Government takes new tobacco bill under revise

Government takes new tobacco bill under revise

TIRANA, March 21- On February 2019 the Ministry of Health proposed a new bill regarding tobacco consumption. The new bill demands that apart from the specific tobacco shops, all the rest of grocery shops, markets, or cafes/clubs, must request the

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Decreased exports raise the trade deficit

Decreased exports raise the trade deficit

TIRANA, March 21- During the first three months of 2019 the trade exports have marked a negative performance when comparing to the same period in 2018, when the exports doubled. This decrease in trade reflects a difficult situation for the

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How Albanians are invading Europe with asylum-seekers

How Albanians are invading Europe with asylum-seekers

TIRANA, March 19- On our last issue we wrote an article regarding data from Eurostat on the number of first-time asylum seekers in Europe for 2018, Albanians amounted to 19 thousand first time applicants. Using the data provided by the

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Apartments in Tirana are the most expensive in the region

Apartments in Tirana are the most expensive in the region

TIRANA, March 18- The luxury apartments in Tirana are reaching peak prices around the center areas as more luxurious construction sites are under development. The prices are quickly increasing and are reaching a price level at 4000 euros per square

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Economy in Brief

Economy in Brief

17 percent of loans are informal The Bank of Albania conducted a survey during the first half of 2018 with 1200 Albanian families regarding loans. The data gathered showed that 17 percent of the debts families have borrowed are through

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Italy to join China’s “One Belt, One Road”

Italy to join China’s “One Belt, One Road”

TIRANA, March 20- President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping will be visiting Rome on March 21, Voice of America reports. The purpose of the visitation is a discussion and an expectation of Italy to join the Chinese

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UK invests 10 million pounds on the future’s jobs in Balkans

UK invests 10 million pounds on the future’s jobs in Balkans

TIRANA, March 13- In the framework of the 30th birthday of the internet, the British Council has designed a three years education program to launch five Balkan countries. The program titled 21st Century Schools seeks to provide pupils aged 10-15

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EU agency in collaboration with Albania over drug monitoring

EU agency in collaboration with Albania over drug monitoring

TIRANA, March 14- The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Albania signed a Working Arrangement in Vienna on March 13, which will allow more active collaboration in monitoring the drug phenomenon in the future. The agreement

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Following the money: where is the construction boom being financed from?

Following the money: where is the construction boom being financed from?

TIRANA, March 11- Tirana is already experiencing a construction boom, and is expected to suffer more construction sites this 2019. For 2018 are given 388 permissions with a construction area of 940 thousand square meters. According to the Albanian Institute

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Eurostat releases 2018 asylum seekers data

Eurostat releases 2018 asylum seekers data

TIRANA, March 14- Following relevancy from last issue’s story on Albania’s comprising the second biggest group of emigrants to receive a EU passport in 2017, the European Institute of Statistics, Eurostat, released new data on the numbers of first-time asylum

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 21- On February 2019 the Ministry of Health proposed a new bill regarding tobacco consumption. The new bill demands that apart from the specific tobacco shops, all the rest of grocery shops, markets, or cafes/clubs, must request the issuing of a special license to sell tobacco products.

The aim of this bill in the changing of the law “for the health protection from tobacco products” is the limitation of selling spots in the country for these products. The changes foresee and prevent the sales of cigarette packs with 10 or less cigarettes, but also rolling tobacco with added flavors. 

There are currently 20 thousand formal sales spots all over the country that sell tobacco products. There is a “black market” however, the informal market of street vendors, which occupies a 40 percent. Market operators claim that if this law will be implemented, then there is a risk of informality. Cheaper prices might be offered due to tax absences, and there would also be an increase in uncontrolled products entering the market. Another issue would be a trade monopoly.

Considering that small businesses and importing companies generate a lot of profits from tobacco sales, complaints and lobbying has backed the Health Ministry down by taking the bill under scrutiny. In press releases the Ministry said that the bill will be revised, especially the chapter that requires businesses to get a special license for tobacco products.

The Ministry stressed that this proposal only assures the health protection of citizens and enforcing the monitoring role of the accountable Health Inspectorate. According to the State Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) however, the tobacco consumption has been overall reduced. In 2008 43 percent of Albanian men aged 15-49 years old smoked cigarettes, whereas in 2018 that number was reduced to 35 percent. For the same period the tobacco consumption had only increased by 1 percent in women in the same age group. 

According to INSTAT the overall number of smokers in the country was reduced by 7 percent in the past decade. This was enforced somehow by measures taken by the government, such as forbidding smoking in collective and closed areas, like restaurants, cafes, clubs, etc.. Another effect might have been caused by the increase in the excise tax which caused an increase in the final product prices. 

The Ministry of Health mentioned that the general changes in the bill are grouped into six points in the relation accompanying the bill, underlining that at least six adjustments. First of all clarifying the definitions of tobacco and its by-products, and including in this category new tobacco products. This aims to include in the regulatory framework any tobacco product or by-product that is harmful to the health of the population. Also through these specifications it is aimed the strengthening of tobacco control and avoiding abusive cases.

Secondly, the producers and /or importers of tobacco products are obliged to inform the Ministry of Health and Social Protection about the entry of new tobacco products in the market, which aims to keep the relevant bodies informed about the dynamics of these new products, their characteristics, and the negative effects they have on the population. Having this information is expected to enable better monitoring of law enforcement and its future adaptation based on new products entering the country.

Thirdly, prohibiting the selling of packs with reduced cigarettes or with altered tastes is expected to reduce the purchase of these products from consumers who can not afford a full package price, or consumers for whom the characteristic taste of tobacco is an unsatisfactory element in smoking and in the absence of alternative tastes would choose to not consume the conventional product.

Fourthly, prohibiting the indirect promotion through the logo colors of tobacco products and their placement on visible shelves, is done in the context of strengthening the control of preventing the promotion and marketing of tobacco products as a stimulating factor for its use in the population.

Fifthly, banning the use of electronic cigarettes and heating tobacco in closed spaces by applying the same rules as for conventional forms of smoking which aims the protection against unwanted exposure to tobacco products. And sixth of all, the enforcement of punitive measures in case of legal violations, aims to strengthen the law implementation and increase the protection of citizens exposed to tobacco smoke, either from conventional products or from innovative products.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 21- During the first three months of 2019 the trade exports have marked a negative performance when comparing to the same period in 2018, when the exports doubled. This decrease in trade reflects a difficult situation for the Albanian enterprises. 

