Caspian Energy (CE): Your Excellency, currently you serve as the Ambassador of Bulgaria to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Could you please tell about Bulgaria’s expectations from the cooperation with the two Caspian littoral states?
Maya Hristova, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Azerbaijan: Bulgaria sees Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan as an opportunity for diversification of the energy sources and development of the transport infrastructure.
Azerbaijan is important and strategic partner for Bulgaria, with whom we are developing comprehensive, long-term cooperation of mutual benefit. The friendly relations and cooperation between our countries are long-standing and traditional.
Within the “Energy” sector our two countries have also strategic partnership. Bulgaria is very satisfied from the strong support of Azerbaijan in the negotiations with the Shah Deniz consortium, which has assisted for the formation of long-term contract for natural gas supply to Bulgaria from the second stage of the gas field “Shah Deniz” (SD) from 2020 in a volume of 1 billion cubic meters / year. We consider that the implementation of this contract will ensure the security of supply by diversifying the sources of our country.
We also have signed a Memorandum of understanding and cooperation in the field of energy between the Ministries of Energy of both countries, signed on November 13th 2009 in Sofia; Memorandum of understanding between SOCAR and the Bulgarian Energy Holding, signed on April 27th 2012 in Baku; Memorandum of understanding between SOCAR and Bulgartransgaz.
Important and successful instrument for development of the energy cooperation between the two countries is also the Joint Gas and Oil Working Group between the Bulgarian and the Azerbaijani side, represented by the Bulgarian Ministry of Energy and the Bulgarian Energy Holding and the Azerbaijani SOCAR.
The cooperation in the cultural and humanitarian fields is very important for us in the relations with Azerbaijan. I would like to take the opportunity to express once again the deep gratitude to the First Lady of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva for implementing the project on restoration of the old city Veliko Tyrnovo. Bulgaria highly appreciates that.
In the past years, the political and economic cooperation between Bulgaria and Turkmenistan was significantly dynamic. It could be noted with satisfaction that during the period 2015-2016 both countries have exchanged important governmental visits, which have contributed for the support of the regular dialogue and the opening of new areas of cooperation.
An important moment in the deepening of the relations between the two countries was the Third Session of the Bulgarian-Turkmenistan Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation, which was held in March 2016 in Sofia, during which were marked even more possibilities for future cooperation.
CE: Which sectors of economy are prioritized? What do you think about the current level of cooperation in these industries? Is it satisfactory?
Maya Hristova: Important place in the economic and trade relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and Azerbaijan holds the energy within the context of the policy of the Bulgarian government for diversification of the energy sources and routes.
Despite the steps, which were realized towards the development of the bilateral political and economic relations, we believe that the state of the bilateral economic and trade cooperation between Bulgaria and Azerbaijan does not fully reflect the possibilities of the both countries and there is a sufficient potential for its development. We wish and aim for enhancement and diversification of the bilateral stock exchange as well as for attraction of more investments from Azerbaijan in Bulgaria.
We wish to enhance the scope of the Bulgarian goods, which are exported to Azerbaijan: technological production lines for processing fruits and vegetables, medicaments, electrical accumulators (batteries), medical and cosmetic products and goods, etc. In this relation, we rely on support from the government of Azerbaijan for promotion and attraction of Bulgarian goods and services into Azerbaijan.
CE: You have the extensive experience in the energy sector of Bulgaria. What does energy security mean for Bulgaria today? How do you evaluate its current level? What kind of projects can improve it?
Maya Hristova: Bulgarian energy policy is in accordance with the main aims of the EU energy policy for security, competitiveness and sustainable development. Our efforts are towards diversification of the energy sources, handling of the negative climate changes, promotion of the economic growth and the employment, which will provide secure and accessible energy for the consumers. The aim is to support the role of Bulgaria as important energy factor in the region and reliable member of the EU.
The main risks for the energy security of Bulgaria are related to the high dependence from one supplier of energy resources; non-sufficient development of the reversible infrastructure and the lack of interconnector connectivity with the neighboring countries. The low oil prices are favorable for Bulgaria on one hand, but on the other hand, they highly restrict the investment activity of the companies in the field of exploration and production of energy resources and complicate the construction of new energy infrastructure, which leads to the delay of the possibilities for diversification of the sources and routes.
Bulgaria continues to be one of the few EU countries which do not have alternative routes and sources for natural gas delivery and fully relies on import from Russia.
The main aim of the policy is achieving high-tech, secure and reliable energy system, which complies with the European criteria and at the same time uses at its maximum the available resource of Bulgaria and fully protects the consumers.
CE: Nowadays much is being said about implementation of the Trans Caspian Gas Pipeline on the different expert levels. Do you believe that this project will be actually turned into reality? Do you see preconditions for that?
Maya Hristova: The Trans Caspian Gas Pipeline should connect the Turkmenistan port of Turkmenbashi with the Azerbaijani terminal Sangachal through a pipe on the Caspian seabed and from there the gas should be transported over to Europe through the TANAP pipeline (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey).
