Cultivate medicinal plants instead of cannabis, minister tells farmers

Cultivate medicinal plants instead of cannabis, minister tells farmers

TIRANA, May 25 – Agriculture officials and experts have called on farmers to engage in traditional medicinal plants instead of the illegal cannabis cultivation, whose rapid spread in the past couple of years had had a negative effect on the

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Uncertainties over election result, tax policy likely to hold back new investment

Uncertainties over election result, tax policy likely to hold back new investment

 TIRANA, May 24 – Albania’s business climate got a real boost from the overcome of a tense political deadlock that undermined business and consumer confidence for several months, but uncertainties over the result of next June’s general elections until a

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EU urges Albania to overcome economic growth, competitiveness obstacles

EU urges Albania to overcome economic growth, competitiveness obstacles

TIRANA, May 24 – Few days after Albania overcame a three-month political deadlock ahead of the upcoming June general elections paving the way for fully participatory elections, the European Union has urged Albania, an EU candidate country aspiring to open

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Probe over abuse of dominant position launched into main three mobile operators

Probe over abuse of dominant position launched into main three mobile operators

TIRANA, May 23 – Albania’s Competition Authority has launched a probe into the country’s main three mobile operators over allegations of limited competition in a market operating under oligopoly conditions. Under a decision made this week, the competition watchdog decided

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Reference prices top importers’ concerns, study shows

Reference prices top importers’ concerns, study shows

TIRANA, May 22 – Reference prices, changes to the classification of goods, frequent physical inspections and inefficient communication are the key barriers importers and exporters in the country face with the country’s customs authorities, a report has unveiled. A key

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Albanian-led consortium gets 33-year Tirana bus terminal PPP

Albanian-led consortium gets 33-year Tirana bus terminal PPP

TIRANA, May 22 – An Albanian-led consortium will build and manage a bus terminal linking Tirana to northern and southern destinations under a public private partnership deal with the municipality of Tirana, the country’s biggest local government unit with about

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End of political deadlock sends positive signals to business community

End of political deadlock sends positive signals to business community

TIRANA, May 18 – The overcome of a three-month political deadlock that put an end to an apparent boycott by the main opposition Democratic Party and its allies to the upcoming general elections is expected to have positive impacts on

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Savers withdraw €115 mln to invest in more profitable investment funds

Savers withdraw €115 mln to invest in more profitable investment funds

TIRANA, May 18 – With interest rates on traditional bank deposits below 1 percent for the national currency and close to zero but still at positive rates for euro-denominated savings, Albanian savers withdrew more than a hundred million euros in

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Ten auditors selected to reduce companies’ risk-based inspection

Ten auditors selected to reduce companies’ risk-based inspection

TIRANA, May 18 – Companies which have their financial statements certified by one of the ten auditors selected by the tax administration are less likely to undergo inspections by tax authorities, says Albania’s General Tax Directorate. The tax administration has

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Loan defaulters face subsistence level threat, investigation shows

Loan defaulters face subsistence level threat, investigation shows

TIRANA, May 17 – The transfer of consumer loans from banks to debt collection companies is often accompanied with hidden and illegal costs for borrowers who because of their poor financial knowledge easily fall prey to abuse in a market

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 25 - Agriculture officials and experts have called on farmers to engage in traditional medicinal plants instead of the illegal cannabis cultivation, whose rapid spread in the past couple of years had had a negative effect on the country's key agriculture sector, shifting attention away from traditional crops.

Speaking this week at a conference on medicinal and aromatic plants this week, Agriculture Minister Edmond Panariti said the government strategy to develop remote areas is promoting the cultivation of medicinal plants.

"The variety of medicinal and aromatic plants cultivated and collected in Albania is more than 30 and they are all exported. We have a strategy to develop agriculture even in hilly and mountainous areas and it's exactly the aromatic and medicinal plants that are offered as an alternative to replace the negative phenomenon of narcotic plants such as cannabis," said Panariti.

The minister also reiterated his appeal to farmers to cultivate indigenous medicinal plants instead of imported seeds.

"What we must fanatically preserve is the indigenous varieties such as the sage and this is a priority for us," said minister Panariti.

His comments came at a conference called ‘Medicinal and aromatic plants instead of narcotic ones,’ held this week in Korça, southeastern Albania, by the Essence Producers and Cultivators Association (EPCA).

Albanian police say they destroyed 2.5 million of cannabis plants in 2016 spread over a 213 hectare area nationwide, a 3-fold increase compared to the whole of 2015, making Albania Europe's largest cannabis producer.