According to the Albanian State Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) for period Jan.-March the exports amounted to 44.4 billion lek (354.7 million euros), experiencing a decrease by 6.3 percent comparing to the same period in 2018. The trade imports increased by 1.1 percent, reaching a value of 92 billion lek (734.7 million euros). The trade deficit reached the value of 47 billion lek (375.3 million euros), increasing by 9.1 percent from the last year. 

The three main trading groups that amount 75 percent of the whole exports, “textile and footwear,” “minerals, fuels, and electricity,” and “construction materials and metals,” have marked a negative progress. The exports for group “textile and footwear” reached a 20 billion lek (159.7 million euros), experiencing a 2.2 percent dropping from last year. Exporters have repeatedly claimed over the past year that they were negatively affected by the depreciation of the euro and had pessimistic expectations for this year, as they were failing to finalise contracts with their foreign partners. This group occupies the main share of exports by 45 percent of the total. 

Administrator of company Albanian Trikot Gjergj Leqejza, judges that if measures won’t be taken then the future of the sector remains gloomy. The reason is that even if the euro currency exchange is determined by the market, the businesses are experiencing monetary damages as they work 100 percent on euro, whereas the payments are done in lek. Thus the euro dropping is reflected as a net loss, as the companies also pay the same for energy, salaries, and taxes. 

The exports in “minerals, fuels, and energy” have marked a strong drop of 18.5 percent, amounting to 6.5 billion lek (51.8 million euros). This group holds 14.6 percent of the whole of exports. The main impact came from the decreasing of the electric energy exports. On the drop weer also the exports from Bankers Petroleum which is the largest fuel company in the country, experiencing a 23 percent drop towards Spain, which is the main trade partner. Official sources from the company admitted that the amount exported for the aforementioned period has been the same, overall 97 thousand tons of fuels, but it was negatively affected as the prices have dropped by 10 dollars per barrel. 

The sales of “construction materials and metals” have experienced a shrinking of 25 percent, amounting to 6.4 billion lek (51 million euros). The main impact was given by the decreased exports of Kurum. Last year their sales significantly increased, especially with Kosovo, managing to get out of its filed bankruptcy after a restructuring. Official sources from Kurum said that the reasons of the decreased exports are due to the cold winter, as during half of February there was a stock shortage since the company is investing in capacity building. This group amounts to 14.5 percent of the exports total. 

Groups that experienced an increase in exports where “food, beverages, tobacco” by 17.7 percent, “machinery, equipment and spare parts” by 8.9 percent, and “wood and paper manufacturing” with 4.7 percent. As part of the whole of exports, the weight of this group still remains slow. 

 

Trade increase with Kosovo

Data from INSTAT show that for February 2019 the countries with which Albania experienced a boost in exports, when comparing to the same month from 2018, were Kosovo with 61.2 percent, Germany with 7.2 percent, and Greece with 2.3 percent. With Italy, Albania experienced a 4.1 percent decrease in exports, with Spain a 22.9 percent decrease, and a 16.1 percent decrease with the USA. 

Comparing with last, during the first two months of 2019, Albania had a 18.7 percent increase of total exports with Kosovo, a 3.4 percent increase with Northern Macedonia, and 142.9 percent increase with Turkey. The greatest decreased exports were experienced with Italy by 3.2 percent dropping, 3 percent dropping with Germany, and a 12.6 percent dropping with Greece. 

In terms of imports in February 2019 comparing to last year, Albania had increased imports by 21.1 percent with Turkey, 12.7 percent with China, and 8.2 percent with Germany. Whereas a decreased import was experienced by 5.6 percent with Italy, 1.8 percent decrease with Greece, and 10.1 percent with Russia.

In overall imports for the first two months of 2019 compared to last year, they increased by 16.2 percent with China, 5.7 percent with Turkey, and 16.3 percent with Russia. Albania experienced a 9.5 percent decrease in imports with Italy, a 1.7 percent decrease with Greece, and a 1.8 decrease with Germany. 

The trade exchanges with the EU countries amount to 67.3 percent of the whole tradings. In February 2019 the exports towards the EU countries were 80.1 percent of the overall exports Albania conducted, and the imports from these countries amount to 61.5 percent of the whole imports in the country. The main trading partners for Albania are Italy with 34.2 percent, Greece and Germany with 6.7 percent each, and Turkey with 6.1 percent. 

During the first two months of 2019 the trade exchanges with the EU countries were 66.3 percent of the whole tradings. The exports towards EU were 82 percent of the whole exports conducted in Jan.-Feb. 2019, and the imports amounted to 58.7 percent of the overall businesses. The main partners for this period were Italy with 34.5 percent, Greece with 6.9 percent, China with 6.7 percent, and Germany with 6.3 percent. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 19- On our last issue we wrote an article regarding data from Eurostat on the number of first-time asylum seekers in Europe for 2018, Albanians amounted to 19 thousand first time applicants. Using the data provided by the European statistics office, economic magazine Monitor has released a report comparing the movement flux of Albanians in the different EU country members. 

Most information accounts Germany as the number one country of preference for Albanians, and most asylum seekers from other countries. And that is true, yet data show that lately a significant number of applications for asylum are made in France. This is because the other countries have strengthened their acceptance policies, whereas France has made it relatively easier and offer higher chances to admitting applicants. 

For period 2009-2011 in total the number of first-time Albanian asylum applicants was 178,515. This lists Albania as the country in Europe per its high number of asylum seekers according to Eurostat, especially regarding the population ratio. The record was achieved in 2015 with 69 thousand applications, reduced to 33 thousand applications in 2016, and a 26 thousand applied for asylum in 2017. In relation to its population Albania is the first country in the world with the highest number of asylum seekers in EU, surpassing even people escaping countries subsumed in conflicts. According to the Albanian State Institute of Statistics (INSTAT), as of January 2019 the population in Albania was 2,862,427 inhabitants. 

Data from Eurostat show that since 2009 the three main countries preferred by Albanian asylum-seekers were Germany, France, and the UK. The highest movement flux has primarily been towards Germany which has received 84 thousand applications from Albanians since 2009, or 47 percent of the whole number of applications in the last decade. The greatest number of applications was in 2015 with 54,760 asylum requests. 

Later though, Germany imposed strong criteria for those seeking economic asylum favoring mostly refugees from conflictual countries. Thus, in 2018 it received only 1875 applications from Albanian asylum seekers. Nevertheless Germany has followed mitigating policies for qualified individuals, starting first with medical experts, and now seeking graduates in Information Technologies and Computer Science.

France has accepted 41 thousand Albanian asylum applicants since 2009, or 23 percent of the entire number of applicants in the past decade. France is listed the second after Germany from the number of asylum seekers. The applications has significantly increased in the last years, making thus this country as a preferred destination for asylum seekers due its favorable policies, especially to families with young children. 

