Notes following Joint Media Briefing by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad and Bulgarian Counterpart, Diplomatic Guesthouse, 201 Matroosberg Road, Pretoria, Friday, 14 March 2008
Remarks by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad
Let me welcome you members of the media to this joint press conference following discussions with my Bulgarian counterpart.
Let me also say how happy I am to welcome Deputy Minister Chauhev and his delegation to South Africa. This has added significance because Bulgaria is one of the new members of the European Union. Bulgaria has also historically been viewed as the gateway to eastern Europe and is known to be one of the stabilising countries in the Balkans. So this would give us an excellent opportunity to share experiences on their understanding of the conflict situations and tensions in the Balkans as well as the economic opportunities, not just in Bulgaria, but in the region and opportunities for Bulgaria – Africa relations.
Bulgaria has declared South Africa a strategic partner and for many years, like South Africa, was involved in other priorities. Bulgaria had to deal with developments within the European Union and in their own region. But the Bulgarian government has now taken a decision to once again increase its activities in Africa and we welcome this development because thousands of students from Africa and from sub-Saharan Africa have studied in Bulgaria and are employed in key positions.
Diplomatic relations between both countries started in 1992 and our economic relations now stand at approximately R500 million. Both Deputy Minister Chauhev and myself believe that this is nothing compared to what the potential is. I am very pleased that Deputy Minister Chauhev has identified many areas in which we can extend our co-operation – energy, transport, infrastructure development, health and especially in the agricultural field. But most important, the Minister has now given us concrete recommendations rather than general statements about areas of co-operation in all of these fields and we will discuss these with the relevant Ministries to see how we can further develop our relations with Bulgaria.
We will off course, continue to discuss the African challenges – not only the conflict situations but the broad progressive developments in Africa – NEPAD and opportunities for Bulgaria as a country, bilaterally but also as an important member of the EU and opportunities available to Bulgarians in all fields of the African Developmental Agenda.
We hope to continue our discussions on two key areas where as members of the EU Bulgaria is significantly involved – the crisis in the Middle East – which as you know impacts on the whole region, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and we expect to continue discussions in this regard.
We are very keen that as we go on to get a better understanding from the Minister and his delegation about the situation in the Balkans, the prospects for further developments and in this context we would like to get more information on the decision by Kosovo to declare Unilateral Independence and its impact on the region.
We regard this as a very important meeting and we hope the President of Bulgaria is going to visit the region. There has been a request to visit South Africa and this will be considered by the Presidency and we hope that this visit does take place because it will give an impetus to all the potential that exists.
There are already other high level visits – the Bulgarian Minister of Interior will visit South Africa, the Vice Minister of Education will visit South Africa.
Bulgaria has tremendous expertise in all fields and we do believe that in terms of South Africa’s AsgiSA and JIPSA programmes we should give more attention to concretely discussing with Bulgaria how they can help us deal with our acute skills shortages in every field.
We are very happy that the Minister has come. We hope this visit will really give an impetus to our relations and we hope that this visit will lead to a Presidential visit and that we can then open, especially the eyes of the South African private sector to what potential exists.
I have said this many times but let me reiterate: the South African private sector still conducts business in the comfort zone of the traditional economic partners and they are failing to understand the opportunities that have opened up since 1994. I want to again say, Bulgaria is widely regarded as the gateway to Eastern Europe and as the most stabilising force in the Balkans and if the South African private sector is serious about expansion in a genuine way in the interests of South Africa as well as other African partners then they should begin to look at countries like Bulgaria for economic opportunities.
There is thought of a business forum and how we can get the two country’s private sectors to pay more attention to the potential that exists between each other.
As you know, Bulgarian Airlines once flew to South Africa. This has now stopped. South Africa does not fly directly to Bulgaria but the communication that now exists does open up the potential both ways and I do believe that we will get much more out of this visit to help us enhance relations within the context of Europe – Africa relations.
Our two Presidents did meet during the Europe – Africa Summit in Portugal in December 2007 and we hope that we can sustain this momentum.
Remarks by Deputy Minister Feim Chauhev
Thank you Your Excellency and I would like once more to express deep satisfaction about the discussions we have just concluded.
Bulgaria and South Africa are strategic partners. South Africa is considered as a leading country in the region. South Africa is not just important in the region but has a global importance as well. South Africa aims to secure peace, stability and sustainable development in the region.
Bulgaria is considered the generator of peace and stability in the Balkans. We consider South Africa a generator of stability in Africa. We know that South Africa contributes much effort to securing peace in many hotspots in Africa. Bulgaria is doing the same in different parts of the world like Iraq, Afghanistan and other hotspots.
During our discussions we studied and exchanged opinions on how to activate our bilateral relations in the best interests of both countries and in the interests of the African Union and the European Union.
We considered some concrete projects in which we can co-operate – energy, agriculture, health services, education of young South Africans in the field of agriculture, veterinary medicine and many other useful fields.
Bulgaria can also send some experts in the field of energy to assist South Africa resolve its challenges. Bulgarian companies can also participate in the South African economy in the field of infrastructure development.
This is why we deem the forthcoming visit by the President of Bulgaria to South Africa as vitally important. We hope it will give impetus to our bilateral relations. The Bulgarian President will be accompanied by a large contingent of Bulgarian businessmen. These representatives of private business organisations will meet their South African counterparts and identify various fields of co-operation.
We also agreed that there should be regular diplomatic contacts between the Foreign Ministries of both countries.
In this regard, I am expecting that my colleague and friend will visit Bulgaria by the end of this year or perhaps early next year.
Questions and answers
Question Deputy Minister Pahad, am I to understand that there has been an agreement that the Bulgarian President will visit South Africa? Is there a date that we are looking at?
Answer An invitation has been extended and when the two Presidents met at the Africa – EU Summit in Lisbon they exchanged views on the matter. Officials in the Presidency responsible for his international programme will provide possible dates for the visit. This will then be shared with our Bulgarian colleagues.
Question Deputy Minister Chauhev, I believe you are visiting other African countries including Malawi. Could you please provide some information on your itinerary?
Answer This visit is the first ever in the bilateral history of relations between Bulgaria and Malawi. Last summer a delegation from Malawi visited me in Bulgaria and I had very good discussions with them. They insisted that I visit Malawi and I have now accepted their invitation.
My African visit reflects the renewed interest of Bulgaria in Africa.
Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
14 March 2008