Pedro Pablo San Jorge: Bulgaria Could Play Important Role in Cuba-EU RelationsDiplomatic Channel |Author: Angel Petrov | December 19, 2014, Friday // 18:13| views
Photo: Pedro Pablo San Jorge
Novinite has been the first Bulgarian media outlet to interview Cuba's Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Pedro Pablo San Jorge, who handed over his credentials to President Rosen Plevneliev in November.
He is a Bachelor of International Economic Relations and has specialized in foreign trade and various spheres of politics.
He has worked as a trade and economy adviser at Cuba's embassies in Chile (1995-1997) and also at the country's mission to Belgium, Luxembourg and European institutions (2006-2010).
Between 2010 and 2014 he headed Cuba's directorate for Trade Policy with Europe.
Your Excellency, you have been here for only a few weeks now, haven't you? When did you arrive?
I arrived here on November 4, 2014. In four days I handed out my credentials to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria. It was a very pleasant and positive event. Afterwards I was received by the Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Poryazov to discuss the areas where Cuba and Bulgaria could work together.
What are your first impressions of Bulgaria?
While I was in Cuba and was named to the office of Ambassador to Bulgaria, I began preparing and saw with great pleasure that Bulgaria is very well known among Cubans. There are many memories of the period when we had better and brotherly relations on an economic, commercial and political level in the 1990s when the Bulgarian Communist Party was in office. And after the 1990s we continued fostering brotherly relations, since both governments decided to try. My impressions were very positive and I was looking forward to arriving while I was in Cuba. I was told much about how beautiful Bulgaria is and the love Bulgarians have for our country.
You say political ties are still being good. But what are the biggest obstacles in relations between Cuba and Bulgaria?
I wouldn't say obstacles, not even as Bulgaria entered the EU in 2007. Despite political differences between us and the EU Bulgaria is among the countries which have maintained their brotherly relations with our country. Of course, both Bulgaria's economic transformations over the past years and the process of updating Cuba's economic model have pushed Bulgaria and our country to having economic priorities directed at other sectors and other countries. Subsequently, the level of bilateral exchange at this moment is low, but we consider that there are many possibilities having in mind the processes Bulgaria is undergoing and its experience in certain economic sectors - and also having in mind we are constantly looking for new trade partners and investment flows into the country. Unfortunately changes in both countries have happened without updated information about all alterations to legislation for commercial entities and to the presence of many foreign companies in the country. We need motivation both ways, because we known Bulgaria has experience and products which can be of interest to us - and Cuba could again be of interest to Bulgaria's people and market.
Are there any specific sectors where cooperation could be improved a lot?
Yes, certainly. Studying Bulgaria's economic transformations over the past years we believe there is a group of sectors where cooperation is possible and also there could be constant trade flow between our two countries. We think renewable energy is one of the sectors where Bulgaria has developed to a certain extent, basically in wind power, but also in hydroelectric power, where there was much cooperation between Cuba and Bulgaria last year. This is a sector where we are interested in sharing the experience Bulgaria has had. This is a priority sector for Cuba. Then there is agriculture. Bulgaria has always been a country with very well developed agriculture, mostly with its food industry. We recall the time when Bulgarian products, mainly canned fruits and vegetables, reached our country. This is one of the sectors which we are interested in developing at the time. We also think there are possibilities for cooperation in the packaging industry. Another potential area are generic drugs, where we know Bulgaria has developed an important industry. Cuba for its part has created a very important biotechnology industry with very elite products and we believe Bulgaria can also be a market for them. Also a product which Bulgaria has registered from the sanitary point of view is Vidatox, a product based on scorpion venom which could be used for treatment of some types of cancer. Bulgaria is the first EU country to have it registered. We think there are also other sectors such as construction, footwear and clothing. A Bulgarian footwear company has already traveled to Havana where a letter of intent was signed with Cuban companies to evaluate the prospect of jointly creating products in Havana, having in mind for instance conventional and work shoes.
Speaking of the EU, we know that Cuba and the union started a few months ago a process of normalization. Where do you think bilateral ties are going? And where does Bulgaria lie within the EU in terms of trade relations?