Comparing to the aforementioned countries, the United Kingdom has accepted only 8 percent of the entire number of applicants since 2009, or 13600 Albanians. Greece is listed fourth, which since 2009 has accepted 9500 applications, followed by Sweden which has accepted only 9245 Albanian applicants. A noticeable increase has been on the Benelux countries. More than 10 thousand Albanian asylum seekers have applied in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg together. 

When comparing to the other EU countries, Italy has only 2 percent of the entire number of applications by Albanian asylum seekers. Yet, the Albanian community in Italy is the second biggest, which makes it easier for Albanians to find shelter and jobs. In the Scandinavian countries the number of applications didn’t surpass 2500.

The data from Eurostat however, show that regardless of the high numbers of applications, the decisions for Albanian asylum seekers very low. No more than 1000 applications a year are accepted. This comes because Albania is considered a safe place and its asylum applicants aren’t seen as a priority. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 18- The luxury apartments in Tirana are reaching peak prices around the center areas as more luxurious construction sites are under development. The prices are quickly increasing and are reaching a price level at 4000 euros per square meter in the main areas. This price is the most expensive in the entire Balkans region.

Belgrade was previously the most expensive capital in the Balkans region, selling its premium apartments at a price of 3000 euros per square meter. Then comes Podgorica at a maximum price of 2200 euros per square meter, and then Skopje with maximum at 1800 euros per square meter. Pristina is also one of the expensive capitals in the region, with prices varying from 1100 to 2500 euros per square meter. 

According to Colliers International Albania which operates in real estate, considering a regular building progress the total area in the main sections of Tirana foreseen to be under construction in the next five years will be 538 thousand square meters. The apartment prices in these blocks is expected to start at a minimum of 2000 euros per square meter. For instance at the residence near the presidency which is under development the prices are reaching 4000 euros per square meter.

“It is being built disregarding any market logic. The investments are directed towards locations disregarding the developmental potentials, because it is perceived that the risk will be zero if the location is primary,” said Stela Dhami, managing partner to Colliers International Albania. 

Dhami said that she foresees that within two years a bubble will be created as it is being built without any criteria or a concept for the logical market development. The same thing is also said by Arben Dervishi who is chief of the Tirana Builders Association. Dervishi said that in Albania it is still being built in an empirical manner and without any proper research on the real estate market in our country.

According to Albanian Construction Portal in Tirana alone are under development 227 construction projects, where the majority are residential building and a small fraction is concerned with public infrastructure. Builder Hajredin Fratari said that market demands a number of 1000 to 1500 apartments for sale a year, that can be easily provided by two-to-three aforementioned projects. Only at the Great Ring area there are around 150 premium apartments available for sale.

The capital has fluctuating prices with 500-600 euros per square meter in the suburbs to 3000 euros per square meter in the center. After a stagnation the prices experienced a quick rise at 10-30 percent due to higher infrastructure and other taxes, and from the increased offer. Operators have also claimed that there has been an increase in cash buyings. 

According to Numbeo Tirana is the tenth most expensive city in Europe in property prices when considering the affordability index. The large projects will hit the market with a minimal price of 2500 euros per square meter, except from the Rruga e Kosovareve where the prices average from 1500-2200 euros. This offer is in a totally opposite direction from what the market requires and the real capacity of the Albanian economy. According to calculations from Colliers the prices are senseless because the rental yield is much lower than the real sales price. A rental yield is the return a property investor is likely to achieve on a property through rent.

It is interesting to note how Tirana remains between two contrasts as residential prices in the suburbs are of the cheapest in the region, whereas in the main areas are of the most expensive. The second case is estranging as the income per capita for Albanians still remains one of the lowest in Europe, standing at only 30 percent of the European mean. Bosnia-Herzegovina is at 32 percent, Montenegro is at 46 percent, and Serbia with Northern Macedonia have a 36 percent income level in ratio to the European mean.

 

Region prices are dropping

The apartment prices in the region have been recently experiencing a dropping when comparing to Albania. According to Global Property Guide in Montenegro the prices are decreasing because the Russian buyers are leaving. According to the Montenegrin Statistics Office the apartment prices dropped by 5 percent during the second quarter of 2018, adapted to the inflation levels in the country. The Russian owners are selling their vacation homes as also their has dropped significantly. 

According to Colliers Montenegro the most expensive city in the country is Bar with an average price of 1461 euros per square meter during the second quarter of 2018. Bar surpassed even Budva, which has an average price of 1258 euros per square meter for residential properties, followed by Podgorica with 1116 euros per square meter, and Niksic with 550 euros per square meter. 

The monitoring agency of the apartment prices in Serbia, the National Corporation for Mortgage Insurance (NKOSK) has noticed that apart from Belgrade the price tendency is on the fall. The end of June 2018 recorded an average price of 878 euros per square meter for residential properties in Serbia. In Belgrade the prices also vary per area. At the municipality of Barajevo in Belgrade the average price is 389 euros per square meter, whereas at the municipality of Savski Venac the price averages 1705 euros. For the most attractive areas of Belgrade in its center, the luxurious apartments cost between 2000 and 3000 euros per square meter.

Skopje remains the cheapest in the region. According to Global Property Guide the average apartment prices in Skopje are between 900 and 1200 euros per square meter. In other areas the prices are 23 percent lower than the national average which amounts to 800 euros per square meter. 

 

The Bank of Albania

The Bank of Albania has a published a series of work objectives concerned with improving the supervision of  the quality of loans granted for real estate. The objectives will develop instruments for risky sectors, including the loaning for the constructing or buying of real estate properties. 

This plan will start its implementation in 2020 and will evolve in two years. The Bank aims to strengthen the monitoring of risks that the banking sector experiences from the real economy. By the end of this year the list of early risk factors is expected to be finalized. 

The Bank of Albania wants to replenish the frame of data reporting procedures so it can enable the estimation and implementation of certain instruments as the loan value, the collateral value, the loan and/or income service value. A focus is centered on the establishing models that evaluate the option of risk expansion among the banking and non-banking financial institutions. For this purpose, the BoA refers a collaboration between international financial institutions or other specialized units in providing professional technical assistance. 

In the past three years the banks have been careful in granting loans for the construction sector. The BoA reports that as of January 2019 the loan stock for this sector amounted to 47 billion lek (374 million euros). In 2016 this stock was 48.4 billion lek (385 million euros). Loans granted to this sector amount to 15 percent of the whole credit provided for the country’s enterprises.

