Left to right: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov and Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Muhammad Al Thani. Photo: www.government.bg
A business forum meant to bring together Bulgarian and Qatari business people as part of the official visit by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov to Qatar got off to a bad start when no local representatives attended the opening on March 14.
Borissov and seven ministers, which included Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov and Economy Minister Traicho Traikov, as well as the mayor of Sofia Yordanka Fandukova, travelled to Doha to present Bulgaria's prospects as an attractive and safe investment destination.
The Qatari government, which invests billions in ventures abroad, has become one of the go-to sources of potential financing for cash-strapped European governments and companies during the economic slowdown – it was expected to inject billions of euro and take a significant minority stake in the merger of Greek banking groups Eurobank and Alpha that would have shored up the country's banking sector and created the euro zone's 25th largest lender. That deal has since been put on hold pending the outcome of the bond hair-cuts taken by private investors on Greek public debt.
Bulgaria is not alone in courting the cash of the oil-rich emirate, but the start of Borissov's visit was marred by the business forum non-starter, which – according to reports in Bulgarian media – turned into a discussion between the Bulgarian Government officials and business executives on the state of Bulgaria's economy.
Asparouh Karastoyanov, a member of the managing board of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Bulgarian National Radio on March 15 that the reason for the no-show was the insufficient groundwork put in advance of the event.
The immediate fault was that of junior officials in the Foreign Ministry, but, in the larger picture, also the Economy Ministry's lack of a clear export strategy, he said.
Capital Daily said that its inquiries among Qatari media showed that local reporters were not aware that the forum was even on the schedule, although they had received invitations from the local chamber of commerce for a meeting with Borissov on the evening of March 14. That meeting went much better and was attended by an estimated 70-80 business people.
Reports in Bulgarian media said that representatives of more than 100 Bulgarian companies travelled to Qatar, paying to do so. Reportedly, invitations for the morning forum were sent to about 500 Qatari companies, though it was unclear whether there was any follow-up to gauge interest.
Despite the morning hiccough, the meetings scheduled between Bulgarian and Qatari ministers went on as planned. Borissov also met his counterpart, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Muhammad Al Thani, securing commitments for investment in infrastructure, agriculture and tourism worth a combined 100 million euro, Bulgarian news agency BTA reported.
In what appeared as an attempt to eradicate any aftertaste of the morning's events, Al Thani invited Bulgarian companies to hold an exhibition of their goods and services, with the Qatari government providing space at no cost. He said that Qatari companies should take his words as an invitation to participate in the organisation of the event, BTA said.
Al Thani, who is also foreign minister and is said to have played an instrumental role in the repatriation in 2007 of six Bulgarian medics who stood trial in Libya on charges of willfully infecting children with HIV, praised his relationship with Borissov and said Qatar was interested in investment in Bulgaria, emphasising however that the emirate had to be certain in its choices.
Borissov said that a Qatari delegation would visit Bulgaria in April to lay the groundwork for future co-operation, extending an invitation to Al Thani to visit Sofia in the coming months.
Killing spree in Norway in July 2011 and the arrests of individuals in a number of EU member states for the preparation of terrorist attacks, are proof of the continuing need for vigilance, Europol says.
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