Hundreds of farmers turned to illegal and much more profitable cannabis cultivation in the past couple of years considering the fact that a kilo of cannabis sells at Euro 200 to 300 locally, a huge amount equal to cultivating about 1 metric ton of traditional crops such as wheat or corn.

Experts have warned the cannabis phenomenon shifts attention from the key agriculture sector, distorts the labor market and strengthens the criminal economy.

According EPCA association, Albania has the world’s highest per capita amount of medicinal and aromatic plants, but collects and processes one third of the plants grown in the territory. About 25,000 households nationwide still rely on medicinal plants for a living.

Albania’s exports of medicinal plants, the country’s second largest agricultural exports after canned fish, registered a slight decline in 2016, ending their six-year upward trend that more than doubled their exports in the past decade.

Exports of “oil seeds, industrial and medicinal plants and straw,” within which medicinal plants account for the overwhelming majority, slightly fell to 14,061 metric tons worth about 4 billion lek (€29 mln) in 2016, down from a record high of 14,453 tonnes worth about 4.1 billion lek (€30 mln) in 2015, dropping by an annual 3 percent, according to state statistical institute, INSTAT.

The decline comes amid rising cannabis cultivation and as farmers have shifted to cultivating some imported seeds, not much favoured by buyers in the U.S. and Germany, the top destinations for the country’s medicinal plants.

In communist times, Albania earned about $50 million a year exporting medicinal herbs, and the sector employed roughly 100,000 people. Experts say that if the plants were cultivated instead of being picked wild as they have been so far, the harvest could be increased as much as six fold.

While Albania is rich in medicinal plants, it massively imports all essential oils due to an almost inexistent processing industry during the past 25 years.

Agriculture is a key sector in the Albanian economy, employing about half of the country’s GDP but producing only about 20 percent of the GDP, unveiling its low productivity which is hampered by fragmentation of farm land into small plots and poor financing and technology employed.
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                    [post_content] =>  TIRANA, May 24 - Albania’s business climate got a real boost from the overcome of a tense political deadlock that undermined business and consumer confidence for several months, but uncertainties over the result of next June’s general elections until a new government takes over next September are expected to continue holding back new foreign and domestic investment.

The uncertainties are related to the new government that will take over after the June 25 general elections and the tax policies it will apply.

Unlike previous elections, no pre-electoral coalitions have been formed ahead of the elections, and all major three parties, the ruling Socialist Party, the opposition Democratic Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration, the third largest Party which has emerged as a kingmaker since 2009, will be running alone, making the winning coalition a bid difficult to predict, at a time when a grand coalition between the two biggest parties is also possible following the recent last minute deal between the two main political forces over a caretaker government to handle elections and a series of major reforms.

The tax policy, a key concern for business representatives after Albania’s tax burden became one of the region’s highest after abandoning its 10 percent flat tax in 2013, is expected to be one of the key pillars of the main opposition Democratic Party’s electoral platform.

The opposition Democrats, who staged a three-month protest over free and fair elections and decided to enter the June 25 elections only following a foreign-mediated last-minute deal, are offering a shift back to a flat tax and lower value added tax.

Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha says the opposition’s electoral program offers a 9 percent flat tax on personal and corporate income, compared to a current 15 percent rate on the corporate income tax and the withholding tax on dividends, rents and capital gains, and a reduction in the key value added tax by 5 percent to 15 percent.

Back in the 2013 general elections, the then-opposition Socialists also focused their electoral campaign on promises of lower taxes, fighting corruption and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

The ruling Socialists are not promising tax cuts for the upcoming elections, but say easier procedures and stronger rule of law following the implementation of the long-awaited justice reform will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and bring the economy to normality.

The uncertain situation about the new government and the tax policy it will apply is expected to remain a barrier for new foreign direct investment as some multi-year energy-related investment, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and some big hydropower plants, remain the biggest FDI in the past three years when a slump in commodity prices significantly cut investment in the key oil and mining sector.

Albania's FDI hit a record of about 1 billion euros in 2016, mainly because of some major energy-related projects such as the TAP pipeline and two big hydropower plants by Norway's Statkraft, raising concerns about the progress of FDI in the post-2020 period when these projects are completed.

The tourism sector, where some big investment have been undertaken by Albanian and foreign investors, is expected to somehow compensate, while a pickup in commodity prices could reinvigorate oil and mining investment following the mid-2014 slump.

The high tax burden, the frequent changes in tax policies and the inefficiency of the justice system are some of the main concerns for foreign investors in Albania.

