, undertaken by the State for its accession to the European Union. The business representatives pointed out the necessity of a consistent policy in the exchange of ads, for tax preferences in the trade with Russia, for the situation at the airports in Bulgaria, etc. In mid-summer 2003 the Varna Airport hiked its fees and that in Plovdiv is not adapt to service the charter flights and the winter vacationers, the representative of Solvex Dimiter Tsonev pointed out. In the last few months the number of Russian holiday-makers in Bulgaria has increased by 22 per cent. The infrastructure in the resorts and at the airports is not adequate to the increased interest. It is necessary to attract investments in balneological cure which has unutilized potential, the businessmen underlined. They also mentioned the unsatisfactory state of Bulgarian real estates in Russia.In mid-February the Foreign Minister Solomon Passy is expected to visit Moscow, too. It was specified that the session of the intergovernmental Bulgarian-Russian Commission for Cooperation would be held in Bulgaria on June 19 and 20, 2004.