The Republic of Bulgaria believes that the implementation of the Trans Caspian pipeline would give an opportunity for gas import of the Caspian region through our interconnectors with Turkey and Greece, thus giving a serious push to our efforts for achieving real diversification of the sources of gas import for our country.
CE: When Azerbaijan started negotiations on the Southern Gas Corridor project about 8 years ago it then acted as the only exporter and travelled a long and difficult path for today's success. How would you evaluate the role of Azerbaijan and its contribution to the energy security of the EU?
Maya Hristova: The Bulgarian side confirms its solid support for the development of the South Gas Corridor of the EU and the key role of Azerbaijan for its construction as a fourth corridor for natural gas transition to the EU.
The strong support of the government of Azerbaijan and of the President of Azerbaijan H.E. Mr. Ilham Aliyev is clearly visible on all meetings on highest level related to the South Gas Corridor, which are being held in Baku for two consecutive years. The presence of the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, H.E. Mrs. Federica Mogherini is a significant statement that Azerbaijan is highly valued for its role in the gas deliveries to the EU.
CE: Bulgaria is currently implementing the ‘Balkan Gas Hub’ project (regional gas distribution centre) inside the country. The hub is to be used for transit of gas from Azerbaijan, Russia and other directions, as well for LNG supplies from Greece. Could you please tell about the progress on the project? What stage has it already reached? Which countries are its potential stakeholders?
Maya Hristova: Together with the European Commission, Bulgaria has developed a concept for the formation of a regional gas hub on the country's territory. As a base for this hub will serve the well-developed Bulgarian gas infrastructure, the (currently under construction) interconnectors with Greece, Romania, Serbia and Turkey, as well as the expansion of gas storage capacity. The advantages of creating a regional gas hub in Bulgaria are: supplies of Russian natural gas, supplies of natural gas from alternative sources from the Caspian and Eastern Mediterranean regions - from the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector (as well as from the existing and newly built LNG terminals), domestic production of natural gas from deep Black Sea (the Silistar and Khan Asparuh units), modernization and rehabilitation of the existing gas transmission network in the country, as well as the availability of gas storage facility.
Bulgaria is a Member State of the EU, and has received strong support from Brussels for the gas hub project “Balkan”. In December 2015, the Bulgarian government and the European Commission agreed on establishing a joint working group which to support the development of commercial concept, business, and financial plan for the gas hub “Balkan”.
CE: Deputy Minister of Energy of Bulgaria Zhecho Stankov said he considers Azerbaijan as a major supplier of the ‘Balkan Gas Hub’. Does it mean that Bulgaria is planning extra purchases in addition to the already contracted?
Maya Hristova: Bulgaria takes into account the strong support of Azerbaijan in the negotiations with the Shah Deniz consortium, which has assisted for the formation of long-term contract for natural gas supply to Bulgaria from the second stage of the gas field “Shah Deniz” (SD) from 2020 in a volume of 1 billion cubic meters / year. We consider this contract for natural gas supply between Bulgargas and SOCAR a strategic document, the implementation of which will ensure the security of supply by diversifying the sources of our country.
The Republic of Bulgaria has provided concrete support to Azerbaijan for the construction of TANAP. The Ministry of Energy has provided its institutional support in the application documents to the EC for grant funding the activities for the design of TANAP by the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), at the request of SOCAR.
CE: The Azerbaijan-Bulgaria Forum was hosted in September. How would you evaluate its outcomes?
Maya Hristova: On 29-30 September 2016, The Fourth Session of the Bulgarian-Azerbaijani Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation was held in Baku, where the countries expressed their intention to develop cooperation in the following areas of mutual interest: trade, economy, industry, energy, transport, information and communication technologies, satellite services, agriculture, tourism, culture, education, health, social security, public works and regional development. During the IGC session, a Memorandum of cooperation was signed between the Bulgarian state company “Ports Infrastructure” (BPIC) and the “Baku International Sea Trade Port”. The document was signed by the Director General of BPIC - Mr. Angel Zaburtov, and the Director General of "Baku International Sea Trade Port" - Mr. Taleh Ziyadov. The two sides agreed on enhanced cooperation and exchange of experience between the Baku port and the ports in Varna and Burgas.
At the forum, Minister Loukarski presented to the business community of Azerbaijan, the investment opportunities in Bulgaria. Our country holds leading positions in numerous international rankings of investment attractiveness, including third place in the world for best investment destination in production, third place among the top 36 countries worldwide in attracted foreign direct investments in the outsourcing sector, and first place among the countries in Europe.
At the forum, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Executive Agency for Promotion of Small and Medium Enterprises (EASME) of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Azerbaijan Export and Investments Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO).
The program of the event included presentation of the investment and business opportunities in Bulgaria and Azerbaijan and bilateral discussions between companies from both countries. The event was attended by representatives of 36 Bulgarian and 41 Azerbaijani companies.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the visit of the Bulgarian business delegation to Baku was very fruitful and successful, and presented the willingness of the Republic of Bulgaria to further activate the traditionally good Bulgarian-Azerbaijani trade and economic relations.
Thank you for the interview
Interview made by Fidan Isayeva, Emil Mammadov