BULGARIA: Deputy Prime Minister Shouleva promotes US investment in Bulgaria
Vladimir Beron «View Bio

In a sign of the rapidly-growing ties between Bulgaria and America, Washington hosted in the first week of March the second visit by a high-level Bulgarian official in as many weeks, namely Lydia Shouleva, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy. The visit coincided with Bulgaria's National Day, celebrated on March 3, and Shouleva took time from the commemorative gathering at the City Museum in Washington to talk to Diplomatic Traffic about her current mission to encourage prospective US investors.

Following an uneasy start in the transition from a centrally-planned to a market economy in the early 1990s, Bulgaria's economic indicators stabilized in the past few years and the country is currently enjoying a healthy economic growth, falling unemployment and increasing rates of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). According to Shouleva, the government has no budget deficits and has achieved a modest surplus, the unemployment rate has fallen by a whopping seven percent, and some $1.4 billion in FDI has flowed into the country.

The deputy prime minister sees these positive indicators as a testament to Bulgaria's ever growing confidence in its economic development. Hence, her mission to the United States was geared toward promoting the sectors where American investment can be particularly beneficial for all parties. In this regard, she noted Bulgaria's strong traditions in the defense industry and the importance of this in the light of its accession to NATO membership, which is expected to be formalized in just a few weeks. Leading US companies, including Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, have already established a foothold in Bulgaria for the implementation of joint projects in the defense sector.

Another industry that has long had a strong base in Bulgaria is information technology, and IT is among the most promising sectors for FDI given the wealth of highly trained local specialists. "Bulgarian IT specialists are particularly accomplished in the creative aspects of the industry," Shouleva said.

American companies are also strongly encouraged to invest in the burgeoning tourist industry, which registered a 23 percent increase in revenues and a 17 percent jump in the number of tourist arrivals for 2003. Shouleva also pointed out the advantages of investing in the real estate market, which is undervalued at present. "Real estate prices are still relatively low, but are expected to rapidly increase as Bulgaria's target date of January 1, 2007 for accession into the European Union (EU) draws closer," she said. To exploit this opportunity, a new fund for real estate investments in the tourism sector has been created with EU and US participation.

Shouleva also stressed that while beach resorts on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast have long received the lion's share of attention from investors, there are very attractive opportunities for the development of ski centers, as the country boasts significant mountain ranges that are in close proximity to major urban areas. She noted that "special areas for investment, offering ample natural foundations for tourism, are spa and natural healing resorts, as investors can take advantage of Bulgaria's world-renowned mineral springs."

Another area for which Shouleva wants to attract American investment is the energy industry, in which some US companies already have a stake. "Bulgaria's remaining four nuclear reactors are slated to be decommissioned in 2006, and the government is seeking foreign partners for the construction of new ones," she said. In addition, two major infrastructure projects for oil pipelines are in the works to connect Bulgaria's Black Sea coast to Greece's Aegean coast and Albania's Mediterranean coast.

As part of its ongoing drive to boost inflows of FDI, the Bulgarian government has devised a number of special incentives to attract investors. These include state support for infrastructure projects with FDI participation, VAT exemptions for imported equipment for FDI projects above $5 million, as well as the availability of special incentive packages for larger investors on a case-by-case basis. Shouleva especially emphasized the "low corporate tax of 19.5 percent, and a tax-free regime for FDI in areas of high unemployment for a period of five years from the initiation of eligible programs."

The minister concluded by saying there is no better time for foreign investment in Bulgaria as the state seeks to bolster the economy ahead of EU accession.

Curriculum Vitae of Lydia Shouleva
Date of Birth: 23 December 1956
Place of Birth: Velingrad, Bulgaria

1994-2000 University of National and World Economy - Sofia, MSc in Finance
1974-1979 Technical University - Sofia, Electronics Engineer

Additional Qualifications:
Course in Management and Marketing, Higher School of Management

Specialization in Marketing and Finance, Academy of Management, Munich

Specialization in Management Consulting European Commission, SESMA, Greece

Course in Management and Finance, Tokyo, Japan

Specialization in Establishment and Management of Privatization Funds

Central European Institute&CADOGAN FINANCIAL, Bratislava

Professional Experience:
July 2003 Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy
2001 - 2003 Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Policy
1996-2001 Executive Director Albena Invest Holding Plc.
1992-1996 Proprietor and Manager Business Intellect Ltd
1989-1992 Manager of Subsidiary IKO-Business Plc.
1987-1989 Tutor of Computer Science Training Centre
1981-1987 Engineer Balneological complex Velingrad
1979-1981 Engineer/Technologist Machine Tool Plant, Velingrad

Professional Memberships:
2000-present Member of the Managing Board, Bulgarian Charities Aid Foundation
2000-present Chairman of the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association
1998-2000 1998-2000 Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association
1997-1998 Member of the Managing Board Association of Privatization Funds in Bulgaria
1995-1998 Executive Secretary of the Bulgarian Association of Business Appraisers

Major Achievements:
Author of a new social policy strategy, focusing upon employment opportunities, reduction of the gray economy share, poverty eradication. The outcome of two-year implementation of the new strategy is: decrease of unemployment by 6%; creation of new jobs for 100 000 socially weak people through the program "From social assistance to employment"; reduction of the number of employees in "the gray economy" by 300 000, increase of the revenues in the National Social Security Institute.

Honored with the Poverty Eradication Award by the United Nations in 2003 for contribution to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals

Language Proficiency:
English: Spoken and written