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Bulgaria: President Stoyanov Begins Official U.S. Visit

  • Robert Lyle

Washington, 9 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- After three days of meetings with American business people and investors across the country, Bulgaria President Petar Stoyanov arrives in Washington today for the official portion of his visit to the U.S.

Stoyanov will meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton at the White House tomorrow afternoon for a one hour session on Bulgarian-U.S. issues and broader international questions.

An official of the White House's National Security Council says Clinton wants a chance to exchange views on the Balkan region with Stoyanov and especially review specific areas such as Bosnia. "We certainly welcome Bulgarian views" on these issues, says the official, who spoke on condition that he not be named.

The official says Clinton's primary purpose in wanting to meet with Stoyanov is to express U.S. "support for the important reforms, both economic and political, that are taking place in Bulgaria."

The official says Washington believes Bulgaria is making "great progress" toward full integration with the rest of Europe and the trans-Atlantic community."

The U.S. State Department's recent annual report on human rights said that while the current Bulgarian government has committed itself to an accelerated privatization program and other reforms, the country's economy continues to be "heavily dependent" on money-losing state enterprises.

The Washington-based private economic analytical group, PlanEcon, is even less optimistic. It says in its latest review of Bulgaria's situation that "political squabbling, between and within the parties, has robbed reform of momentum and squandered the hard-won benefits of macro-economic stabilization in the past."

The PlanEcon report said it was incumbent on the Bulgarian government to "press ahead if real recovery is to be launched this time."

Stoyanov's American visit is part of the government's effort to jump-start private business involvement and investment in the Bulgarian economy, which now records the private sector as accounting for about 45 percent of economic activity.

Stoyanov has brought with him on the trip 46 Bulgarian business and enterprise representatives, along with officials of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

While Stoyanov is at the White House, the business people will be holding an afternoon-long session with American business counterparts and investors at the U.S. Commerce Department.

U.S.-Bulgarian trade in the first 11 months of 1997 totaled $155.4 million, with the U.S. buying more from Bulgaria than it sold there.

Foreign investment is still extremely small in Bulgaria. The United Nations puts foreign direct investment flows into the country at only a few million dollars in 1996. There were no figures available for 1997.

One problem blocking U.S. investment is Bulgaria's reputation for harboring CD pirates. The U.S. Trade Representative just last month warned that unless Bulgaria takes effective action against those violating international intellectual property rights conventions by April, Sofia could be put in line for possible trade sanctions.

The Union for International Intellectual Ownership (UIIO) estimates that as many as 45 million discs are being produced in Bulgaria, costing the global recording industry at least $100 million in 1997 alone.

During three days in Washington, Stoyanov will also meet with World Bank President James Wolfensohn (late Tuesday afternoon), and have lunch with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Michel Camdessus (on Wednesday). Bulgaria just drew the fourth tranche of a $162 million IMF stand-by loan and has just finished working out a three year plan with the World Bank for loans totaling as much as $600 million, all to support its general economic reform programs.

Stoyanov also has meetings scheduled with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Attorney General Janet Reno. He'll give speeches before the Council on Foreign Relations and Freedom House and hold a press conference Wednesday morning.

Bulgarian officials say Stoyanov also wants to push Sofia's interest in joining NATO and early Thursday morning (Feb. 11), the President will fly to Norfolk, Virginia to visit the Atlantic NATO Command headquarters before returning to Washington for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

On Friday, Feb. 13th, Stoyanov flies to West Palm Beach, Florida, to accept an award from the annual convention of the Jewish anti-defemation organization B'nai B'rith. Stoyanov returns to Bulgaria on Saturday.