Investors complain Albania’s high tax burden makes it less competitive compared to other regional countries applying flat tax regimes of about 10 percent despite the country’s geographical advantage, while unclear property titles and inefficient and corrupt judiciary hold back key investment and know-how.

Since 2014, when Albania abandoned its 10 percent flat tax regime, the corporate income tax and the withholding tax on dividends, rents and capital gains have increased by 5 percent to 15 percent, making the tax burden in the country one of the region’s highest.

 

New growth agenda

Having almost exhausted its traditional sources of growth, Albania has been trying to promote new drivers of growth to handle the declining construction and remittance-fuelled growth in the pre-crisis era. Albania’s economy has been growing by 1 to 3 percent since 2009 compared to a pre-crisis decade of 6 percent annually, the ideal growth rate estimated to bring welfare to one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Experts say the government should focus on the rapidly growing tourism sector and agriculture, a traditional sector employing about half of the country’s population but providing only a fifth of the GDP, unveiling the huge inefficiency and underdevelopment of this key sector.

“I think the traditional sources of growth have already been exhausted and Albania needs to find other sources that accelerate economic growth at a time when agriculture and tourism remain largely untapped potentials,” says Zef Preçi, the director of the Albanian Center for Economic Research.

“Unfortunately, there is much rhetoric on these sectors, and little investment and few policies supporting domestic employment and promoting exports which as a result would increase the country's competitiveness," he says.

"The increased impact of business lobbying on decision-making, also known as oligarchy, is very sophisticated which means collegial decision-making or other forms are used to pre-determine the beneficiaries of the taxpayer income in the future," he adds, hinting a series of concession contracts that have been awarded to some of the country's leading businesses in key public sectors, in which the government will either pay the cost of the investment in installments or guarantee the revenue of concessionaires.

 

Businesses hail crisis overcome

Business representatives have hailed the end of the three-month political stalemate ahead of the upcoming general elections, as a solution paving the way for restoring confidence among investors and households.

"In the past 27 years, Albanian entrepreneurship has been a regular consumer of political crises in the country and has continuously suffered a decline in its capacities, lagging behind consolidation and standardization to be competitive in the region," says Arben Shkodra, the deputy chair of the Tirana Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"For four months in a row, the blockage of political dialogue and the parliamentary boycott, created a concerning situation for Albanian entrepreneurship,” he says.

"We demand political forces to shift their attention to the economy and entrepreneurship to immediately establish communication and constructive dialogue so that our demands and recommendations become part of their economic agendas,” he adds.

Tour operators have also hailed the political deal ahead of the elections as the country gears up for its peak tourism season.

"We are hopeful of an efficient tourism this summer. The political situation is improving and of course this has a huge impact," says Zak Topuzi of the Hotels and Tourism Association.
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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-24 16:26:51
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 24 - Few days after Albania overcame a three-month political deadlock ahead of the upcoming June general elections paving the way for fully participatory elections, the European Union has urged Albania, an EU candidate country aspiring to open accession negotiations, to undertake further structural reforms that would reduce obstacles to growth and competitiveness.

In its assessment of Albania's 2017-2019 programme of economic reforms, the Council of the European Union, representing the member states’ governments, says that while Albania is experiencing a gradual economic upturn that is expected to continue in 2017-2019, the growth projection is associated with downside risks stemming from persisting macroeconomic vulnerabilities and a renewed slide in oil prices.

The Albanian government expects the country's economy to pick up to 3.8 percent in 2017 and further expand between 4.1 to 4.3 percent in 2018-2020 based on some major energy-related investment and a gradual recovery in domestic consumption, but public debt at about 70 percent of the GDP poses a major threat to the country’s macro-economic stability and efforts to reduce it to a more affordable 60 percent of the GDP by 2020 require strong fiscal consolidation.

In addition, a reversal of the recent recovery in oil prices remains a major source of risk for commodity exporting Albania, holding back investment in the key oil and mining sector and negatively affecting the country's poorly diversified exports, significantly suffering since the mid-2014 slump in commodity prices.

Urging the country to continue reforms, the EU Council, warns obstacles such as unclear property titles, corruption and inefficient judiciary hold back much-needed foreign investment and know how.

"Structural obstacles to growth and competitiveness include still unclear land ownership, poor access to finance, a high level of informality and corruption, an excessive regulatory burden and unpredictability in the judiciary system, which acts as a discouragement to both foreign and domestic investment. The lack of a comprehensive cadastre hinders the development of the agriculture sector, tourism, infrastructural improvements, access to finance," says the report.

