- Pakistan and Bulgaria have always enjoyed amicable ties defined by mutual respect and a convergence of views on global & regional developments. Diplomatic ties between the two countries were established on 15th June 1965. On the other hand, Bulgaria opened its Embassy in Islamabad in 1968. Sofia was concurrently accredited to our mission based in Belgrade and Bucharest from August 1965 to May 1971. The first resident envoy was Ambassador Mustafa Kamal who presented his letter of credence on 2nd July 1971. Likewise, Bulgaria’s first Ambassador was Prof. Ivan Nenov whose credentials came into effect in May 1970.
- Pakistan’s Mission remained closed in Bulgaria from 1980 to 2009 while the Bulgarian diplomatic post continued to perform its duties. During this interregnum, the Mission in Bucharest had received concurrent accreditation for Bulgaria. Eventually, Pakistan reopened its Embassy in Sofia on 12th June 2009 and it has been functioning ever since.
- Bilateral trade fails to reflect its true potential although for the calendar year 2019, it was recorded at an encouraging aggregate of US$ 45.6 million. Pakistan’s exports were documented at US$ 30.9 million while imports from Bulgaria was calculated at US$ 14.7 million. A plethora of treaties have been concluded in many spheres of activity, but are more pronounced for the lack of substance and consistency when analyzed through empirical evidence.
- Simultaneously being member of the EU, OSCE, NSG, IMF, Berlin Process, WTO and NATO, Bulgaria has assumed added significance in Pakistan’s foreign policy matrix. Its geo-political pedigree enables it to assume the mantle of a country bolstering the EU’s external borders. This is at the coordinates where West & East Europe as well as Asia Minor overlap, a portmanteau of sorts. Expanding further, in terms of distance by land, Bulgaria is the nearest EU member to Pakistan. A road odyssey would entail a time duration of 45-55 hours if examined on Google Maps – otherwise in a practical mode, perhaps 7-10 days.
- Despite the existence of cordial diplomatic relations spanning more than five decades, the visit by a Head of State or Head of Government from Pakistan is still to materialize. Neither has there been a reciprocal bilateral visit at the Ministerial level that has emanated from our side. In January 2011, then Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, had visited Pakistan It was then that the Agreement on Economic Cooperation was signed on 19th January 2011 with Minister of State for Finance & Economic Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar. This was the last interaction of real substance at the VVIP/VIP grade.
- The Pakistani and Bulgarian Foreign Ministers, though, have met on the sidelines of major international fora. A mere handful of official level delegations from both countries have participated at respective defence and business-oriented exhibitions/forums. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar, visited Bulgaria in July 2006 as part of his 2-nation tour that also took him to Romania.
Parliamentary Friendship Group
- A Pakistan-Bulgaria Parliamentary Friendship Group was established in our National Assembly in 2010. The corresponding Parliamentary Friendship Group in Bulgaria’s unicameral Narodno Subranie or National Assembly had already been created in 2009 and consists of 7 members. A tour by our parliamentary friendship group materialized from November 12-15, 2019.
Mutual Candidature Support
- Bulgaria and Pakistan have always backed each other’s candidatures at different international fora over the years. In recent times, these have been defined by:
- Mutual backing of Pakistan’s candidature at attaining membership of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that covers Region E and encompasses the term 2019-22.
- Pakistan’s candidature for the Human Rights Council coinciding with the term 2021-2023. We had lent our backing to the successful campaign of Genoveva Tisheva as member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for the period 2019-2022.
- Pakistan’s candidature for the Human Rights Council coinciding with the term 2016-2018 as a consequence of the reciprocal arrangement. We backed Bulgaria’s candidate to the HRC coinciding with the term 2019-2021.
- Velina Todorova’s fruitful campaign in 2016 as member to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the term 2017-2021.
- Bulgaria gave serious consideration to Sania Nishtar’s campaign for Director General of the World Health Organization in May 2017.
- Pakistan’s candidature for Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in April 2014.
- Pakistan’s nominees at the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) for the term 2014-2017.
- Pakistan’s quest in seeking GSP Plus status in December 2013.
- Mutual backing of Bulgaria’s candidature at attaining membership of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that covers Region C and encompasses the term 2019-22.
- Bulgaria’s aspirant to the Human Rights Council (HRC) coinciding with the term 2019-2021 as a consequence of the reciprocal arrangement covering the period 2016-2018.
- The successful candidature of Genoveva Tisheva as member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for the period 2019-2022 at the 20th Meeting of the State Parties Convention. The Bulgarians have assured of backing our candidature for the Human Rights Council (HRC) for the term 2021-2023.
