SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s current account gap rose to 1.8 percent of annual gross domestic product in January-February as the trade and services deficit of the European Union aspirant state widened, central bank data showed yesterday. This compared to a 1.2 percent gap in the same period a year ago, the bank said on its Internet site. The Balkan state’s current account deficit widened to $310.3 million in the first two months of this year, up from $182.3 million gap a year earlier, the central bank said. In February alone, Bulgaria’s current account deficit rose to $150.5 million from a $51.9 million deficit a year ago. The January-February trade deficit widened to a preliminary $197.4 million from $157.8 million gap a year ago, the bank said, adding the widening gap was partly due to a global rise in oil and gas prices. Bulgaria is a net oil and gas importer. Exports rose by 23.8 percent and imports increased by 22.7 percent, taking into account the dollar’s depreciation, the bank said. Exports totaled $1.073 billion in January-February, while imports were $1.27 billion. The services deficit widened to $36 million in the first two months of 2003, $32.8 million higher from a year ago. In February alone, the services gap stood at $14.4 million, compared to a $5.2 million surplus a year ago. But tourism, a major source of revenue for the Black Sea state, posted a surplus of $21.3 million in the first two months of this year, up from $17.2 million in the same period in 2002. Foreign direct investment, needed to cover the current account deficit, edged up to $53.4 million in January-February from $50 million a year ago. Failure to attract substantial foreign investment has been a setback for the reformist government of Bulgaria, one of the poorest EU candidates which aspires to join the Union in 2007. Bulgaria’s 2002 current account gap fell to 4.4 percent of GDP, well below the 6.2 percent gap in 2001. Sofia expects the 2003 current account gap to widen to 5 percent of GDP mainly because of a global rise in oil prices.