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Business in Bulgaria

Market Overview

Bulgaria's commercial climate offers political stability, strong economic growth, a highly qualified work force, strategic location and low costs. While the domestic market is relatively small, Bulgaria is an excellent launching pad for sales into the European Union, Russia, Turkey and the Middle East. Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and plans to join the European Union (EU) in 2007.

The general attitude in Bulgaria is pro-American and the Bulgarian market is receptive to American goods and services. The current government, elected in June 2001, includes a large number of western-educated Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are supportive of expanding U.S.-Bulgarian trade relations. The government is committed to a conservative fiscal policy resulting in low inflation, a consolidated budget deficit around 0.5 percent, declining external debt and a stable foreign exchange. The government has cut personal income and corporate tax rates, and abolished taxation on capital profits in the bond and securities trade.

Market Challenges

The EU countries are now Bulgaria's main export destination (56%) and a major source of foreign direct investment (67%). The Association Agreement between Bulgaria and the EU, a prelude to eventual EU membership, enables most goods to move between these two parties at zero, or close to zero, tariff rates. This can be an advantage to U.S. companies with production facilities in Bulgaria intended for export into the EU, but a disadvantage for U.S. exporters with European competitors.

While the commercial climate is, in general, very positive, there still are factors that inhibit U.S.-Bulgarian trade and investment. Unemployment and low wages limit consumer purchasing power. The judicial system is inefficient and sometimes corrupt, and organized crime influences some sectors of the economy. Government bureaucracy is improving, but still presents frustrating delays and unreasonable burdens for investors and exporters.

Market Opportunities

Market access for American companies has improved significantly. Bulgarians are eager to have greater access to American goods and services, and there are excellent opportunities for those companies willing to enter this expanding market.

A number of investment incentive programs recently implemented include tax breaks in the newly created industrial zones and significant government assistance corresponding to the level of investment.

Good prospects for exports to Bulgaria include the following sectors (in alphabetical order): automotive parts and services, construction equipment and building products, food processing equipment, information technology, telecommunications, defense, energy, medical products, pollution control equipment and services, and tourism infrastructure. Bulgaria is planning a number of major infrastructure projects including bridges, highways, port development, airport modernization, energy generation and distribution, and water and waste treatment facilities. Privatizations continue in the energy and entertainment (film production) sector, and plans for privatization for the national airline and commercial fleet are being discussed.

Access to credit has increased. Financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Exim Bank) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is available. International financing of major infrastructure projects remains essential, and Bulgaria is still very dependent on financing from multilateral banks and other non-Bulgarian sources. The government has passed reforms that have made the tender process more open and transparent.

Market Entry Strategy

Finding a good local representative is key to a market entry strategy. Conducting due diligence before selecting a representative is also essential. The U.S. Commercial Service located in the U.S. Embassy in Sofia can assist with market research, contact facilitation, and contact evaluation.


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