- In March 2016, the Government of Bulgaria formally sought our backing for the candidature of Irina Bokova against the post of United Nations Secretary General for the term 2017-2021. However, on 28th September 2016, the Bulgarian government decided to nominate European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, the then EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, as its official candidate for the post of United Nations Secretary General (UNSG).
- Bulgaria and Pakistan supported each other’s candidates at the Council of Administration of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) that coincided with the mandate 2017-2020.
- Bulgaria’s candidature of Velina Todorova for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) for the tenure 2017-2021, in return for Bulgaria backing Pakistan’s candidature to the Human Rights Council coinciding with the term 2018-20.
- Bulgarian membership of the Human Rights Council for the term 2016-18 on reciprocity.
- Bulgaria’s candidature for the membership of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Council on reciprocal basis for the term 2015-18.
- Pakistan supported Irina Bokova during her successful re-election as Director General UNESCO in October 2013. On 6th February 2014, President Mamnoon Hussain was pleased to confer Hilal-i-Pakistan on Ms. Bokova in recognition of support extended after the 2010 floods, her role in girls’ right to education as well as Pakistan’s tsunami early warning system.
Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC)
- The Protocol on Bilateral Political Consultations between the respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria & Pakistan came to fruition in November 1994 in Islamabad. Thus, the inaugural session of the BPC materialized in Sofia on 7th April 2008. The 2nd BPC chapter was organized in Islamabad on 31st March 2016 after a hiatus of eight years. The 3rd BPC session occurred in Sofia on 7th December 2017. The last edition was the 4th BPC conducted in Islamabad on 5th November 2019. The whole gamut of bilateral ties was deliberated upon from the political, cultural, defence, economic & trade spheres.
Science & Technology
- Initially in November 2016, a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) between the respective Academy of Sciences was inked. This instrument was renewed in February 2020. It is hoped that this mechanism would serve as a conduit for propagating collaboration in this prominent sphere because it retains limitless prospects.
- Great interest was evinced at the opening Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) session of June 2015 by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Thus, formal associations have been created with Bulgarian educational institutions for joint research, student exchange and sharing of information with an academic orientation.
- This spirit has brought forth linkages between Government College University Lahore and Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski; Trakia University Stara Zagora and University of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, Lahore; National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) and South-West University Neofit Rilski, Sofia; Agriculture University of Plovdiv and University of Agriculture Faisalabad; University of Finance, Business and Entrepreneurship (VUZF) Sofia and Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore; and, VUZF and University Management and Technology (UMT) Lahore. The liaison is, nevertheless, punctuated by limited interaction.
- The Pakistani community residing here is minimal, estimated at hardly 70 individuals. They include those who have intermarried in Bulgaria or are engaged in white collar professions, especially in the ICT sector. One runs a handicraft store. About two dozen Pakistani students are also enrolled in medical, technical and engineering programs across several Bulgarian universities. On the other hand, a mere handful of Bulgarians are dwelling in Pakistan, chiefly those who are associated with its diplomatic mission.
- Bulgaria has adopted an impartial stance as far as the Kashmir dispute is concerned. Its official policy of neutrality in this aspect has been conveyed in vivid terms wherein India and Pakistan are expected to negotiate a peaceful settlement.
Pakistan Technical Assistance Programme (PTAP)
- This facility was offered to Bulgaria in June 2019 in the immediate aftermath of the 2nd Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC). At the outset, Bulgarian nominations were invited for short duration training courses in banking, postal services and railways. At the outset, a nominee of BULGARIA POST attended a month-long program organized by the ECO Postal Staff College Lahore in October 2019.
Sister City Arrangement
- Mission has initiated procedure in terms of exchanging draft MoUs for twinning the cities of Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore respectively with Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv. The draft instruments are going through the motions in terms of procedural compliance. We are also scrutinizing the prospects of interface between Multan, Gujranwala and Faisalabad with Gabrovo and Stara Zagora.
Culture & Tourism
- For the record, on 23rd May 1970, Bulgaria and Pakistan had inked the Agreement on Culture & Scientific Cooperation with the key aim of apprising experiences compiled in the spheres of science, higher & public education, literature, arts and sports. This would be achieved through exchanging cultural & educational delegations, performing troupes and individual visits. In spite of the institutional framework, the effort has been punctuated with limited achievements in terms of propagating one another’s cultures in the respective countries.
- In March 2016, coinciding with the 2nd BPC round in Islamabad, the Bulgarian side had affirmed that the draft version of the Cultural Cooperation Programme was shared with Pakistan’s Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage. After protracted exchanges, the Bulgarian authorities concurred to the modified text that would coincide with the period 2019-2022. The National Heritage Division is currently evaluating the amendments.
