SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s economy grew 4.1 percent in the first half of this year, lower than a 4.6 percent rise in the same period last year, the statistics office NSI said yesterday. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the European Union aspirant stood at $8.615 billion in January-June this year, preliminary NSI data showed. The industrial sector grew 6.7 percent in the first half of this year from a year earlier and services rose by 3.6 percent, while agriculture fell by 0.7 percent. The three sectors accounted for 86.4 percent of GDP. Economic growth in Bulgaria slowed to 4.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, from 5.6 percent a year earlier, but was higher than this year’s first-quarter growth of 3.8 percent. Both the government and its main economic mentor, the International Monetary Fund, said earlier this week that the economy had the potential to grow by 5.0 percent this year. NSI’s data showed that end-consumption picked up by 6.5 percent in January-June this year, helped mainly by a 7.2 percent rise in individual consumption. The two-year-old reformist government targets economic growth of 5.3 percent next year. Bulgaria’s economy defied a global slowdown last year and grew by 4.8 percent, above a government target of 4.2 percent, bolstered mainly by a rise in exports despite depressed conditions in the EU – Bulgaria’s main trading partner. But the increase in imports outpaced that of exports in the first half of this year, boosting the trade deficit to $1.720 billion, or 11.3 percent of GDP, NSI’s data showed.