Mr. Petko Doykov, the Ambassador of Bulgaria in India, has been in his office here for over a year now. He has come at a time when there has been a change in the government in India leading to new policies, specially trade and economy. For Mr. Doykov it is an uphill task to give the bilateral relations a new impetus although Bulgaria has had close links with India in the past. THE BLUE MOON Editor Amit Mittal spoke to the Ambassador about his future plans on cementing stronger ties. Some excerpts of the interview:
What are your priorities for closer cooperation with India?
My priorities are in the first place to maintain what we have achieved so far throughout the history of our relations and secondly to upgrade further our bilateral contacts in all areas of mutual interest. It should be mentioned that in 2014 we marked 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
After six decades, we still see that the trade figures between the two countries are not very encouraging. What do you attribute this to?
Trade figures are not the best possible ones, but this should not be taken negatively. There are many factors on which these figures depend. Both sides have to upgrade the mutual trade. I got some latest figures of trade exchanges between Bulgaria and India and if we compare these with trade volumes with other countries, I think there is a need to push on this aspect of bilateral cooperation. We can do much more. Efforts are being undertaken from both sides. I am currently working on a very important visit of the Vice-President of India to Bulgaria. We are doing this in cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs. A business delegation will also be accompanying the Vice President which will give the business representatives from India an opportunity to meet members of the Bulgarian Chambers of Commerce. They will also hold a business forum which will boost the relations in the fields of economy and trade. Apart from this, there are also other events in the pipeline. In 2012, the 17th session of the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation was held in New Delhi and the next one is now due in the coming months in Sofia. We have to hold this session as soon as possible. What is important is that we have a very well developed infrastructure of joint committees and we have been regularly holding joint meetings in various areas with a view to streamlining our cooperation.
In April, a joint meeting on defence cooperation was held in Delhi at the level of deputy minister/secretary. A protocol of the outcomes of the discussions was signed. Cooperation in defence industry is interesting to us in the light of the numerous initiatives taken up by the new government in the field of industry.
Before that we had two other important events, the first being the Bulgarian participation in an IT exhibition in India in February in which a former Bulgarian Minister for Foreign Affairs was leading a delegation comprising 14 representatives of Bulgarian companies. On the sidelines of the forum, the delegation also held meetings with Indian companies. We are hopeful that the meetings will lead to concrete results soon. And the second one was a session of the joint committee on science and technology on which I will comment later on.
We spoke about trade, could you provide us with some figures on the subject?
I can provide some approximate figures offhand. Bulgaria’s export to India in 2013 was totaling 32 million Euros while import from India was 120 million. In 2014, there was an increase in Bulgarian export going up to 48 million Euros, whereas the import from India was 110 million Euros.
What are trade figures with China?
It is completely different.
What are the reasons? Is it quality, quantity, why is India behind as compared to China?
Chinese partners are more active and “aggressive” in the positive sense of the word. It is not so only in the case of Bulgaria, the Chinese are much more active in Africa and in other continents as well.
I think the initiatives of the new Indian government like ‘ease of doing business’, ‘Make in India’ and increase in foreign investment portfolio are encouraging steps for boosting the mutual business.
Were you there at the Vibrant Gujarat meet in January last?
No, we were not at the Vibrant Gujarat event. There is a simple explanation for that. There were general elections in India in 2014 and we waited for the new government to announce business initiatives and to spell out its priorities. Then Bulgaria also held parliamentary elections. Thus in 2014 there were not very rich exchanges with India. When the preparations for the Vibrant Gujarat were on, Bulgaria had a caretaker government which could not undertake any commitments that would be obligatory for its successor. So, the newly elected Bulgarian government did not have the time to respond to the invitation for this event.
India’s rating in ease of doing business has been poor, what do you think?
We do not have to judge negatively, changes are underway. From a different perspective, we have to see that changes are underway and everybody is looking forward to these changes to bring about tangible results. We have to be optimistic and realistic, of course it is not possible to change things drastically in a short period of time, but the evaluations of the steps initiated by the new (Indian) government so far have only been positive. This is very encouraging and this is where we are looking at with great attention too. If we think of criticizing, then this is the easiest part to play. We have to work more and to look at the negative side less.
What do you say to the new ‘make in India’ initiative?
We are following the ‘Make in India’ with attention. I am now working on the session of the joint commission, but I cannot pre-judge the results, and the important is that both sides are ready to work closely.
Things are moving in the right direction. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in science and technology was signed in February between the two sides. We had in Delhi a delegation led by a Bulgarian Deputy Minister. The eighth meeting of the Joint Commission on Science and Technology was held and a three-year program of cooperation in science and technology in the period 2015-17 is envisaged in the MoU.
I must add something here, recently your edition published an information about my country. Let me tell you, the report as published here (in THE BLUE MOON) regarding the supply of spares for MiGs by Bulgaria to India is not true. I was member of a Commission which gives licenses for export of defence industry production. For the period I was holding this position, I have never heard even of a single case when Bulgaria was selling spare parts for India’s MiG aircraft. It was double checked.
The published information was double checked and it is not true. I stop here, I will not go any further.
We have been hearing about a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union for long, but it remains elusive. What are the reasons?
