WE OWE THE BUSINESS INFORMATION ABOUT THE EU COMMITMENTS
Evgenia Koldanova, Deputy Minister of Economy responsible for the Eurointegration, to the BANKER weeklyBulgarian political rulers are anxiously counting the months that remain until the end of the country's negotiations with the European Union (EU). Although talks are slowlier now because the financial framework is expected, the negotiating team is still seized by optimism.There are also sober-minded people warning that negotiations do not just mean opening and closing chapters, but also undertaking commitments. But they are very few. The reason is not the weak interest in the integration process but the lack of sufficient amount of reliable information.The BANKER weekly is going to publish a series of articles dedicated to the challenges an EU membership imposes, starting with the Free Flow of Commodities chapter.Ms. Koldanova, it has been frequently discussed lately that Bulgarian companies may not be aware of what will face them in the EU. Is the Ministry of Economy doing anything to throw light upon this question?- I must confess that we really feel we owe something to the business and the society as a whole. So far we haven't managed to give them the best possible information about what they will live through after Bulgaria joins the EU. I don't think, however, that this is so fatal in fact. In my opinion a great part of the Bulgarian companies have already achieved the European standards and have met the EU requirements for the commodities that they export. The fact that over 70% of the Bulgarian export goes to countries from the EU is quite indicative.Bulgaria's Vice Premier Lidiya Shouleva announced she was preparing a programme, aimed at improving the process of informing the companies. Would you mention some of the projected measures ?- The document which is extremely ambitious in terms of contents is about to be approved by the political cabinet of the Minister of Economy. We want to attract as many partners as possible for the practical implementation of the program. We'll rely on the businesses, non-governmental organisations, and representatives of the municipal power. One of our first steps will be to establish an advisory council. On the website of the ministry we are going to publish detailed information about the adopted legislation which is directly related to the companies. That information will also be published in our monthly bulletin which we started issuing not long ago. We're also planning to print topical brochures that will cover the risky sectors of the economy. An information centre may be opened, too. Entrepreneurs will be able to hear explanations on what interests them on the telephone. Moreover, we are working on Minister Shouleva's idea to prepare a catalogue of the European programs for which Bulgarian companies may apply. It's very important, though, that all this information reaches the business, because not all the companies are able to participate in round tables held mainly in Sofia, or to communicate with the head-offices of the branch organisations. I realize that it is a problem for the owner of a bakery living in a small town to find his way in the labyrinth of European requirements, while these requirements will inevitably concern him.The opposition keeps attacking the cabinet that the negotiations with the European Commission are not transparent.- I have to explain something here. In the working groups that prepare Bulgaria's positions on each chapter there are representatives of all parties concerned, including business organisations from the respective branch. So, we cannot talk about hidden commitments or obligations. The problem, as I said, consists in translating them into a language that the people will understand, but that's not so easy. I will give you an example - the Free Flow of Commodities chapter which has 90% of the Bulgarian legislation harmonized with the EU's one. There are 350 directives that regulate it. A significant part of them are already being applied in our country. For example, the Law on Pharmaceuticals and Drugstores in Human Medicine was adopted in 1995. The transition period provided for introduction of good manufacturing practices expired last April and the pharmaceutical companies observed it. That's how they will not have to make additional investments after Bulgaria joins the EU.Yet, experts often talk about an old and a new approach in regulating the free flow of commodities. What do these notions mean?- The difference is mainly in the procedures. Both approaches are subordinate to the main principle that operates within the single internal market - the one for products safety. The so called new approach defines more general requirements, while the old one describes them in details. The new refers to machines, electrical appliances, lifts, and the old - to food, chemical substances, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics. As far as I see, this kind of distinction confuses the companies.Would you mention some of the regulations introducing European requirements to Bulgarian commodities as of the beginning of 2004?- There are such requirements in the Regulation on classifying, stamping, and packing existing and newly-developed chemical substances, in the Regulation on Food Used for Specific Purposes, as well as in the Regulation on Grain Food. A requirement for the highest allowed concentration of heavy metals in the food is already in force, too. It is a really enormous legislative basis. I will only tell you that there are 57 regulations on cars waiting for us to adopt them.Maybe the strict requirements towards the goods' quality and safety will lead to the closing of certain productions after 2007?- I can definitely say that there is no such danger, at least for the free flow of commodities. However, difficulties will result from the veterinary requirements in the Agriculture chapter, as well as from the keeping of the ecological norms stipulated by the Environment chapter. Although the Ministry of Economy is not a leading factor in these negotiations, our experts take part in the development of the respective legislation. We took a commitment towards the European Commission Delegation to Sofia to prepare a Strategy for introducing ecological requirements in the industrial sector. This may be the most difficult task, because it requires a lot of investments. As to the campaign for closing dairies and meat processing units which fail to meet the veterinary and sanitary requirements, it should not be taken dramatically. It's time for Bulgarian people to start thinking about whether everything the market offers them is really safe.When will Bulgarian producers be able to put the CE label on their products in order to gain free access to the European market?- This label put on the commodities shows that the supervision authorities in both Bulgaria and the EU acknowledge the conformity of the goods. We hope that by the middle of this year we'll sign with the EU an additional protocol to the currently operating European association agreement that will allow Bulgarian companies from six branches to use the CE label. They produce machines, electrical appliances, electromagnetic products, lifts, gas appliances, and toys.Is there a sufficient number of laboratories in Bulgaria licensed to test the meeting of the European standards?- The European legislation has a principle to define only requirements for the safety of the products and to leave the quality standards voluntary. Of course, there are exceptions. Anyway, before a commodity is exported it has to pass through a number of tests. So, there is a necessity of a sufficient number of licensed laboratories to do these services. Until now the state took care of that. But private business has to assume its responsibility and initiate the construction of new labs.There will be no preliminary permissions for the launching of new products on the market after 2007. Instead of them, the post-control will be tightened. May this process cause cataclysms?- Yes, it may, since it practically means that the administration will start operations in a different manner. A lot of resources will be needed, too. Anyway, removing the permission for the launching of a new product (which is already valid for some food and cosmetic products) is entirely in favour of the business. Preliminary control is made by documents and it does not guarantee the safety of the products that will be sold. From now on, the tests will be made on the spot, so both producers and traders will assume more responsibilities.