- Moreover, consistency in the promotion of tourism is seriously lacking. The exchange of tourist groups can go a long way in the sharing of cultures, appreciating diversity and acknowledging a conjoined heritage. Reflecting official figures compiled courtesy of the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism, in 2018 we had 1862 Pakistani visitors.
- On the other hand, during the calendar year 2019, Bulgarians touring Pakistan was merely a combined 100. There has been a marginal surge in tourism visas but this is confined to the summer months when mountaineering is most appropriate. Therefore, the natural outcome is sporadic.
- A draft MoU between the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and the Bulgarian Tourism Ministry. Literature depicting renowned hotspots on the tourist landscape in Pakistan is freely disseminated among Bulgarian visitors, associates, official circles and collaborators.
Global Economic Indices
- An annual review by the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) concluded that in 2019, Bulgaria held stable ground in terms of economic freedom, prosperity and competitiveness. Bulgaria was placed at 37th place out of 172 countries in the Index of Economic Freedom of The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, while moving up one spot to 39th out of 162 countries in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index. On the other hand, Bulgaria has been positioned at 61 out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Ease Of Doing Business 2020. Its credit ratings synopsis with Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s have on average ranged from stable to positive.
- Despite being labelled as the poorest EU member and citing global financial turbulences in 2016, the Bulgarian economy has been manifesting its resilience. Aggregate GDP in 2019 was US$ 67 billion. The GDP growth rate hovered in close proximity to 3.4% in 2019. Per capita income at GDP rates is US$ 8000. Inflation is documented at 2.8%, unemployment is a tad over 4%, whereas the average wage is € 600. Minimum wage has been augmented since the last 4 years and has now attained € 320. This is a far cry from when the country was beset by the hyperinflation crisis of 1996-1997. It was then that the Bulgarian leva (BGN) was permanently pegged to the Euro (€).
- The aggregate level of employment for 2019 was recorded at almost 70%. The chief labour demand, according to the analysis of the Employment Agency, has been observed in the following economic activities: processing industry – 30%, government – 14%, trade – 13%, administrative & auxiliary activities – 7%, hotels and restaurants – 5%. Another conclusion drawn is that the most sought-after professions are: child care & health care personnel; machine operators; store vendors; skilled workers in food production, clothing, woodwork and related products; mining, manufacturing, construction, transport, personnel employed in the field of personal services, etc.
- Taken as a whole, the labour force numbers 3.3 million: 67% are tertiary services, 28% belong to industry and only 5% are agrarian-oriented. These ratios are quite persistent. The industrial districts of Stara Zagora, Sofia, Vratsa and Gabrovo are the only areas where the industry is responsible for at least half of the gross added value. More than 10% of all employees in Sofia and Plovdiv are in the ICT sector, the highest compensated sphere of activity.
- Reflecting Eurostat data, the income gap between the richest 20% of the population and the most deprived 20% in 2018 was eightfold, compared with an EU average of 5.2-fold. It has been computed that one-fifth Bulgarians subsist on incomes of € 600 per month. About 500,000 Bulgarians are bracketed as middle class. Bulgaria is the second cheapest country in terms of expenses within the EU.
- Statistics depict that Bulgaria possesses the largest segment of population facing material deprivation or beset by risk of poverty. This translates into 31% or 2.3 million people. Bulgaria’s north-west region (deemed to be the most materially deprived within the EU is tagged with the lowest GDP per capita at € 3400. For Bulgaria as a whole, the average level is about € 7200.
Bilateral Trade Interface
- Despite over half a century of amenable relations, bilateral commerce remains mundane. There was a time when during the Socialist era, two-way trade between Pakistan and Bulgaria was depicting a maximum of US$ 160 million in 1988. The trade in that phase was regulated by intergovernmental barter protocols. Barter protocols with Bulgaria were last extended until 1996. Ultimately, both parties waived this mechanism as a consequence of Pakistan (1995) and Bulgaria (1996) joining the World Trade Organization (WTO).
- The principal factors for less-than-potential trade are Bulgaria’s focus on the EU, protracted visa procedures and the lack of real interest manifested by Pakistani entrepreneurs in exploring the “small Bulgarian market”, discernible by a population of 7 million. Added to this is the general reluctance exhibited by the Bulgarian corporate sector in doing business citing ignorance or rather unfamiliarity in what we have to offer. The same approach is attributed to Pakistani trade bodies.