The political consensus ahead of the June 25 general elections is also expected to pave the way for the implementation of the long-awaited reform in the judiciary, perceived as one of the country’s most corrupt sectors and a key barrier to foreign investment.

In its assessment of economic reforms programmes on Western Balkan countries and Turkey, the EU urges Albania to continue pursuing fiscal adjustment with a focus on reducing public debt, persist revenue mobilization efforts including introducing a new valuation-based property tax, and tackle the ongoing high level of non-performing loans, a key barrier for the recovery of lending.

The EU also urges the completion of liberalization in the energy market and clarifying ownership of agricultural land and property registration by putting in place a functioning comprehensive cadastre and an e-cadastre by 2019.

In its Spring European Economic Forecast report, the European Commission had warned the protracted political crisis ahead of the upcoming general elections, initially scheduled for June 18 but postponed for June 25 following a deal ending three months of protests and an apparent elections boycott by the opposition, risked negatively affecting consumption and investment.

The European Commission expects Albania’s GDP growth to slightly recover between 3.7 and 3.9 percent in the next couple of years, one of the highest among EU aspirant Western Bank countries, but says the balance of risks is tilted to the downside.

“Credit recovery may take longer than expected and the still elevated level of sovereign debt provides little room for countercyclical policies in case of need,” says the Commission.

Unlike, other electoral years, when pre-electoral spending soared and public finances underperformed, government revenue in the first four months of this year seemed on track with a 6.6 percent hike while public investment registered a sharp 37 percent hike but remained within the target set for this period of the year.

The situation is apparently a result of 2016 fiscal rule disciplining spending in electoral years in order not allow incumbent governments gain electoral advantage and setting a 45 percent public debt target.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-23 17:24:01
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 23 - Albania's Competition Authority has launched a probe into the country's main three mobile operators over allegations of limited competition in a market operating under oligopoly conditions.

Under a decision made this week, the competition watchdog decided to launch a preliminary probe into the three biggest foreign-owned mobile operators after signs of coordinated behavior following the simultaneous increase in prices of standard pre-paid packages late last March.

Starting April 11, pre-paid 28-day standard bundles offering a mix of national minutes, text messages and internet access, increased by 100 lek to 1,110 lek (€8) in all three main operators, Vodafone, Telekom Albania and Albtelecom.

"Data by the AKEP regulator shows that the mobile phone market has the structure of an oligopoly market with an operator having a dominant position in the respective retail mobile services and two other operators having stable market shares," says the competition watchdog.

"All three operators dominate 95 percent of retail mobile services and under legal provisions, there exists the possibility of abuse of dominant market position," it adds.

Findings of the preliminary probe, covering January-May 2017, will be key to the competition watchdog's decision on launching an in-depth enquiry that could lead to penalties for the country's leading mobile operators.

Latest 2015 data shows leading Vodafone Albania operator, part of UK-based giant Vodafone Group, continues dominating the mobile market with 47 percent market share in terms of revenue, followed by Telekom Albania (former AMC), part of German Deutsche Telekom with 34 percent, Turkish-owned Albtelecom and Eagle Mobile with 12 percent, and Albanian-owned Plus Communication with 6.6 percent share.

Starting March 2016, Albania’s main three mobile operators have cut their monthly pre-paid packages to 28 days, down from a previous 30 days, indirectly increasing costs for prepaid users, accounting for the overwhelming majority of 92 percent of active mobile subscribers.

Albania’s mobile operators struggled to significantly increase their income for the fourth year in a row amid tougher competition leading to lower rates and increasing use of smartphone apps replacing traditional call and text message services.

Mobile operators’ revenue slightly rose by 2.4 percent to 33.9 billion lek (€248 million) in 2016 after hitting a decade-low in 2014, according to a report by the electronic communications regulator, AKEP.

In its annual report, AKEP said pre-paid subscribers not using promotional offers face tariffs up to 14 times higher than the average rates of 2.83 lek (€0.02) /minute VAT included for 2016.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 22 - Reference prices, changes to the classification of goods, frequent physical inspections and inefficient communication are the key barriers importers and exporters in the country face with the country's customs authorities, a report has unveiled.

A key concern for several years in a row, reference prices continue to top business concerns when it comes to relations with customs authorities, according to a report published by the Albania Investment Council, an advisory body serving as a linking bridge between the business community and the government set up in 2015 with support by London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The concern comes as the application of reference prices on clearance of imported goods rose to 12 percent of declarations made with the authorities in 2016, up 1 percent compared to 2015 and in addition to China, also involved imports from the EU, the U.S. and Turkey.