This is a common issue. Let us cross fingers and hope that it comes as soon as possible. Regarding a Free Trade Agreement with European Union, it is something which will be useful for both sides. It is an agreement which will serve the interest of both, India and the European Union. Needless to say that as a member-state of the Union Bulgaria is standing at the common position (of the Union). The negotiations for the FTA were started some seven years ago and all further moves by Brussels, the member states and the European Union delegation in Delhi will be in favour of signing the Agreement as soon as possible. This is the common understanding for all 28 member-states. What we need to do is to continue talking with the Indian counterparts. The FTA will serve the interest of both sides. This is not something which would favour this side or the other side. This is something which is good for both, India and the European Union.
Do you consider the investments in Bulgaria from India and vice versa are satisfactory?
We have several success stories. We are encouraged by this. As in trade exchanges, the figures in investment are not that positive, but the good point here is that we have success stories. I recently met a representative of an Indian company in my office here in Delhi. I was very impressed by what I was told. The activities of this company are growing. Doing business in Bulgaria is something important, because first it creates jobs and secondly it gives us an opportunity to know each other better. The latter is very important from the point of view of increasing the awareness of the investment climate. And Bulgaria is very attractive from the point of view of investment climate, so it should be viewed not only as a gateway to Europe but also to other regions. That is exactly how the other country we discussed a few minutes ago does it. They come and they use it as a spring board. They establish themselves and then they go further.
The increase in the portfolio of foreign investments to the level of 49 per cent is an additional stimulus that the companies should be made aware of, the latter being the role of our embassy. And I can assure you that we here are doing a good job trying to tell the Bulgarian companies about this change.
And if speaking of Bulgarian companies investing in India, we also have success stories. There are several companies but I will prefer not to name them. Let us give them some more time, until when we have the concrete results.
A year gone by, have you come across any case in which a Bulgarian investor has faced any problem in investing in India?
Some PR should be done by the embassies established here, and we are doing our job. But the Indian embassies abroad also must do their job, I am pretty sure they are doing that. Indian Ambassador Sachdeva in Sofia is taking measures to deepening cooperation. It will not be too late if we have a coordinated approach. Yes, there should be changes in the image of India abroad, I agree, but this is not the accent, and steps are underway to achieve that.
Do you think that India’s image abroad has suffered due to violence against women?
It’s a very complicated issue. There is no one answer which could be given to this question. There are many aspects of the story. Changing the society within a couple of months is not realistic. We have more and more talks about women empowerment, about the role of women in Indian society. And this is good. Moreover, there is no doubt India is a functioning democracy.
How badly has the image suffered in Bulgaria?
I can only limit myself to saying that is not good for the image of any country. The government is trying to change the situation by taking measures. I am personally impressed by the measures taken by the present (Indian) government and then the remarks by the Prime Minister on the Republic Day. There are many measures that have been taken in this direction. Rapes could or they do take place everywhere, unfortunately. Nobody is guaranteed.
Do you think the reaction of the American President on the issue of attacks on minorities in India was justified?
Security is the top priority of the new government. Correct me if I am wrong, but for the past several months, I haven’t heard of any incident which goes beyond the limits of the normal average. Incidents take place everywhere. Every government in the world takes the necessary measures. In my country we have Muslim population and predominantly Bulgaria has orthodox Christians, but we have other religions as well. We are proud of the fact that we have managed to contain the difficulties related to inter-religious relations to the least negative possible. On religious tensions there are stories in many parts of the world. I cannot say that India is at worst level, of course not. Sometimes incidents like these could be politicized. It is everywhere that there are sensitive issues which can be used for serving anybody’s political objectives.
Are you taking some initiatives to promote tourism between India and Bulgaria?
In the field of tourism there are positive developments. It is one of the priorities of our new government and also of the embassy here. Figures are increasing, still number is not that big but percentagewise there is an increase of 50 per cent if we compare to the previous year. There were five Bulgarian companies in SATTE, the tourism show in India in January, and we hope for positive results.
People to people contacts are very important. As I told you last year there was not much of political exchanges, but at the same time there were active cultural exchanges. From the last quarter of 2014 we introduced at the embassy a program for students from Delhi University. We have discussed with them projects in the field of education and culture. We get feedback from their professors and everybody is very positive about this. We also have Bulgarian students planning to come for training at the embassy here. We are hopeful of organizing joint activities between Indian and Bulgarian students, including lectures and seminars.
The program on science and technology envisages academic exchanges with five representatives coming from Bulgaria to India and five the other way round. There has been a Memorandum of Understanding agreed upon between JNU and Sofia University within the framework of EU Erasmus Plus program which is an exchange program not only for students but also professors. This will deepen relations between the educational institutions of the two countries. Recently there was a Professor from India who went to Sofia as a guest professor for teaching Hindi to the students there.
On the cultural front, we are expecting a Bulgarian cultural delegation to come to India. We are also working on deepening the relations between the civil societies of India and Bulgaria. A very good progress has been achieved in the interaction between representatives of Rotary clubs from India and Bulgaria.
Are you also in touch with Bollywood for shooting of films in Bulgaria?
Oh they are already there. We have had films being shot in my country. Last year people from Bollywood were in Bulgaria.
What about visa for Bulgaria, does one have to have a Schengen visa?
On the visa regime, we are not a party to the Schengen area agreement yet, but Indians having valid Schengen visas can travel to Bulgaria. During the transition period we already apply all Schengen rules, we have a completely Schengen behavior. Since we are sticking to the Schengen visa regime, we allow all holders of valid Schengen visa to come to Bulgaria.
And, for Bulgarians coming to India, we are not on the list of visa on arrival countries yet.