- As a break from recent trends, Pakistan’s exports marked an increase of 48.5% from 2018 and are primarily in woven cotton, synthetic staple fibers, bed/table linen, toilet or kitchen towels; polyacetals, other polyethers and epoxy resins in primary forms; polycarbonates, alkyd resins, allyl polyesters, polyesters in primary forms and surgical instruments. Translating further, over two-thirds of the export base to Bulgaria is premised only on textiles.
- On the other hand, imports from Bulgaria are in vehicle components, liquid pumps, leguminous vegetables with dry legumes, raw or unmanufactured tobacco, tobacco waste, used clothing, kraft paper & cardboard, refined copper, carbonates, peroxycarbonates (percarbonates), automatic data processing machines; magnetic or optical readers, code recording machines, electric accumulators & separators and animal feed. But there still exists much room for improvement. Figures depicting bilateral trade for recent calendar years are tabulated below:
Source: Derived from the Bulgarian Ministry of Economy
- At the 4th Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC) session held in November 2019 in Islamabad, the necessity for enhancing bilateral trade was once more emphasized through the exchange of trade delegations and by establishing warehouse facilities/hubs in both countries.
- A warehouse or trade incubator in Bulgaria would be ideal in sampling, marketing and distribution purposes for Pakistani exports to potential new markets within Europe. The incubator would be adequately placed to oversee the growth of Pakistani start-ups or early-stage firms. To intensify penetration and enhance the outreach of our export goods, the warehousing facility (bonded or otherwise) would be conducive in reaching the eastern European region as well as new markets in Western Europe (200-400 million people). Our ambivalence in the quest for emerging markets has resulted in stunted exports
- A crucial aspect is that Bulgaria is the closest EU member to Pakistan by land proximity. Therefore, a container truck packed with commodities could exit the Taftan border check post, and traverse Iran & Turkey before entering Bulgaria at the Kapitan Andreevo border point or vice versa in about 7-10 days.
- Delineating further, Bulgaria’s National Company Industrial Zone (NCIZ) is operating 7 functional industrial & free zones all over the country. The municipalities have also created their own industrial space. The goods that reach Bulgaria could be stockpiled at any one of these corporate parks for onward reexport to destinations in Western Europe or the Black Sea rim. In this way, we will simultaneously reap greater benefits through GSP+.
- Summarizing further, a broad outline of the factors that make the establishment of such a commercial hub in Bulgaria feasible are:
i. Bulgaria is the nearest overland EU member to Pakistan.
ii. A warehousing facility in Bulgaria would facilitate potential European buyers in making a short journey to Sofia for the inspection of samples, negotiate terms and place orders.
iii. Bulgaria has established itself within the EU as possessing one of the lowest rates of import tariffs, uniform corporate tax and low dividend tax.
iv. The country prides itself on an educated, digitalized, youthful pool of manpower available at the most competitive wages in Europe.
v. Bulgaria is endowed with low rates of utility payments, especially electricity charges. Power outages are very unusual.
vi. Warehousing facilities and office space in Bulgaria are available at lower than average costs when compared with other parts of Europe.
vii. The link for scrutiny is http://nciz.bg/en/industrial-zones/zones-under-development/bozhurishte/bozhurishte-economic-zone. Therefore, this may be accessed as a supplementary resource for an insight into what is on offer here.
- Oversight and management of the incubator could be a joint endeavour between the Pakistan Embassy in Sofia, Ministry of Commerce, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) and any other major stakeholder.
Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC)
- The Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) on Economic Cooperation was established on 19th January 2011. From June 22-23, 2015, the opening session of the IGC was organized in Sofia that was ultimately followed by the 2nd IGC on 21st May 2019 in Islamabad. It was then that the Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion With Regard to Taxes on Income was ink
Trade Delegations & Exhibitions
- Reciprocal trade delegations are ardently needed in both ways. A TDAP delegation of pharmaceutical manufacturers toured Sofia from May 8–14, 2007. In July 2010, an entourage from the Gujrat Chamber of Commerce visited. Likewise, in May 2017, a 4-member business delegation of the Jhang Chamber of Commerce came to Upon closer scrutiny, a Bulgarian delegation has yet to participate in any edition of EXPO or TEXPO PAKISTAN thus far.
- On the other hand, Pakistani entrepreneurs have sporadically appeared at major trade fairs in Bulgaria in recent times, including the premier Plovdiv International Technical Fair. Bulgarian entrepreneurs have been visiting Pakistan in their individual capacity after being accorded invites by Pakistani corporate partners.
- In December 2013 when the motion for according GSP+ status to Pakistan was put to a vote, 16 out of 17 Bulgarian Members of European Parliament (MEPs) supported the move. Bulgaria has always assured of proffering support to Pakistan for retaining the GSP+ status and confirmed their backing to positively review Pakistan’s GSP+ facility. We eventually retained it till 2022.