Fearing fictitious invoices, customs authorities apply reference prices even when companies submit all price-related documentation including invoices, contracts and SWIFT payments, the study said.

"Reference prices create a deadlock in relations between businesses and customs and tax authorities. Revaluation based on reference prices directly affects the customs duties/VAT paid by importers and creates market competitiveness problems,” says the study.

Businesses claimed they are not provided arguments in writing for the use of reference prices, which also apply in case of costs incurred on the international transport of containerized goods.

The Investment Council suggests reference prices should serve only as a 'price risk indicator' leading to investigation into the case and not "a shortcut for the customs administration in determining the goods' customs value and disciplining the internal market."

Frequent physical inspections and the high costs businesses incur in this process due to having to unload and load the goods on their own is another key barrier for importing businesses.

The study shows businesses complain of numerous physical inspections even after the use of scanning, with some companies and certain products continuously selected as risky to undergo the red channel, even though having a good track record and importing the same items.

Businesses also complained about unreasonable time it takes to obtain various authorizations such as the case of VAT exemption in case of imports of machinery and equipment for investment, suggesting online filing of requests.

The study also unveiled cases of customs authorities unreasonably changing the tariff classification of goods without officially communicating the reasons. Limited working hours on making customs declarations, especially for exporters at the Tirana Customs Office, also remains a barrier for exporting companies whose main destination is Italy and use maritime transport to reach the neighboring country across the Adriatic.

Despite problems identified by companies, trading across borders is among the best Doing Business indicators in Albania, ranking the country 24th out 190 economies around the world.

Albania is a net importer, with exports covering only about 40 percent of imports.
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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-22 14:20:42
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 22 - An Albanian-led consortium will build and manage a bus terminal linking Tirana to northern and southern destinations under a public private partnership deal with the municipality of Tirana, the country’s biggest local government unit with about 600,000 residents, but whose capital city status, making it the country’s most important political, economic, and cultural center takes its population to about 1 million.

Following an international tender last April, the municipality of Tirana has announced a consortium led by Salillari, one of the country's biggest construction companies, also composed of Greek-owned Hellas Servis, foreign-owned Analysis Computer & Servis SA and Albania-owned supervisor Klodioda, will build, own and operate the country’s biggest bus terminal for the next three decades.

The consortium has offered a 33-year PPP, a concession fee of 2 percent of annual turnover, a 50 percent discount on terminal tariffs and a dividend of 5 percent to the municipality. If contract negotiations complete successfully in 3 months, the winning consortium plans to build the new terminal in about one and a half years.

Two other companies, including a consortium led by a Netherlands-based company were disqualified because of incomplete documentation.

In its feasibility study, the municipality of Tirana also considered making available the country's first tram, linking the bus terminal to the city centre in 7.2 km tramway, but picked a low-cost solution with no tram station and no commercial and accommodation facilities.

"The terminal is part of a broader urban transport strategy that will give a solution to emergency needs to improve traffic and reduce environment pollution in Tirana, by securing parking for all passenger vehicles from all over the country and creating optimal conditions for their transport to downtown Tirana," says the municipality.

The country’s biggest municipality will provide the winning bidder an 85,000 m2 construction site in the place known as the Kthesa e Kamzes (Kamza Turn), at the entry of Tirana, in return for investment of €15.5 million while the concessionaire will handle all parking fees.

The new terminal will accommodate buses linking Tirana to Durres and southern Albanian destinations such as Fier and Vlora, currently operating at a terminal at the Shqiponja (Eagle roundabout) at the Tirana entry as well as interurban buses linking the capital to northern destinations such as Kruja, Lezha and Shkoder, currently operating at a separate terminal near the Zogu i Zi roundabout.

The current Tirana municipality-run southern terminal at the former Tirana customs office facilities close to the “Shqiponja” roundabout, handles about 500 buses and minibuses each day linking Tirana to 29 destinations, serving more than 10,000 passengers.

Interurban buses linking Tirana to Elbasan and southeastern Albanian destinations such as Korça and Pogradec are scheduled to be accommodated at Sauk, just outside Tirana, under another 20-year concession contract with another Albanian company.

The new terminals make reaching the Tirana city center much more difficult and costlier for daily commuters considering that the degraded and rarely used railway transport to the capital city has also been nonexistent for the past couple of years due to works to extend the boulevard at the former train station close at the Zog I boulevard.

