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Australia's relations with Bulgaria are sound and constructive, though commercial and official contacts remain modest. Two way trade is small. Bulgaria's policy focus is on integration with the European Union (EU) and other European political and security structures.
Some 12,000 people of Bulgarian origin are settled in Australia, mainly as a result of migration during the inter-war period. The Australian community in Bulgaria is small, comprising mainly dual nationals and expatriate business people.
Australia established diplomatic relations with Bulgaria in 1972 and maintains relations through the non-resident accreditation of the Ambassador in Athens and an Honorary Consul in Sofia. Bulgaria is represented in Australia by an Embassy in Canberra.
The main focus of Australian government business in Bulgaria is the provision of consular services to Australian nationals. Support for Australian businesses seeking to develop market opportunities is provided by the Austrade office based in Warsaw, Poland.
Other areas of shared interest with Australia include cooperation in the campaign against terrorism, WMD proliferation, illegal people movements, international trafficking in drugs and other forms of transnational crime.
Two way merchandise trade in 2010 was worth about A$48 million, comprising $7 million in exports and $41 million in imports. Australia’s trade in services with Bulgaria is negligible. Australia's export profile with Bulgaria is dominated by plastic monofilament, crude vegetable matter, specialised machinery and parts, and iron, steel and aluminium structures. Imports from Bulgaria include fertilisers, cheese and curd products, clothing and specialised machinery and parts.
In October 2009, President Parvanov made the first visit to Australia by a Bulgarian Head of State. Parvanov was accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Marin Raykov, Deputy Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism, Mr Evgeni Angelov, and a business delegation. In July 2004, an Australian parliamentary delegation visited Bulgaria for discussions covering a range of bilateral and multilateral issues, including prospects for furthering trade and investment.
Under its July 1991 constitution, Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic with a parliamentary executive. It has a single chamber, 240-member parliament, the National Assembly, which is elected every five years by universal suffrage. Members are elected through a system of proportional representation, with a four per cent threshold for party representation. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are drawn from the group able to command a majority in the Assembly.
The President, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is popularly elected once every five years for a maximum of two terms. The President enjoys largely ceremonial powers but does hold certain emergency powers and may return legislation to the National Assembly for further consideration, which can in turn be overruled. The most recent Bulgarian Presidential election took place on 30 October 2011, where the ruling centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria Party (GERB) candidate, Rosen Plevneliev, won the presidential run-off against Ivaylo Kalfin of the Socialist Party. Plevneliev took over the presidency from Georgi Parvanov on 22 January 2012.
In July 2009, Bulgarians elected a new government, ousting the Socialist-led coalition which had held power since 2005. The new coalition Government is led by Mr Boyko Borissov, leader of the centre-right party GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) and former Mayor of Sofia. GERB took 39.71 per cent of the vote, entering parliament and government for the first time and securing 116 of the 240 seats. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) won only 17.7 per cent of the vote, equating to 40 seats. The Turkish minority party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, came in third with 11.3 per cent of the vote and the ultra-nationalist Ataka party came fourth, with 9 per cent. Mr Borissov's preferred coalition partner, the Blue Coalition, won 7.7 per cent, followed by the Law Order and Justice Party (RTZ) with 4.13 per cent.
In recent years Bulgaria has achieved its key longstanding foreign policy objectives of membership of the EU and NATO, which have widespread public support.
Bulgaria joined the European Union on 1 January 2007, and became a member of NATO on 2 April 2004. Bulgaria signed NATO's Partnership for Peace in February 1994 and has participated in joint exercises since 1995. It showed its commitment to NATO by providing bases during the Kosovo crisis in 1999 and assumed responsibility for security at Kabul airport for some time as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Bulgaria is also a member of the Libya Contact Group.
Bulgaria takes an active role in multilateral institutions and was a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council in 2002-03. Bulgaria is engaged at an international level in peacekeeping and disarmament issues. Bulgaria committed one frigate and a medical unit for deployment with the EU force contingent to Lebanon in 2006. It also committed one frigate to enforce the UN arms embargo against Libya and is a member of the Contact Group on Libya.
Bulgaria is a member of the Australia Group and several other like-minded groupings such as the Wassenaar Agreement, the Zangger Committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. Bulgaria is a member of the Council of Europe and in the second half of 1994 became the first former communist state to hold the Presidency. Bulgaria joined the World Trade Organisation in 1996.
Bulgaria’s population of 7.3 million has steadily declined and aged over recent years. Bulgaria has an estimated GDP of US$53.0 billion and an estimated GDP per capita of US$7 073 (2011 estimates). Principal export destinations are Germany, Italy and Romania, while the main import sources are the Russian Federation, Germany and Italy (see Bulgaria - Fact Sheet (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/bulg.pdf) ).
As a consequence of the global financial crisis, Bulgaria experienced a decline in GDP of 5.5 per cent in 2009. This stabilised in 2010 with a GDP growth of 0.2 per cent and has a forecasted growth of 3 per cent in 2011.
Bulgaria’s economic situation has improved since the heavy downturn in 1996-7, following the IMF’s creation of a currency board to oversee the use of loaned funds and the implementation of structural reforms. The currency board is likely to remain present until Bulgaria adopts the Euro. The currency board and the European Commission closely monitor Bulgaria’s judicial reform, and its efforts to combat corruption and organised crime. Bulgaria has responded positively by creating a new role in the cabinet for overseeing the management of EU assistance, and establishing a new unit in the Prosecutor's Office to investigate fraud related to EU funds. In June 2011 the Bulgarian Government survived a no-confidence vote proposed by the opposition party based on allegations of institutional ineffectiveness, inability to absorb EU funds and failure to boost the economy.
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