Bulgaria Keen To Develop EU-China Trade Via Azerbaijan

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Bulgaria’s Varna Port

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Trade development opportunities have implications for the revival of the China & Central, Eastern Europe Forum while the EU cannot afford to develop antagonistic relations similtanously with both Moscow and Beijing  

The southern European Union nation of Bulgaria has expressed keen interest in developing trade ties with Azerbaijan in order to access the southern route for goods traffic to and from China and South Asia.

Huseyn Huseynov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Bulgaria, has stated that

“Transport is another priority area of cooperation between (Bulgaria and Azerbaijan) after energy. Relations between our countries in this sphere have a long history. Azerbaijan and Bulgaria were among founding states of Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia, TRACECA in 1998. In order to contribute to the promotion of East-West, North-South and South-West international transport corridors, Azerbaijan is taking systemic and intensive measures to develop its transport infrastructure and has made great achievements in this sphere.

The Baku International Sea Trade Port, which was built using latest engineering innovations that meet the most modern standards, makes a great contribution to expansion of transit opportunities in the Caspian Sea region. In this regard, the Baku International Sea Trade Port and Bulgarian Ports Infrastructure Company are cooperating on boosting cargo transportation in both directions.”

Huseynov stated that another important project, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was launched in 2018. “It has an important role in promoting connectivity between Europe and Asia involving onward transportation to the European Union. BTK can facilitate cargo transportation from Turkey to Bulgaria and other European countries. Given that five of ten European transportation corridors run through Bulgaria, cooperation with Azerbaijan is of special importance. The latest global and regional tendencies have even more increased the significance of transport connectivity.

In this regard, I would like to draw the attention to the Trans Caspian International Transport Route (also known as the Middle Corridor), which is a part of the East-West international transport corridor. This route runs from the Pacific shores of China to Europe through the Caspian Sea and Azerbaijan. Amid the current geopolitical situation, the importance of the Middle Corridor has even more increased and the volume of cargo transportation on this route is growing. The daily cargo transportation between EU and China reached US$2 billion in 2021. In this regard, the joint efforts of Azerbaijan and Bulgaria in promoting the transportation of part of these cargoes through the territories of our countries are mutually beneficial.” Huseynov said.

The routes described have become an integral part of China-EU freight passage as the EU has blocked its land, sea, and air connections with Russia. The Bulgarian Ambassadors comments also bring back into vogue the ‘Cooperation Between China, Central & Eastern Europe‘ forum which has been somewhat moribund following EU criticism of China’s involvement of alleged HR abuses in Xinjiang, an issue China denies. Bulgaria is a member of this forum, and with the demise of the Russian freight trade routes will see the Black Sea-Caspian Sea routes as the alternative. It is likely to be looking for Chinese investment to boost Bulgarian transit and related operations for EU-Asia trade.

In the past, such investments have been frowned upon by Brussels which has regarded them as ‘combative’ by Beijing. Given the issues now facing the EU, a more pragmatic view towards Chinese investments into freight building capacity in countries such as Bulgaria, and Romania are more likely now to be placed back on the agenda despite EU reluctance, where Brussels now has a choice between dealing with Moscow or Beijing. It is becoming apparent that the EU cannot now afford to engage in serious political criticisms with both Russia and China at the same time.

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About Us

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists British and Foreign Investment into Asia and has 28 offices throughout China, India, the ASEAN nations and Russia. For strategic and business intelligence concerning China’s Belt & Road Initiative please email silkroad@dezshira.com or visit us at www.dezshira.com

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