Certainly, Cuba and the EU renewed their cooperation in 2008 with a political declaration which is being implemented in the past few years. And as you pointed out, this year bilateral relations started and are aimed at negotiating an agreement of cooperation and trade. Of course, there is also a political chapter. Within this context Bulgaria could end up playing an important role as a EU member and a country which could have economic and commercial interests in our country. In this sense, we would like to use the potential of these relations so that Bulgaria becomes more active in future rounds of negotiations. Within the EU, Bulgaria is not among the countries with which he have the highest levels of exchange (like Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium). However, we opine these possibilities exist, alongside the will of entrepreneurs on both sides to explore all the opportunities of negotiations which we could carry out. While I mentioned some good Bulgarian products, at the same time Cuba could export to Bulgaria goods such as coffee, cocoa, honey, sugar or products of biotechnology we have already mentioned. This is why we are interested in working with entrepreneurial groupings in your country such as the Bulgarian Industrial Association and the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Is distance the biggest problem explaining this lack of bilateral exchange?
I wouldn't say it is only about the distance. Certainly, Bulgaria is in Europe and is quite far away; but in the 80s and 90s Cuba had excellent and magnificent relations with Bulgaria and a very high exchange. What is more, there were trade offices in our embassy where representatives of Cuban enterprises with a commercial interest in Bulgaria worked. There were a lot of Bulgarian enterprises in Bulgaria as well. Back then the exchange was important mostly in terms of the purchase of food products and also of chemical products such as pesticides. Distance was not a problem. Of course there were mechanisms of cooperation which made it easier: both countries were members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance [COMECON/CAME]. However, we believe today the process of globalization diminishes the importance of distance as a problem. Among Cuba's main trading partners are China and Vietnam, which are even further than Bulgaria. This is why we have assigned ourselves the task of working toward promoting economic relations and are already organizing two entrepreneurial missions for the beginning of next year and have proposed them to the President when I presented my credentials. We would also like to develop a consultations mechanism at the level of Chanceries. We are also trying to maintain certain representation of Bulgarian entrepreneurs by arranging an official visit of a Bulgarian official at a ministerial level, accompanied by a delegation, to the Havana International Fair held each November. This would be a good opportunity to start working on the Cuban market and to let Cuban institutions know what Bulgarian goods could offer to the country.
Is this the biggest project Bulgaria and Cuba are currently working on?
No. There is of course all the work carried out by the previous Cuban ambassadors who have been here and also by the Bulgarian ambassadors to Havana. Allow me to admit that I was very impressed by the love and brotherhood that the Bulgarian people feel for Cuba and its people. Wherever I have been across Bulgaria, there is an association of friendship to which many young people have recently joined. A positive trend is also witnessed in tourism: Bulgarian tourists to Cuba were 1783 in 2013 and are estimated at 2206 in 2014, 123% the previous year. One of our objectives in this country is to promote, foment and consolidate this friendship and to try to put political relations on the same level, also trying to boost economic and commercial exchange. This is a challenge, but it is a pleasant one and we think we are in a position to make it, we have the will to do so which is also shared by our country and our government.
You said Bulgaria is well known and well perceived in Cuba. But what is the first thing that comes to a Cuban mind with the word "Bulgaria"?
Well, when I was preparing to take up the office in Bulgaria my colleagues reminded me about many things. Cubans, even those who are not that old, remember much about the roses of Bulgaria. Bulgaria is known as the country of roses, as a very beautiful land. Many colleagues who had been here told me of many wonders, told be very good things about Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna, cities quite known in our country. But they also recalled Bulgaria's wine which is also a product the two countries could work on. They recalled the Bulgarian music, because there were renowned artists who often traveled to Cuba like the singers Mrs Yordanka Hristova and Mr Biser Kirov. And somewhat jokingly they tell me that we can revive Bulgarian traditions in Cuba, including the very well known Bulgarian cuisine. I can confirm these days that Bulgarian foods and products are exceptional.
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