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Bulgaria/Kazakhstan: Partners Agree On Oil Transport

Sofia, 17 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The first session of the joint Bulgarian-Kazakhstan intergovernmental commission for commercial, economic, scientific and technological cooperation ended in Sofia at the weekend (March 14). The two sides signed a protocol about their intentions to act as partners in the transport of oil and natural gas from the Caspian region to Southern, Central and Western Europe.

The main aim of the two countries at present is to prepare all the elements of infrastructure needed for the eventual realization of this cooperation. Bulgarian Minister of Transport Velhelm Kraus said that Kazakhstan had shown interest in the Black Sea ports of Varna and Bourgas, and the role which they could play in bringing Caspian oil and gas from Western Kazakhstan to European markets.

Natalia Korzhova, Kazakh Minister of Labor and co-chairman of the bilateral commission, said the signed protocol provides a political framework to express the interest of the two governments in long term cooperation in the supply and transport of oil and natural gas to Bulgaria, and through Bulgaria toward the rest of the Balkan Peninsula and Europe.

Plans are in hand for the construction by the year 2000 of a stretch of pipeline through southern Russia which will link the rich western Kazakh oil fields to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossisk. Experts say that with an outlet of Caspian oil on the Black Sea, the chances of new pipelines to be built on Bulgarian territory will be greater.

Murat Murtasuev, Deputy Minister of Energy, Trade and Industry of Kazakhstan, said Bulgaria has a great interest in receiving oil and gas from his country, and that as a result the Caspian pipeline should be extended through to Bourgas in Bulgaria, in addition to other routes. He said his government is ready for cooperation on such a project.

However, concrete routes of projected oil pipelines were not discussed at this session of the joint commission, both delegations told the press. Routing details will be considered if companies from the two countries show interest and start negotiations.

But the session did outline steps for combining the efforts of Bulgaria and Kazakhstan to realize the idea of general transport corridors between Asia and Europe. In addition, there was discussion of a wide range of sectors for joint ventures on the basis of Bulgarian technologies -- including equipment for processing of agricultural products, hoisting and hauling devices, computers and control systems, electronic casings, ready-to-wear clothes, medical goods, leather products. A joint production of Chavdar buses was also discussed.

At present the bilateral trade between Bulgaria and Kazakhstan is only $12 million. A member of the Bulgarian team said the Kazakh delegation promised to consider the possibilities for a more favorable treatment of imported Bulgarian goods.

At the session a memorandum was also signed for cooperation in the construction industry. An agreement was endorsed for joint encouragement and protection of investments.

In planning are agreements covering air transport, standardization and certification, tourism, education, scientific and technological cooperation. Those agreements will be signed before the end of the year.