Tirana city public transport users have been facing a 33 percent hike in bus fares, currently at 40 lek (€0.29), since February 2016 following pressure by local companies which had threatened to go on strike unless the municipality reviewed ticket prices.

The municipality of Tirana, the country’s biggest local government unit (LGU), has a resident population of some 557,000 following the 2015 administrative reform that cut the number of LGUs to 61 from a previous 373 municipalities and communes.

Tirana is currently one of the few capitals where the train station is located about 10 km from the city cente, in Kashar village following the demolition of the downtown train station a couple of years ago.

More than a decade after cancelling a contract with U.S. giant General Electric, Albania is planning to revitalize its dilapidated rail transport by reconstructing the key Tirana-Durres segment and linking it to the country’s sole international airport.

While the central government has awarded dozens of concession contracts in the past decade, posing a threat to public finances because of their hidden costs in which the government will either pay the cost of the investment in installments or guarantee the revenue of concessionaires, local government units which still depend on central government grants for their daily operations, have only signed a handful of PPS, mainly waste management and parking ones.

 
                    [post_title] => Albanian-led consortium gets 33-year Tirana bus terminal PPP
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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-19 10:09:43
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-19 08:09:43
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 18 - The overcome of a three-month political deadlock that put an end to an apparent boycott by the main opposition Democratic Party and its allies to the upcoming general elections is expected to have positive impacts on the Albanian economy, especially the peak tourist season although new foreign investment is not expected to undergo a major boost until a new government is formed by next September.

The country’s central bank and major international financial institutions had warned the political crisis ahead of the initially scheduled June 18 elections which will now be postponed for June 25 following a last-minute deal, would have negative effects related to both investment and the country’s growth prospects and fiscal consolidation efforts.

"The balance of risks related to the expected developments continues to remain on the downside. In the short-term the tense political situation in the country could have an impact on increasing insecurity and delaying investment and consumption. Mid-term risks are mainly related to uncertainties in the external environment and the speed of the recovery of credit," central bank governor Gent Sejko recently warned.

The World Bank, the IMF and the European Commission has also warned the prolonged political crisis and its possible escalation would affect the investment climate and business and consumer confidence, leading to a revise downward in the country’s expected GDP growth.

The emerging tourism sector seems to have profited most from the overcome of the impasse as Albania gears up for its peak 2017 season. The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016 alone.

However, the electoral campaign until the end of June will surely have a negative impact on the arrival of international tourists, very sensitive to possible incidents. With the country holding general elections during June in the past two decades, Albania’s tour operators have often complained summer time elections have a negative impact on the very sensitive tourism sector. The emerging tourism sector in the country faces tough competitiveness from regional countries with a longer tradition in the industry compared to Albania which was cut off for about five decades under communism and is promoting itself as Europe’s last secret.

Foreign direct investment will also likely face a slowdown this year when the major Trans Adriatic Pipeline and a big hydropower plant by Norway’s Statkraft continue to remain the biggest foreign direct investment in the country for several years now. FDI in the key oil and mining sector is also expected to remain sluggish as commodity prices have only slightly picked up from the mid-2014 slump.

The implementation of a long-awaited justice reform approved in consensus in mid-2016 is the key reform foreign investors have been demanding from Albania where the judiciary is perceived as highly corrupt, undermining investor confidence.

The Albanian economy grew by 3.4 percent in 2017 and is projected to further pick up to 3.8 percent this year, mainly thanks to some major energy-related investment such as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline as well as a boost in the emerging tourism industry.

While public finances seem on track in the first quarter of this year, the real effects of political tension and the electoral year will be better unveiled FDI and tourism revenue.
                    [post_title] => End of political deadlock sends positive signals to business community
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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-18 11:52:28
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 18 – With interest rates on traditional bank deposits below 1 percent for the national currency and close to zero but still at positive rates for euro-denominated savings, Albanian savers withdrew more than a hundred million euros in deposits in the first quarter of this year and invested a considerable part of it in the more profitable but riskier investment funds.

Central bank data shows deposits contracted by about 15.7 billion lek (€115 mln) in the first quarter of this year compared to December 2016 when they grew by a mere 0.1 percent year-on-year to hit a record 1 trillion (€7.4 billion), about 70 percent of the country’s GDP.

By contrast, net assets in the emerging investment funds, heavily investing in government securities, registered a considerable increase amid declining but yet twice higher rates compared to traditional bank deposits, according to the Financial Supervisory Authority. Data shows net assets in the three investment funds rose by 5.4 billion lek (€40 mln) to about 71 billion lek (€520 mln) in the first quarter of this year compared to the end of 2016 when investment funds suffered their first annual contraction after rapid growth in their first four years of operation.