Bankers also admitted that banks have backed down from crediting because the banking system is in a process of restructuring regarding sales and purchases. The banks are mainly crediting already existing clients that hold good CVs, that have successfully passed two or three projects, that have nice locations, or that diversified their activities as well. Meanwhile a boom of construction has subsumed the capital, with the apartment prices continuously increasing. 

According to official data from the Albanian State Institute of Statistics (INSTAT), in 2018 alone are given 388 construction permissions comprising an area of 940 thousand square meters. Comparing to 2017 this is an 80 percent increase. And experts are fearful of this flux when in front of a weak purchasing power which might risk the creation of a bubble. 

The banks have been quite set-back in financing construction projects during 2018 and have shown lack of enthusiasm regarding entrepreneurs rushing after this sector. According to data provided by the Bank of Albania the loans given in the sector of construction for 2018 amounted to 25 billion leks, or about 200 million euros, having decreased by 7 percent comparing to 2017. The bankers have admitted that most of the loans given in the construction sector are financing infrastructure projects, and only 20-25 percent are for residential projects in Tirana.  

Construction is seen as risky sector due to its past problematic history. According to data from the Bank of Albania, until the end of 2015, the loans given to constructing companies which weren’t returned upon to scheduled date was 38.1 percent of the total. Even though the weight of the problematic loans has decreased due to clearing, the banks still have been guarded and careful towards granting new crediting.
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                    [post_content] => 17 percent of loans are informal

The Bank of Albania conducted a survey during the first half of 2018 with 1200 Albanian families regarding loans. The data gathered showed that 17 percent of the debts families have borrowed are through informal ways, amounting to a 250 million euros. The data also showed that 9.5 percent of the businesses who are under debt, have borrowed it through informal ways. This usury was also pointed out after 12 persons implicated in this business were arrested on March 14 in Shkoder. 

 

Albania has the lowest salaries and productivity on region

The International Monetary Fund reported that Albania has the lowest wages in the region with an average pay of 340 euros, when Macedonia is approaching 600 euros and Bosnia over 700. What was noted was a difference between wages which encourages the high level of inequality. This low wages and production come from lack of economic growth the Western Balkan countries are experiencing after the 2018 crisis. 

 

122 institution directors to be criminally prosecuted

The State Supreme Audit Institution is requesting the criminal prosecution of 122 institution chiefs due to a 213 billion lek (1.7 billion euros) economic damage for 2018. This damage comes from mismanagement of state property, corruption with concessions and in the Customs, and lack of productivity from the public administration, especially in the State Tax Agency, which held the first place of economic damage with 13.2 billion lek (105 million euros). 

 

Albania and Montenegro receive the least funds from EU

Albania is one of the signed countries in Horizon 2020, the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme that promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market. The program offers funding for seven years along with private investments. Research and innovation development is one of the EU accession conditions that Albania and other candidate countries have to fulfill, however, Albania so far has received only a 0.01 percent of the 80 billion euros budget provided for the program, whereas Montenegro has received a 0 percent investment. 

 

Albania is experiencing population aging

Data from the Albanian State Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) show that Albania will have a median age of 41.1 years old by 2031. The current median age is 35.4, whereas in Europe is 42 years old, making the oldest continent in the world. INSTAT claims that this phenomenon also impacts an increase in the elderly dependency ratio (65+ years old), reaching a 35 elder persons per 100 persons in working age. The youth dependency ratio (0-14 years old) will remain stable with 25 young persons in 100 people in working age. 

 

45 percent of employers are uneducated

A World Bank study shows that 45 percent of people employed in Albania have a minimal middle school education. The regional median is 22 percent. The majority are women, and the labor force in Albania has more women with middle-school education than university graduates. This also impacted Albania to provide more jobs for people with this level of education for the past year, rather than for those with higher education. 

 

The strategy for financial management changes

The Ministry of Finances has revised the strategy for public management including the PPPs due to the negative impact these contracts have on the country's fiscal stability. International Financial Institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will assist the Albanian government until 2022 on a series of new laws and regulations aimed at reducing public debt, reducing arrears and keeping fiscal risks under control. A new chapter has been added to the strategy, which aims to keep Public-Private Partnership concession contracts under control.

 

Albanians are getting poorer

The net financial wealth of Albanian households in relation to GDP has been decreasing since 2014. According to data from the Bank of Albania, the net financial wealth of Albanian households in 2014 was 113 percent of GDP, in 2017 it was only 100 percent of GDP. There was an annual 2 percent decrease in the household wealth. For households, financial assets substantially exceed liabilities, mainly due to the high level of investment in the form of deposits and investments in the form of equity participation in nonfinancial corporations.

 
                    [post_title] => Economy in Brief
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-20 15:27:41
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 20- President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping will be visiting Rome on March 21, Voice of America reports. The purpose of the visitation is a discussion and an expectation of Italy to join the Chinese project “One Belt, One Road.”

According to analysts during president Xi’s visitation, Italy is expected to sign a non-compulsory memorandum of understanding. This treaty will open the pathway to construction and financing projects from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) centers in Beijing.

“The memorandum is percepted more as a way to ensure more exports in China and more opportunities to get funds from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” said Alessia Amighini, co-chief of Center for Asia in ISPI, a research group based in Rome.

Rome is thus trying to reduce the trade deficit with China and avoid some major expenses by attracting Chinese investments as also the AIIB in grand infrastructural projects. The agreement will also give a better approach to Chinese companies in the overloaded seaport of Trieste, and thus to the entire Mediterranean region. According to Italian sources, Rome is considering the option to invite Chinese companies to expand or menage three other Italian marinas, that of Genova, Palermo, and Ravenna.

“Italy is thirsty to attract investments, to improve her competitive position in relation to other northern European corridors and ports,” said Amighini.

Analysts claim that China is obviously exploiting the competition within the Eurozone and is trying to take away an important member by offering a number of attractive conditions. The signing of the Memorandum of understanding would amount to a major political success for China in a time when concerns and criticism surround its infrastructure plan.

The United States are critical towards this billion dollar project and have warned of its risk to a “debt-trap diplomacy,” which is a type of diplomacy based on debt carried out in the bilateral relations between countries. The countries of EU are concerned that this plan can increase the disruptions to an already tense coalition, and Italy is one of the founding member of the EU. Thus, it can open Beijing some doors to Eurozone. 

So far, the largest road infrastructure projects have been linked to countries with considerable financial difficulties, such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, and Greece. With Italy’s decision to join this plan, China will work with a country that the fear for a debt-trap is small. However, the decision can challenge Europe’s connecting infrastructure strategy, a plan published in September 2018 which aims the connection within Europe and Asia by echoing the stability standards and practices based on rules. 

