Bulgaria’s new investment chief brings fresh approach to the job

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s new Foreign Investment Agency chief yesterday unveiled measures to lure more investors to the EU-aspirant state and raise 500 million euros in green-field investment this year despite depressed global markets. Plamen Ezekiev, the 29-year-old US-educated financier who took over as executive director of the government agency last month, believes direct marketing among potential investors and introducing offset policies are key to wooing foreign investors. Attracting investment is vital for the Balkan state to get ready for European Union entry in 2007. But despite recent progress in implementing tough economic reforms, it still has one of the lowest investment levels among EU candidates. Ezekiev, a former investment banker at Deutsche Bank in London who quit his post last year to join Sofia’s government team of young reformers, said the first step was to identify potential investors and talk to them face to face. «I don’t believe in delegations which travel around the world, telling everyone what a nice place for investment Bulgaria is,» Ezekiev told Reuters in an interview. «I believe in the individual approach when you go and talk straight to the decision-makers in the companies seen as potential investors.» Ezekiev has designed a «10 out of 10» strategy under which an agency team of experts would analyze the 10 biggest world economies and then identify 10 big companies in each of them that could potentially invest in Bulgaria. Another key point is using offset deals that are being implemented in more advanced Central European EU aspirant states, especially in the defense and energy sectors, he said. Under offset deals, major government procurement contracts are usually linked to obligations for investment in the country by the winner of the deal. Sectors that were most likely to attract foreign investment were defense, energy, infrastructure, tourism and real estate as well as the financial sector and high technologies. Green-field investment last year went mostly to heavy industry, textile and food-processing with investors coming from Greece, Germany, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Ezekiev said the government was preparing a new law on foreign investment, aimed to cut bureaucracy for starting a business in Bulgaria further. Foreign direct investment (FDI) to Bulgaria stood at only $429 million in January-November 2002, of which $320 million was green-field.