Deposits in Albania have only registered modest growth rates in the past four years affected by constantly declining interest rates as the key rate currently stands at a historic low of 1.25 percent in a bid to discourage savings and promote domestic investment and spending through lower loan rates. The slow but positive growth in deposits has also been a result of the transfer of migrant savings to local banks, especially from Greece and Italy where interest rates on euro-denominated deposits are at negative growth rates compared to slightly above zero in Albania.

Albania’s banking system is highly euroized with euro-denominated deposits and loans accounting for half of the total.

The number of investors at the now three investment funds following the launch of new Albanian-run fund in mid-2016 rose to more 31,000 at the end of the first quarter of this year.

The emerging investment fund market is dominated by investments in government bonds and T-bills, accounting for 78 percent of total assets, a 9 percent decline compared to 2015.

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Savers withdraw €115 mln to invest in more profitable investment funds
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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-18 09:59:58
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-18 07:59:58
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 18 - Companies which have their financial statements certified by one of the ten auditors selected by the tax administration are less likely to undergo inspections by tax authorities, says Albania's General Tax Directorate.

The tax administration has selected ten auditors, including three of the Big Four auditors and several other international and Albanian audit firms to carry out the certification of financial statements for the next four years.

The selection comes after the Socialist Party-led government eased some doing business procedures for 2017 but left unchanged the country's tax burden, one of the highest in the region with the corporate income tax and the withholding tax on dividends, rents and capital gains having increased by 5 percent to 15 percent since 2014.

"The auditing and certification of financial and tax statements by reputable audit firms is considered a 'positive' element in the entirety of elements determining whether a taxpayer should be selected to undergo inspection based on the assessment carried by the risk-based analysis," says the tax administration.

Authorities say the certification by the selected companies is not compulsory and cannot be carried out with the same company for more than four years.

Tax authorities warn the selected companies face the risk of paying fines at 50 percent of the tax obligation owed by businesses in case tax statements have not been fairly reported.

Albania's tax administration has been receiving technical assistance by U.S. and EU experts under a USAID-funded project to increase the efficiency of tax collection with a focus on investigating large-scale evaders by adopting a risk-based approach to tax audits, improving intelligence gathering for tax fraud investigations and building capacity to enforce tax compliance.

Since more than a year, the General Tax Directorate has installed a new IT system, adopted a new risk-based compliance management approach and is implementing an updated organizational structure.