Analysts are waiting to understand whether president Xi will offer Italy a modified project in accordance to the European standards. These standards however, would strip China from its ability to lower costs and reduce its competitive advantage.

“I don’t expect China to display more flexibility. In any case, I don’t the financing conditions as a realistic matter in Europe,” said Amighini.

 

Europe’s disruption

Teresa Coratella who serves as program manager at the European Council of Foreign Affairs in Rome said that this step that the Italian authorities are undertaking, has the potential to create disruptions within the European Union in a time when the block is working on mutual approach towards the Chinese investments.

Both the US and France have expressed a dissatisfaction on this move Rome is taking, as German officials are said to be lobbying against the memorandum of understanding. Italy is the only country from G7 that is joining the “One Belt, One Road.” G7 is a group of seven countries,  Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which are the seven largest advanced economies in the world, representing 58 percent of the world’s GDP. 

“Italy is a major global economy and great investment destination. No need for Italian government to lend legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project,” tweeted Garrett Marquis, the US National Security Council spokesman. 

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed discontent on Rome’s decision and has called out to all European Union members for a “coordinated approach” towards China’s plans. Zhiqun Zhu who is the Chair of Department of International Relations  at the Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, said that the United States are overreacting to the idea of a Chinese threat in all matters, the infrastructure plan included.

“Italy and other countries should take their own decisions instead of being forced to choose over USA or China,’’ said Zhu.

The “One Belt, One Road” initiative  is a development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Africa. "Belt" refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation, called "the Silk Road Economic Belt"; whereas "road" refers to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The Chinese government calls the initiative “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future,” but some observers see it as a push for Chinese dominance in global affairs with a China-centered trading network.

 
                    [post_title] => Italy to join China’s “One Belt, One Road”
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-18 14:06:20
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 13- In the framework of the 30th birthday of the internet, the British Council has designed a three years education program to launch five Balkan countries. The program titled 21st Century Schools seeks to provide pupils aged 10-15 years old with the skills of critical thinking, problem solving and coding. The aim of this program is to grow a future generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, and built job opportunities for them. The project costs 10 million pounds and is being invested by the British government. 

21st Century Schools will mentor and offer valuable sources to uplift the capacities of school headmasters and policymakers. The program seeks to equip all Balkans’ middle schools and 1 million pupils with micro:bit computers which will help kids learn new digital skills and coding in a fun and interactive way. Micro:bit is programmable micro computer, which portable and can be used to design modern tools and objects, like robots and even musical instruments. This tiny computer can help kids think step by step and separate commands in sequences.

British Council (5)

The program is also launched in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. In Albania the program was launched at “Niket Dardani” middle school. As the Albanian society is facing the fruits and challenges of technological innovation, this educative program seeks to prepare its pupils with the mindset and skills needed for the jobs of the future. In our country this program involves 1200 schools, more than 4000 teachers, and around 120 thousand pupils aged 10-15. 

This program comes in collaboration with the corresponding educational institutions per country. In the PISA test 2015, the Balkan countries have significantly performed under the mean of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in the subjects of mathematics, science and and reading. The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test is a worldwide study by the OECD, and aims to test literacy, the competence of students in three fields: reading, mathematics, science on an indefinite scale. The PISA asks students to apply their knowledge in solving problems set in real-world contexts.

According to OECD’s results, 78 percent of pupils in Kosovo, 70 percent in FYROM, 53 percent in Albania, and 52 percent in Montenegro, lacked basic skills in mathematics when comparing to the OECD’s mean of 30 percent. This result implies a lacking in practical problem-solving skills. And this weak education capacity and its noncompliance to the market needs are the of the main reasons of the high unemployment levels in these countries. 

Data from the World Bank issued in 2018 show that the average unemployment rate in the western Balkan countries is 31.5 percent, which is one of the highest in Europe. This problem is causing region emigration which on its behalf is caused by the worsening of economic conditions and lack of proper jobs, especially for the employees with secondary and primary skills. 

And in Albania the education sector is one of the least financed one, with only 3 percent of the country’s GDP invested. Thus, the pupils are facing an uncertain future, as there is a gap between the skills they acquire from school and the employers’ demands in the job market. However, as there is a high unemployment rate among youth in the Balkans, the technological and digital sectors have job vacancies. Research conducted shows that the future is IT, with primary work of Data Scientists and Analysts, Software and App Developers, Big Data Specialists, New Tech Specialists, etc.. 

Thus it is fair that children start learning relevant skills at a younger age with an opportunity to practice them in cross-curriculum projects and programing. Thus the 21st Century Schools seeks to improve the education system in the Balkans by providing equipment, and traineeships for coaches,  school leaders and teachers, making possible the convergence of contemporary teaching methods for 1 million pupils, with a main focus in critical thinking, coding and problem-solving. 

British Council (2)
                    [post_title] => UK invests 10 million pounds on the future’s jobs in Balkans
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-18 10:59:03
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 14- The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Albania signed a Working Arrangement in Vienna on March 13, which will allow more active collaboration in monitoring the drug phenomenon in the future. The agreement was signed by EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel, and by the Albanian Deputy Minister of the Interior Besfort Lamallari and Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection Mira Rakacolli. 

The signing ceremony was made in the presence of Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner responsible for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, and took place at the Delegation for the European Union to the International Organizations in Vienna hoster by EU ambassador Didier Lenoir.

The Working Arrangement originates in a request from the Albanian Ministry of the Interior to the EMCDDA Director in 2017 and follows the seal of approval of the European Commission and EMCDDA Management Board. While the agency has signed similar agreements with other third countries, this is the first request of its kind from the Western Balkans. The new agreement provides for the exchange of expertise between the entities concerned and will contribute to developing drug data-collection and reporting capacity in the country.

The EMCDDA began its cooperation with Albania in 2007 in the framework of EU-funded technical assistance projects designed to prepare Western Balkan countries for accession to the EU. The EMCDDA and Albania are currently working together to consolidate Albania’s capacity to monitor the drug phenomenon through the use of evidence-based tools and knowledge built and promoted within the EU and for participating in the work of the EMCDDA and its Reitox network. They also exchange data on new psychoactive substances as well as expertise on establishing a national early-warning system.

The Reitox network is the European information network on drugs and drug addiction created at the same time as the EMCDDA. Members of the Reitox network are designated national institutions or agencies responsible for data collection and reporting on drugs and drug addiction. These institutions are called “national focal points” or “national drug observatories.”

While no formal national drug observatory has yet been established in Albania, along the lines of a Reitox national focal point, the EMCDDA has developed close working relations with the Ministry of the Interior and with the Institute of Public Health of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection. This cooperation led to the financing of the first national general population survey on drugs in Albania in 2014 as well as the production of a Country Drug Report for Albania in 2017 following EMCDDA guidelines.

