ECONOMY

Bulgaria sells transport

SOFIA – Bulgaria is preparing to open up its transport and communications infrastructure to outside investors and introduce new incentives to speed up modernization, Transport and Communications Minister Plamen Petrov said on Friday. We are prepared to be very flexible and sweep away any possible administrative or bureaucratic difficulties facing potential investors, Petrov told Reuters in an interview. One of the priorities was to attract co-funding by private companies and seal operating concession deals, he said, and as a result, corporate tax cuts are on the agenda. One of the aims of our government, which has reduced profit tax from 20 to 15 percent for next year, is to get profit tax down to zero in 2003, he said. The government is also prepared to offer the management of a newly established technology fund to a foreign asset manager, Petrov said. And Bulgaria is preparing to make another attempt to sell an as yet unspecified stake in telecom monopoly BTC in mid-2002, despite the global economic slowdown affecting the sector. Ports, airports up for grabs In shipping, Petrov said plans are afoot to change existing laws which would allow operating concessions to be offered on its Black Sea ports. These need parliament’s approval but the government was moving ahead with attracting potential investors. We have no time to waste and soon we will offer information packages for the ports. So that while we are settling our administrative issues, investors can study the planned projects, Petrov said. The modernization of the Black Sea ports of Bourgas and Varna and the Danube River ports of Lom, Vidin and Rousse are among the major infrastructure projects. Petrov said they were in touch with the owner of the port of Rotterdam and the port authorities of Hamburg and Singapore on the issue. He said a number of Israeli firms were also interested in upgrading ports and airport infrastructure. Big shipping and oil companies have shown an interest in upgrading projects at the Danube River port of Vidin, he said. And a consortium of international companies was prepared to invest between 120 million euro ($135 million) and 160 million euro ($180 million) in upgrading the airport at the Black Sea port of Varna. For the upgrading of the Bourgas port, a link between Europe and Central Asia, a Japanese fund for economic cooperation with foreign countries has lent $120 million to Bulgaria. The port’s master plan through 2015 includes the construction of four new terminals – one for containers, a roll-on/roll-off terminal, a two-part bulk cargo terminal and a fuel terminal. The plan also includes the construction of 15 new quays and the reconstruction of the existing 25 quays, aimed at accommodating 100,000-ton ships. The Bourgas port is an important point in a planned highway, called corridor No. eight, which will stretch from Italy to Bourgas, passing through Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Next to the port is Bourgas airport where foreign firms have also shown an interest in developing its cargo activities. Meanwhile, the 46-million-euro upgrading of the port of Lom, located in the western part of the Danube River, is a priority project as 60 percent of the country’s exports now go to Western Europe. The European Investment Bank has agreed to lend 17 million euros. We are ready to offer it for concession and the investor, after supplying the port’s equipment, can operate it, Petrov said.