Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Bulgarian lev appreciated by 2.9% against the US dollar since 2016 and increased by 1.8% from 2019 to 2020. Bulgaria’s stronger local currency makes its exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 65.8% of products exported from Bulgaria were bought by importers in: Germany (16% of the global total), Romania (9.2%), Italy (6.9%), Greece (6.7%), Turkey (6.4%), France (3.9%), Belgium (3.4%), China (3.3%), Netherlands (2.6%), Poland (2.5%), Spain (2.4%) and the United Kingdom (2.4%).
From a continental perspective, 77.8% of Bulgaria’s exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 15.6% were sold to importers in Asia. Smaller percentages went to Africa (3.4%), North America (2.6%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.4%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.2%).
Given Bulgaria’s population of 6.9 million people, its total $31.8 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $4,600 for every resident in the Southeast European nation.
Bulgaria’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Bulgarian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Bulgaria.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$3.5 billion (11% of total exports)
- Copper: $2.7 billion (8.7%)
- Machinery including computers: $2.7 billion (8.4%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $1.4 billion (4.5%)
- Cereals: $1.3 billion (4.2%)
- Vehicles: $1.2 billion (3.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $1.1 billion (3.6%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $1.1 billion (3.4%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $1 billion (3.2%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $780 million (2.5%)
Bulgaria’s top 10 exports accounted for 53.2% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Copper was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 15.9% from 2019 to 2020. In second place for improving export sales was ores, slag and ash via a 11.8% gain. Bulgaria’s shipments of furniture, bedding, lighting, signs and prefabricated buildings posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 5.8%.
The leading decliner among Bulgaria’s top 10 export categories was mineral fuels including oil thanks to a -55% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code, Bulgaria’s most valuable export products are refined copper (3.7% of total). Following that is processed petroleum oils (3.5%), medication mixes in dosage (3.3%), unrefined copper (3%), wheat (2.2%), precious metal ores and concentrates (2.1%), insulated wire or cable (1.7%), sunflower seeds (also 1.7%), corn (1.6%) then electric circuit parts, fuses or switches (1.5%).
The following types of Bulgarian product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Copper: US$2 billion (Up by 16.9% since 2019)
- Cereals: $1.2 billion (Down by -14.4%)
- Arms, ammunition: $560.4 million (Reversing a -$30,000 deficit)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $414.1 million (Down by -21.5%)
- Glass: $402.6 million (Up by 40.3%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $339.3 million (Down by -8.5%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $305 million (Up by 13.8%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $294.8 million (Up by 32%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $187.7 million (Up by 16.5%)
- Zinc: $150.3 million (Down by -9.3%)
Bulgaria has highly positive net exports in the international trade of copper. In turn, these cashflows indicate Bulgaria’s strong competitive advantages under the copper product category.
Bulgaria incurred an overall trade deficit of -$3 billion during 2020, down -21.6% from -$3.9 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Bulgaria that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Bulgaria’s goods trail Bulgarian importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$2 billion (Down by -7% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$1.5 billion (Down by -13.2%)
- Machinery including computers: -$948.7 million (Down by -19.1%)
- Iron, steel: -$670.7 million (Up by 4.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$624.3 million (Down by -13.6%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$606.1 million (Down by -59.7%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$476.6 million (Down by -14%)
- Meat: -$301.7 million (Up by 42.1%)
- Paper, paper items: -$236.4 million (Down by -17.3%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$232.2 million (Reversing a $299.3 million surplus)
Bulgaria has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related goods, notably crude oil, petroleum gas and coal.
Bulgarian Export Companies
Not one Bulgarian corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists companies from Bulgaria including international trade players. Selected examples are shown below.
- Armimex (weapons, ammunition)
- Astika Brewery (beer)
- Bulgartabac (cigarettes)
- Chimimport (chemicals)
- Kremikovtzi AD (cast iron, steel)
- LUKOIL Neftochim Burgas (petrochemical products)
- Maxeurope (bicycles, childcare products)
- Navibulgar (shipping company)
- Sofia Mel (bread)
- Vitta Foods (frozen pastry products)
In macroeconomic terms, Bulgaria’s total exported goods represent 19.4% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($164.1 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 19.4% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 19.5% for 2019. This suggests a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Bulgaria’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Bulgaria’s unemployment rate was 6.9% in February 2021, up from 6.7% one year earlier according to Trading Economics.
Bulgaria’s capital city is Sofia.
See also Bulgaria’s Top Trading Partners and Top EU Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Europe: Bulgaria. Accessed on April 2, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 2, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on April 2, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 2, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 2, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 2, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on April 2, 2021
Wikipedia, Bulgaria. Accessed on April 2, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Bulgaria. Accessed on April 2, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on April 2, 2021