Agriculture & Food Processing
- Much potential exists in terms of agro-food trade. Pakistani mangoes and kinnows have been promoted here in Bulgaria for the last three seasons. For the first time in June 2019, mangoes entered the Bulgarian market in a commercial capacity, a maiden for the Balkans. Kinnows debuted in Bulgaria in 2018, also another first for the entire EU bloc in a decade. Similarly, apart from wheat, the commodities that could be inserted into the local supply are chick peas, lentils and
- Bulgarian yoghurt is prominent the world over. Its technology could be implanted in tandem with Pakistani milk. Another product is lyutenitsa – a concoction of peppers, aubergines, carrots, garlic and tomatoes.
- Keeping in perspective the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Emergency Program emphasizing (i) Productivity Enhancement of Wheat, Rice & Sugarcane (ii) Oilseeds Enhancement Program (iii) Conserving Water Through Lining of Watercourses (iv) Enhancing Command Area of Small and Mini Dams in Barani Areas (v) Water Conservation in Barani areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (vi) Shrimp Farming (vii) Cage Fish Culture (viii) Trout Farming in Northern Areas of Pakistan (ix) Fattening of Calf Program (x) Backyard Poultry Program; several of these concepts could be adapted in terms of collaboration with Bulgaria.
- Of specific interest is the sharing of technical expertise and importing Bulgarian sunflower seeds/extract, rose oil/fragrance and lavender oil. Bulgaria is designated as the world’s foremost producer of lavender and its products.
- The Agriculture Academy of Bulgaria (AAB) and the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) have concurred to signing an MoU on agriculture research and genetic engineering, which is slated for the opening quarter of 2020.
- The Embassy organized the inaugural Agro-Food Conference in Bulgaria’s breadbasket of Dobrich in October 2019. This event, among other things, underscored the latent potential ubiquitous with agriculture and its dimensions for both nations.
Treaties & Instruments
- For the record, 28 MoUs and Agreements have been concluded. These instruments cover a limited spectrum of subjects incorporating commerce, education and science. On the other hand, prominent thematic areas that are in the works and are being scrutinized by signature are agriculture research, tourism, culture, defence, ICT and maritime affairs.
DEFENCE & SECURITY PARADIGM
- There has pervaded limited defence interaction between the two countries. Therefore, it can be interpreted as lacking substance and depth. The outcome is restricted to a handful of security events. Pakistan Navy’s Tall Ship “Rahnaward”, which made harbour at Bulgaria’s coastal city of Varna during the Black Sea Regatta in May 2014, was one of the highlights when our defence paths converged.
MoU On Defence Cooperation
- Originally, the Bulgarian side had proposed the draft text of the MoU on Defence Cooperation in 2011. However, concurrence to the stipulations came about only at the end of 2015 when our Ministry of Defence conveyed its ‘No Objection’. Eventually, the Bulgarian Defence Ministry has explained that enhanced consultations are still required at the expert-level. Minutiae for commencing discussions in the format of a strategic engagement dialogue are being evaluated.
- Since the last decade, Pakistan has been offering one trainee seat to Bulgaria at the Command & Staff College, Quetta. This is associated with other programs that run concurrently in other military installations. Another two gratis trainee seats were extended to Bulgarian naval cadets on board Tall Ship “Rahnaward” in June 2015.
- Moreover, visiting personnel could be imparted training under the aegis of Pakistan’s Joint Staff Headquarters in simulation systems and gathering intel. The regimen is also magnified to include nuclear policy doctrine, grey hybrid warfare, arms control and disarmament.
- In the works are also consultations for an interface between the respective naval institutions in terms of training programs, competitions and joint exercises. At the outset, the Bulgarian naval academy, Nikola Vaptsarov; and, the Pakistan Naval Academy have been identified to cement this prospect.
IDEAS & HEMUS Defence Exhibitions
- A two-member Bulgarian entourage, led by the Permanent Undersecretary of the Defence Ministry, participated at the 8th IDEAS 2014 exhibition in Karachi. Similarly, a delegation representing Pakistan’s defence ministry partook at Bulgaria’s premier defence event called HEMUS in 2014 & 2016. On the other hand, invites from Pakistan’s Ministers of Defence & Defence Production respectively as well the Chief of Air Staff have also been extended to their counterparts.
- It may be comprehended that we have been striving to promote Pakistani defence paraphernalia while drawing attention to our prowess in different combat gear. Apart from the state defence apparatus, continuous efforts have been expended in liaising with the indigenous defence production industry.