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Bulgaria Economy

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Bulgaria's economy contracted dramatically after 1989 with the collapse of the COMECON system and the loss of the Soviet market, to which the Bulgarian economy had been closely tied. The standard of living fell by about 40%. In addition, UN sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq took a heavy toll on the Bulgarian economy. The first signs of recovery emerged when GDP grew in 1994 for the first time since 1988, by 1.4% and then by 2.5% in 1995. Inflation, which surged in 1994 to 122%, fell to 32.9% in 1995. During 1996, however, the economy collapsed due to shortsighted economic reforms and an unstable and de-capitalized banking system.

Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (UDF), who came to power in 1997, an ambitious set of reforms were launched, including introduction of a currency board regime, bringing growth and stability to the Bulgarian economy. The currency board contained inflationary pressures and the three-digit inflation in 1997 was cut to only 1% in 1998. Following declines in GDP in both 1996 and 1997, the Bulgarian Government has delivered strong, steady GDP growth in real terms in recent years. Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg's economic team of young, Western-educated financiers continued to implement measures that helped sustain stable economic growth and curb unemployment. Measures introduced by the government were targeted at reducing corporate and individual taxes, curtailing corruption, and attracting foreign investment. The government also restructured the country's foreign debt, revived the local stock market, and moved ahead with long-delayed privatization of some major state monopolies. As a result of this progress, in October 2002 the European Commission declared Bulgaria had a "Functioning Market Economy."

Bulgaria's current government has continued these reforms, and in 2007 the country joined the European Union. According to the World Bank, in 2006 Bulgaria attracted the highest levels of foreign direct investment, as a share of GDP, among Eastern European countries. A growing current-account deficit (21.5% of GDP at the end of 2007) and excessive reliance on foreign capital inflow render the economy vulnerable to external shocks. The international financial crisis led to a new flow of investment which could barely cover the current-account deficit in 2007--at 98.2%. In early 2007, to attract additional foreign investment, the Bulgarian Government lowered corporate tax rates to 10%, reportedly the lowest rate in Europe. A flat-tax rate of 10% for personal income, in place as of January 1, 2008, will further decrease domestic labor costs and help reduce the share of the "gray" economy. In response to local governments' demand for financial independence in 2006, parliament passed fiscal decentralization of municipalities, granting them authority over collection and administration of some taxes, thus further enhancing local economic stability. Despite Bulgaria's many marked successes, organized crime and corruption remain problems.


Information by U.S. Department of State




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