UK Trade Guide to importing and exporting to and from Bulgaria
While Bulgaria is unlikely to be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about importing and exporting, it’s actually an important trade partner to the UK. In fact, the UK was the tenth biggest importer of Bulgarian shipments during 2016, importing over 600 million EUR worth, with trade volumes between the two countries having doubled between 2004 and 2014. This Balkan country bordered on the east by the Black Sea has also been rated by Bloomberg as the sixth best country for doing business in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, so it’s a market that shouldn’t be overlooked. This guide looks at the benefits and challenges of importing and exporting to and from Bulgaria, to help you to make an informed decision.
Benefits of Trading with Bulgaria
– English is widely spoken in Bulgaria and is the country’s most commonly known foreign language.
– Bulgaria continues to benefit from external investment, including more than 9 billion EUR in European Union (EU) funds up to 2020.
– As its fifth largest investor over the past ten years, the UK already has a strong trade/economic relationship with Bulgaria. Large British companies currently operating in Bulgaria include Shell, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Petroceltic, Nuvia, JCD, White Young Green, Mott McDonald, IPF Provident, Dyson and William Hughs.
– The country has a good transport infrastructure with further funding of 2.5 billion EUR to 2020. Traders can choose to move goods by air, road, rail and/or sea freight.
– Its position makes Bulgaria a trade gateway to the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
– Many manufacturers from nearby countries have moved some production facilities to Bulgaria, making it an important trade hub in Eastern Europe.
– Bulgaria has the lowest corporate and income tax rates in the EU (10%) making it an attractive prospect for both businesses and the workforce.
– The Bulgarian economy is showing signs of a sustained recovery following the 2009 global economic and financial crisis. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita (the total output of a country divided by its total population) is lower than the EU average but steadily growing. The Economist forecasts annual average economic growth of around 3% 2017 – 2021.
– Low operating costs can mean that it’s cheaper to import items made in Bulgaria.
– The cost of living is much lower in Bulgaria than in the UK – which links to a much lower minimum wage and access to a cheap, skilled workforce.
– As the UK and Bulgaria are both currently part of the EU single market, free movement of goods and services is allowed, and no import duties apply.
– Bulgaria also aligns its legislation and standardisation practices with the EU – for example, products and packaging should meet EU standards.
– There are no visa requirements for those visiting Bulgaria from the UK. This, and quick, low-cost air travel make business travel easy.
Potential Challenges of Trading with Bulgaria
– High levels of bureaucracy can make doing business in Bulgaria more difficult.
– As one of the poorest countries in the EU, disposable income in Bulgaria is low. EU funding and external investment are relied on to support growth.
– A low minimum wage may also cause ethical concerns – although this is currently at an all-time high.
– Bulgaria ranked 75th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – making it one of the lowest ranking countries in the EU.
What To Export
The main commodities exported from the UK to Bulgaria include:
- Telecoms Equipment
- Iron and Steel
- Specialised Machinery
- Medicines and Pharmaceuticals
- Road Vehicles
- Textiles and Fabrics
- Electrical Machinery and Appliances
- Industrial Machinery
Investment into energy, transport, water, waste management, education, agriculture, ICT and healthcare projects, and growth in Bulgaria’s advanced manufacturing market, may present opportunities for overseas suppliers.
What To Import
The main commodities imported from Bulgaria include:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Automotive Parts
- Manufactured Goods (i.e. clothing and footwear)
Bulgaria benefits from good transport links, which presents a variety of options when importing and exporting. The main ports of Varna and Burgas sit on the Black Sea coast and facilitate low-cost shipping by sea freight, although this is still a small market and is most commonly used to ship to or from East Bulgaria.
Road trailer services are the most popular shipping method to or from West Bulgaria to most European markets – with part load and groupage services offering quick transit times for smaller shipments. Well established rail links between Bulgaria and Germany also mean that multimodal options (rail/road) are becoming increasingly common.
Bulgaria has good air links to the UK, making air freight a quick and convenient choice – although it’s usually the most expensive option.
Further Help and Advice
The Department for International Trade (DIT) offers free consultations for those considering trading with Bulgaria.
John Good Shipping has been handling shipments to and from Bulgaria for several years, so we’re well placed to answer any shipping questions you might have.