The cornerstone of Turkey and Bulgaria's budding economic relationship is the energy sector and infrastructure investment.
By Menekse Tokyay for SETimes in Istanbul -- 05/12/12
Bulgaria President Rosen Plevneliev (left) walks with Turkey President Abdullah Gul during a welcoming ceremony at the Cankaya Palace in Ankara on November 28th. [AFP]
The relationship between Turkey and Bulgaria is a model for other nations in the region, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said.
"The success of Turkey is very important for Bulgaria as well because as Turkey improves and gets richer, the same thing happens to us," he said in an interview with the Hurriyet Daily News.
"Only together can we matter in a fast-changing world," he added. "The future belongs to those who create opportunities and develop the most important weapons which are talent, knowledge and work for development."
Plevneliev highlighted the growing strategic partnership between Bulgaria and Turkey on November 28th during the start of an official two-day visit to Ankara to meet with his Turkish counterpart and businesspeople to promote bilateral trade and economic relations.
"Turkey and Bulgaria have had great co-operation and solidarity. There have been perfect relations between the two countries, which attach great importance to economic co-operation," Turkey President Abdullah Gul said during a joint news conference in Ankara.
On the economic front, the numbers speak for themselves. Bilateral trade volume between the two countries increased from 2.4 billion euros in 2010 to 2.83 billion euros in 2011.
This year, Turkish-Bulgarian trade volume is expected to reach approximately 3 billion euros. Gul said the two countries aim to increase this figure to 10 billion euros in the short to medium-term.
Analysts see the continued increase in trade between Turkey and Bulgaria as a result of Turkey's long-standing policies.
"Turkey's policy of 'zero problem with neighbours' is still active in economic terms, even though on the political front there are some problems," Yalcin Egemen, chairman of the Turkey-Bulgaria Business Council at Turkey's Foreign Economic Relations Board, told SETimes
"Concerning Bulgaria, three high-level visits in just two years, accompanied with several important agreements, shows how the state supports this rapprochement process," he added.
Energy issues occupy the top of the bilateral agenda. Also, the neighbours have advanced co-operation in infrastructure projects and telecommunications.
Tourism has become a growing pillar of relations, with around 1 million Bulgarian tourists visiting Turkey annually, officials said.
Last March, the two countries signed a declaration to accelerate the construction of a cross-border interconnector gas pipeline to increase Caspian gas deliveries to Bulgaria. The infrastructure in Bulgaria will be completed by the end of 2013, and the commissioning of the interconnector will be completed by March 2014.
The project is a result of Bulgaria's strategic efforts, an analyst said.
"Bulgaria approaches Turkey as an alternative country in reducing its dependence on Russian energy supplies," Muzaffer Kutlay, a Balkan expert from Ankara-based International Strategic Studies Institution, told SES Türkiye.
Dimitar Bechev, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes that strengthened ties between Turkey and Bulgaria present a great opportunity at a time of low economic growth in Europe.
Speaking to SES Türkiye, Bechev said that energy and road infrastructure are vital for moving this relationship forward.
"Turkey is also vital for diversifying gas supplies in Bulgaria as Bulgarians put a great emphasis on the projected interconnector project. Road infrastructure matters, too, as Bulgaria is set to invest ever-growing resources in highways," Bechev said.
Bulgaria is a key entry point for Turkish goods to the EU, the Balkans and Eastern Europe, making efficient transportation through Bulgaria a top economic priority. I
In May, Qatar, Turkey and Bulgaria agreed to a joint 777 million euro, 300 kilometre highway through Bulgaria, while Dogus Holding is building a new metro line in Sofia. The largest Turkish investment in Bulgaria is the Sisecam glass company. In 1997, the company bought the Bulgarian Sodi facility for $35 million (26.7 million euros).
Sisecam, which has invested nearly $400 million in Bulgaria, last year opened its fifth factory in the country.