Albania is one of six candidate and potential candidate countries to the EU currently receiving assistance under the EMCDDA IPA 6 project (Albania, Bosnia–Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia), which kicked off in July 2017 and will run until June 2019.
                    [post_title] => EU agency in collaboration with Albania over drug monitoring
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-17 13:21:58
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 11- Tirana is already experiencing a construction boom, and is expected to suffer more construction sites this 2019. For 2018 are given 388 permissions with a construction area of 940 thousand square meters. According to the Albanian Institute of Statistics (INSTAT), comparing to 2017 the permissions given on 2018 increased by 80 percent. 

All this area requires a minimal investment of 350 million euros. This amount is calculated in two ways, the first is by considering that the constructing cost amounts to 350-400 euro per square meter, and secondly by the expectations the Municipality of Tirana has regarding tax collections. The municipality foresees to collect 3.2-4 billion Albanian leks worth of taxes until 2021, which corresponds to about 350-400 million euros a year worth of investments in the sector of construction for the capital alone. 

According to Colliers International in Albania the total area foreseen to be constructed within five years will be 538 thousand square meters, with  the center of the capital as the most heavily compressed area. 22 construction projects are underway around the main areas of Tirana which are expected to finish within three years. Sales prices for apartments are expected to vary from 2000-2500 euros per square meter, whereas the prices for offices will cost buyers 2500-5000 euros per square meter.  

According to data from the Structural Survey gathered by the Albanian Institute of Statistics, INSTAT, the Albanian economy declares annual profits amounting to 1.2 billion euros. The construction sectors contributes with about 188 million euros a year to the state’s profits. So how could Albania’s economy generate liquidities to support such large residential projects? Or more simply put, where is all the money invested in construction coming from?

This article is based on a detailed report conducted by Ornela Liperi for the Albanian economic magazine Monitor, and also other articles and reports to try to bring a fuller picture of the situation. The report starts by analysing the major construction companies which are enlisted among the 200 main enterprises in Albania considering annual turnover, that have enough resources to be involved in vast projects which justify the ending cost. The companies are Kastrati sh. a., Alb-Star, GENER 2, Alb-Building, and Balfin Group. 

Kastrati sh. a. has as main activity the trading of fuels, but lately has been involved in construction as well. This company has short-term assets that can generate up to 90 million euros worth of liquidities, and an annual profit of 16 million euros. Its ratio between liabilities and capital is one to one. 

Gener 2 which has under construction many residential projects in the capital, has short-term assets worthing 40 million euros, and a profit of 2 million euros a year. Other companies, like Fusha for example, have a minimal balance sheet. Fusha is the company which allegedly won a fictive tender for the construction of the new theatre building project and two towers nearby. The total short-term assets of the company amount to 14 million euros and its long-term ones are minimal. For 2017 the company had a revenue of 10 million euros and post-taxes profit of 400 thousand euros. 

Other construction companies in general didn’t have more than 10-15 million euros worth of short-term assets. For example Inerte Express had an annual income of 6 million euros for 2017 and a 2.3 million euros short-term assets. Lately this company has officially introduced a 60 million euros project. 

What has been noticed lately is that this construction boom is followed by an emerging of unknown construction companies. According to official data, these companies have had minimal to zero declared income. As projects undertaken by these companies have been performed with fast rhythms, it is unsure where the funds for them are coming from because banks don’t finance companies that have no sort of history. So how can construction companies with such low income manage to push projects worth tens of millions euros? 

Oftentimes in construction projects the investor and the executive firm aren’t the same entities. Builder Hajredin Fratari said that it is difficult to identify who the investor of a construction project is. Another builder, Sokol Kika of Kika Construction which has been operating in Tirana since 1992, said that some of the risks this sector is facing are coming from newly-emerging companies which lack expertise in the field, and from companies that used to build but that are currently lacking in liquidities, although they have a constructing permission. 

 

Decreasing loans during 2018

The banks have been quite set-back in financing construction projects during 2018 and have shown lack of enthusiasm regarding entrepreneurs rushing after this sector. According to data from the Bank of Albania the loan stock for construction in January 2019 was 47 billion lek (377 million euros). In September 2016 the stock value was 48.4 billion lek (388 million euros). Loans for the construction sector amount to 15 percent of the total given credit to enterprises within the country.

According to data provided by the Bank of Albania the loans given in the sector of construction for 2018 amounted to 25 billion leks, or about 200 million euros. Comparing to 2017 the loan granting has decreased by 7 percent. The bankers have admitted that most of the loans given in the construction sector are financing infrastructure projects, and only 20-25 percent are for residential projects in Tirana. 

Bankers also admitted that banks have backed down from crediting because the banking system is in a process of restructuring regarding sales and purchases. The banks are mainly crediting already existing clients that hold good CVs, that have successfully passed two or three projects, that have nice locations, or that diversified their activities as well.

Construction is seen as risky sector due to its past problematic history. According to data from the Bank of Albania, until the end of 2015, the loans given to constructing companies which weren’t returned upon to scheduled date was 38.1 percent of the total. Even though the weight of the problematic loans has decreased due to clearing, the banks still have been guarded and careful towards granting new crediting.

Another issue apart risky loans is connected to the fact that banks prefer another type of collateral comparing to what financing requires, and little firms are able to ensure that type of collateral. However, the highest demand on financing from the constructing companies are for paying off the infrastructure taxes required by the Municipality. 

 

The scheme followed to finance construction

The bankers claim that there are invisible investors that fund large residential projects which are built rather quickly. This entering of funds is camouflaged through clearing (getting property by providing other unpaid labor or supplies for example), unreal assets sales, financing from partners or third party contracts. 

Construction is evaluated as a sector with a high profit rates as the building costs remain far lower than the price of sales. Builders explain that apartments with an average cost of 500 euros per meter square are sold with a minimum of 2000 euros per meter square. That is the reason why it is also attracting a wave of free money. Basically investors are “parking” their free money flow on these sites prior building, so they can acquire cheaper apartments than the final sales price.

On the other hand, the money is entering through the apartments purchasing in cash, this allowed by the informal system in our country. Constructors admit that the sales prices are declared much cheaper than their real value. For example, an apartment with a real price of 1500 euros per meter square is declared as having a value of 800 euros per meter square. This system of informality is done so that people can avoid transactions over 1 million lek (8000 euros) through the banks. However, this entire mass investing of the free money in the construction sector came after making gambling unlawful. 

 

The construction sector is unsupervised

The director of the Anti Money Laundering Agency Arlind Gjokuta said that the sector of construction has no regulating institutional body. He said that this sector vastly works with cash, adding that it is more than unusual that a construction company with no income to start executing a project. This happens because there is no supervising authority to conduct inspections to this sector. The ministries have a urban development department but these departments only supervise the licenses and tender documentation for constructing permissions, but don’t make more close inspection regarding fundings. 

“Whatever is an unjustified income first tax it, then if it has a criminal origin, confiscate it,” said Gjokuta.

He said that it is necessary to establish such an authority to supervise the sector and investigate the phenomenon. He added that the police, the prosecutor’s office and the taxation agency should be more collaborative, with the taxation agency having a graver role. The construction sector requires a groundwork regulation for the way it functions and the liquidity that enters the system.

The Taxation Agency has admitted that the construction is a risky sector regarding fulfilling their tax obligations. The agency has increased its attention towards this sector and will be collaborating with other law enforcement institutions in structuring a plan to tackle it. The plan will add more visits from tax agents to follow the construction progress and their lawful tax declarations; a full detailed control on the accuracy and validation of the finished and sold objects; assigning inspectors specific controls in the various parts amounting the sector. 

The most important parts where the inspectors will focus will be regarding the relationships and transactions made between the landowners where the construction site is happening with the investors and executing company; the work done as specified in the contracts signed; budget control and financial data with their origin regarding the funding of the construction project; a construction specialist will accompany the inspectors to provide more detailed information regarding the building materials to avoid evasion; the control of the sold objects using the market and reference area prices, along with the building costs and price-lists used in the analysis of each building unit.

Both construction and gambling have resulted risky and on the top lists of the Anti Money Laundering Agency. Gambling is already made unlawful by the government closing all sports betting houses and casinos starting as of January 2019. With construction though still remains a space where the institutions can work to fight informality and close the money-laundering loopholes. Gjokuta however, said that these two sectors are the most problematic worldwide. 

The Moneyval report on monitoring money laundering in Albania pointed out that the main mechanisms used for this unlawful phenomenon were gambling and real estate. Moneyval is a permanent monitoring body of the Council of Europe entrusted with the task of assessing compliance with the principal international standards to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism and the effectiveness of their implementation, as well as with the task of making recommendations to national authorities in respect of necessary improvements to their systems. 

The report writes that the gambling sector through the threat of criminal infiltration into ownership and activity, and the construction sector are seen as highly risky for money laundering. If the notary used to be considered as a delicate profession due to their involving with the real estate transactions, nowadays it is riskier to have transactions made without the involving of a notary and real estate agents. 

The report stresses that there is an inflow of income from criminal activities which is being invested in Albania in the real estate sector and trading companies. The high level of informality together with the vast usage of cash money, creates a risk of money laundering. The report adds that according to the Anti Money Laundering Agency, the real estate agents are included in only 8 percent of the whole transactions. However, to be noted is that their activity is on the rise.

 

How the apartment prices are increasing

The unwarranted booming of residential construction projects from the liquidities generated by the formal economy and loan-granting, is also followed by a considerable high sales prices. The sales prices are reaching a level of 4000 euros per square meter, which the Colliers International considers it as the most expensive in the entire region. Tirana is now the most expensive capital in the Balkans region, surpassing Belgrade which sells its premium apartments at 3000 euros per square meter. Third place comes Podgorica with a maximum price of 2200 euros per square meter, and in Skopje the apartments don’t go higher than 2000 euros per square meter. 

Managing partner to Colliers International in Albania Stela Dhami said that it is being built disregarding any market logic. The projects are being executed without considering a logical market development. She foresees that within two years there will most probably be created a bubble from all the unstandardized buildings.

“The investments are directed towards locations disregarding the developmental potentials, because it is perceived that the risk will be zero if the location is primary,” said Dhami. 

President of Balfin Group and entrepreneur in many various sectors Samir Mane, has withdrawn from construction projects in the capital. He has admitted that in Tirana is being built more than the norm, and if all the projects manage to be executed and finalized they will most probably have issues with sales. He said that banks have an innate recoiling in real estate financing. 

“If they are not supported by banks, a part of the business will either postpone the projects, or have difficulties finishing them, or will be transferred into other hands,” said Mane. 

Dhami has also admitted that from conversations with bankers they have told her that that banks see this sector as risky and are pretty conservative in granting loans. The credits are given credible companies that have diversified activities. The manner of construction is through clearing, whereas most of the money comes from abroad. 

The large projects will hit the market with a minimal price of 2500 euros per square meter, except from the Rruga e Kosovareve where the prices average from 1500-2200 euros. This offer is in a totally opposite direction from what the market requires and the real capacity of the Albanian economy. According to calculations from Colliers the prices are senseless because the rental yield is much lower than the real sales price. A rental yield is the return a property investor is likely to achieve on a property through rent. It is a percentage figure, calculated by taking the yearly rental income of a property and dividing it by the total amount that has been invested in that property.  Also the facts that people are emigrating and there is no economic boom in the country are two issues which add a sort of surprising twist into the whole construction roar. 

Real buyers usually demand to buy an apartment which comprises two bedrooms and a living room, with average prices between 700 to 1200 euros per square meter. Loans director to Union Bank Enkeleida Hasho said that the average loans for apartments given to individuals vary from 40-50 thousand euros. She said that the banks mainly receive applications for apartments on residential blocks that are sold with 700-800 euros per square meter. Bankers say that expensive apartments are bought with cash because banks rarely grant large loans for housing. They are given mainly to individuals that have fine jobs in international institutions and have secured income.

And in Albania the average salary for an employee was 50 thousand leks or 400 euros a month at the end of September 2018. According to the Albanian Institute of Statistics, INSTAT, comparing to 2017 the salaries have experienced a dropping of 1 percent. Thus considering the aforementioned pushed apartment prices, a family with average income would need a century to buy an apartment located in a good precinct which would cost 200 thousand euros for an area of 100 square meters. 

Data from Eurostat show that the income of Albanians in 2017 was only 30 percent of the European Union’s average. This value has remained the same since 2014 indicating that the country hasn’t progressed much in the process of convergence. Convergence means experiencing a faster growth than the developed EU countries so their standard can be caught on. Eurostat writes that Albania has the lowest income per capita in the region. Bosnia-Herzegovina has 32 percent of the EU median, Montenegro has 46 percent, and Serbia with Macedonia hold 36 percent. Also in the prectrum of the individual consumption per capita Albania results last with 39 percent of the European mean, Bosnia holds a 41 percent, Serbia 45 percent, Montenegro 56 percent, and Macedonia 41 percent.

A concerning issue are the pessimistic projections released by INSTAT which claim that if the population follows the same tendency, then Albania will have around 2 million citizens by 2061. Data from INSTAT show that Albania is already experiencing a population aging as the country is rapidly changing its structure in obstruction for youth and the pension age is increasing.  

INSTAT claims that as of January 2019 the population for groupages 0-24 years old fell with over 31 thousand persons comparing to 2018. Groupage 15-24 experienced the biggest drop in population number with over 17 thousand persons. The population rupture in this groupage is connected to mass emigration and the drastic drop in births. These changes in the population show that the age group of over 55 years old experienced an increase of 30 thousand persons this 2019 comparing to the previous year.

This tendency is expected to give the biggest impacts in a mid-term future, by straining the pension scheme and lowering the work productivity, which in a chain reaction will negatively influence the incomes and purchasing power to a country, that it wouldn’t be surprising if by 2061 will have more offices and apartments than people.

 
                    [post_title] => Following the money: where is the construction boom being financed from?
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-17 11:53:52
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-17 10:53:52
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 14- Following relevancy from last issue’s story on Albania’s comprising the second biggest group of emigrants to receive a EU passport in 2017, the European Institute of Statistics, Eurostat, released new data on the numbers of first-time asylum seekers in EU for 2018, where Albanians were the ninth in the list with 19 thousand applicants.

Eurostat writes on its report that in 2018, 580,800 first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the Member States of the European Union, down by 11% compared with 2017 (654,600), and less than half of the number recorded in the peak year 2015 when 1,256,600 first-time asylum applicants were registered. The number of asylum applicants in 2018 is comparable to the level recorded in 2014, before the peaks of 2015 and 2016.

Syria was the main country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States in 2018, a position it has held each year since 2013. In 2018, the number of Syrian first-time asylum applicants in the EU were 81 thousand persons or 13.9 percent of the entire number of first-time applicants. They are followed by Afghanis accounted for 7.1 percent of the total number of first-timers at almost 41 thousand asylum applicants, and Iraqis comprising 6.8 percent, 39.5 thousand persons.

The main countries of destination were Germany, France, and Greece. Germany registered 28 percent of the whole of first-time asylum seekers, amounting to 162 thousand persons. France had 110 thousand applicants or 19 percent, followed then by Greece at 11 percent, or 65 thousand persons applying. 

Albanians comprised 3 percent of the whole of first-time asylum seekers in the EU countries. The number has decreased over the years, reaching a record number of 69 thousand asylum seekers in 2015. The number then dropped by half in 2016 to 33 thousand applicants, and then following a gradual decrease with 26 thousand Albanians applying for asylum in 2017, and now 19 thousand in 2018.

Albanian economic magazine has worked on some metadata regarding the number of applicants per population. According to the statistics Albania is still in the first place, as 6.6 persons in 1000 are leaving the country. They are followed by Georgians, with 4.6 in 1000, and Syrians at 4.4 per 1000 persons. This data show that Albanians surpass even the emigration of citizens from war-conflicted countries.

 
                    [post_title] => Eurostat releases 2018 asylum seekers data
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            [post_date] => 2019-03-25 13:16:49
            [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-25 12:16:49
            [post_content] => TIRANA, March 21- On February 2019 the Ministry of Health proposed a new bill regarding tobacco consumption. The new bill demands that apart from the specific tobacco shops, all the rest of grocery shops, markets, or cafes/clubs, must request the issuing of a special license to sell tobacco products.

The aim of this bill in the changing of the law “for the health protection from tobacco products” is the limitation of selling spots in the country for these products. The changes foresee and prevent the sales of cigarette packs with 10 or less cigarettes, but also rolling tobacco with added flavors. 

There are currently 20 thousand formal sales spots all over the country that sell tobacco products. There is a “black market” however, the informal market of street vendors, which occupies a 40 percent. Market operators claim that if this law will be implemented, then there is a risk of informality. Cheaper prices might be offered due to tax absences, and there would also be an increase in uncontrolled products entering the market. Another issue would be a trade monopoly.

Considering that small businesses and importing companies generate a lot of profits from tobacco sales, complaints and lobbying has backed the Health Ministry down by taking the bill under scrutiny. In press releases the Ministry said that the bill will be revised, especially the chapter that requires businesses to get a special license for tobacco products.

The Ministry stressed that this proposal only assures the health protection of citizens and enforcing the monitoring role of the accountable Health Inspectorate. According to the State Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) however, the tobacco consumption has been overall reduced. In 2008 43 percent of Albanian men aged 15-49 years old smoked cigarettes, whereas in 2018 that number was reduced to 35 percent. For the same period the tobacco consumption had only increased by 1 percent in women in the same age group. 

According to INSTAT the overall number of smokers in the country was reduced by 7 percent in the past decade. This was enforced somehow by measures taken by the government, such as forbidding smoking in collective and closed areas, like restaurants, cafes, clubs, etc.. Another effect might have been caused by the increase in the excise tax which caused an increase in the final product prices. 

The Ministry of Health mentioned that the general changes in the bill are grouped into six points in the relation accompanying the bill, underlining that at least six adjustments. First of all clarifying the definitions of tobacco and its by-products, and including in this category new tobacco products. This aims to include in the regulatory framework any tobacco product or by-product that is harmful to the health of the population. Also through these specifications it is aimed the strengthening of tobacco control and avoiding abusive cases.

Secondly, the producers and /or importers of tobacco products are obliged to inform the Ministry of Health and Social Protection about the entry of new tobacco products in the market, which aims to keep the relevant bodies informed about the dynamics of these new products, their characteristics, and the negative effects they have on the population. Having this information is expected to enable better monitoring of law enforcement and its future adaptation based on new products entering the country.

Thirdly, prohibiting the selling of packs with reduced cigarettes or with altered tastes is expected to reduce the purchase of these products from consumers who can not afford a full package price, or consumers for whom the characteristic taste of tobacco is an unsatisfactory element in smoking and in the absence of alternative tastes would choose to not consume the conventional product.

Fourthly, prohibiting the indirect promotion through the logo colors of tobacco products and their placement on visible shelves, is done in the context of strengthening the control of preventing the promotion and marketing of tobacco products as a stimulating factor for its use in the population.

Fifthly, banning the use of electronic cigarettes and heating tobacco in closed spaces by applying the same rules as for conventional forms of smoking which aims the protection against unwanted exposure to tobacco products. And sixth of all, the enforcement of punitive measures in case of legal violations, aims to strengthen the law implementation and increase the protection of citizens exposed to tobacco smoke, either from conventional products or from innovative products.

 
            [post_title] => Government takes new tobacco bill under revise
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