The 10 selected auditors:
  1. Deloitte Audit Albania
  2. ILD-99 Audit
  3. MAZARS
  4. nHEuroConsult
  5. Studio L. E. A. L. Auditing
  6. Grant Thornton &Holly & Endi Auditing
  7. UHY Elite
  8. KPMG
  9. ASIE
  10. Pricewaterhouse Coopers Albania
[post_title] => Ten auditors selected to reduce companies’ risk-based inspection [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ten-auditors-selected-to-reduce-companies-risk-based-inspection [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-19 10:10:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-19 08:10:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132443 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132433 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-05-17 15:27:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-17 13:27:40 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 17 - The transfer of consumer loans from banks to debt collection companies is often accompanied with hidden and illegal costs for borrowers who because of their poor financial knowledge easily fall prey to abuse in a market with no supervision and amid legal vacuum, according to an investigation published by BIRN Albania. Journalist Rajmonda Lajthia brings the story of Agron Sula, a 47-year-old man who in 2006 borrowed 1 million lek (€7,343) in a consumer loan from a leading commercial bank in the country, but whose politically motivated dismissal from a local government unit outside Tirana in 2007 soon after the local elections would make things really tough for him. The default on his loan led to the commercial bank selling his non-performing loan to a non-bank financial institution and the postponement of its execution for several years led to his initial loan amount more than double due to late payment penalties and extra interest rates, also putting at risk his right to an adequate standard of living due to seizures ordered on his wages and debt collection agencies ordering only a small amount of his monthly wages not seized, taking advantage of the country having no official subsistence level. The 47-year old man managed to escape the ordeal of his loan only in late 2016 after a local human rights NGO helped him sue the bank and its contractors, finally leading to a reduced amount which the now divorced debtor will pay in monthly instalments of 10,000 lek (€73) in two and a half years. With non-performing loans at about 20 percent, compared to a peak level of 25 percent in mid-2014, the Albanian National Chamber of Private Bailiffs says the number of complaints against commercial banks and debt collection companies has sharply increased while the forceful collection of loan defaults has led to severe social costs for many households. In late December 2014, a private bailiff asked banks to block every kind of income to debtor Agron Sula except for a subsistence level of 8,000 lek (€59), raising concerns about the violation of the right to a decent life at a time when Albania has no official subsistence level but which a late 2016 study by the People's Advocate estimated at 16,000 lek (€115). The National Chamber of Private Bailiffs said the increase in the borrower's obligations by more than 1 million lek (€7,343) from the issue of the execution order in April 2011 until December 2014 when the loan was sold to a non-bank financial institution was illegal due to violating the debtor's interests and not informing him. "Hundreds of debtors of every kind of borrowers currently face increased obligations due to the application of higher interest rates and penalties as a result of long time from the moment of their default until the initiation of the execution of bailiff procedures," says Tedi Malaveci, the head of the Bailiffs Chamber, also blaming the situation on households’ poor financial knowledge and failure to read credit terms before signing contracts. “Out of dozens of execution cases, I figured out that only few people read the terms of loan contract they sign with banks and I was surprised to identify this phenomenon in almost all cases I came across," he says. While the phenomenon is somehow marring the image of commercial banks in Albania, the country's central bank supervising commercial banks and non-bank financial institutions says "the banking legislation contains no provision on the process of the execution of obligations which is regulated based on the bailiff law and the Civil Procedures Code" and is not responsible for debt collection companies hired by banks. The latter seem completely unsupervised because of currently operating based on the law on commercial enterprises. Agron Sula's case is also an explanation to credit struggling to return to positive growth rates in the past couple of years due to poor demand by both households and businesses and tight lending standards applied by banks due to the high level of NPLs. The case also undermines confidence in the country's banking system and explains the high levels of informal borrowing among debtor households, estimated at about 60 percent, according to central bank surveys. "Borrowers should make use of every other alternative to get the money they need before turning to banks which they should consider a last resort. And when you agree to borrow from banks, please carefully read every term and condition if you don't want to find yourselves under my circumstances," Sula tells BIRN in the local Albanian service. In late 2015, Albania’s Competition Authority launched an enquiry into the country’s banking system over allegations of limited competition leading to high loan interest rates and standstill in lending, but failed to find enough evidence. Albania's banking system composed of 16 overwhelmingly foreign owned commercial banks has been well-capitalized, liquid and profitable since the onset of global financial crisis in 2008 despite the pre-crisis credit boom leading to one of the region's highest non-performing loan levels. The loan rates, although considerably lower to the pre-crisis period, are still considered high and unaffordable by the business community because of being seven times higher compared to the deposit rates which have dropped below 1 percent. [post_title] => Loan defaulters face subsistence level threat, investigation shows [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => loan-defaulters-face-subsistence-level-threat-investigation-shows [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-19 10:12:30 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-19 08:12:30 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132433 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132540 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-05-25 12:47:37 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-25 10:47:37 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 25 - Agriculture officials and experts have called on farmers to engage in traditional medicinal plants instead of the illegal cannabis cultivation, whose rapid spread in the past couple of years had had a negative effect on the country's key agriculture sector, shifting attention away from traditional crops. Speaking this week at a conference on medicinal and aromatic plants this week, Agriculture Minister Edmond Panariti said the government strategy to develop remote areas is promoting the cultivation of medicinal plants. "The variety of medicinal and aromatic plants cultivated and collected in Albania is more than 30 and they are all exported. We have a strategy to develop agriculture even in hilly and mountainous areas and it's exactly the aromatic and medicinal plants that are offered as an alternative to replace the negative phenomenon of narcotic plants such as cannabis," said Panariti. The minister also reiterated his appeal to farmers to cultivate indigenous medicinal plants instead of imported seeds. "What we must fanatically preserve is the indigenous varieties such as the sage and this is a priority for us," said minister Panariti. His comments came at a conference called ‘Medicinal and aromatic plants instead of narcotic ones,’ held this week in Korça, southeastern Albania, by the Essence Producers and Cultivators Association (EPCA). Albanian police say they destroyed 2.5 million of cannabis plants in 2016 spread over a 213 hectare area nationwide, a 3-fold increase compared to the whole of 2015, making Albania Europe's largest cannabis producer. Hundreds of farmers turned to illegal and much more profitable cannabis cultivation in the past couple of years considering the fact that a kilo of cannabis sells at Euro 200 to 300 locally, a huge amount equal to cultivating about 1 metric ton of traditional crops such as wheat or corn. Experts have warned the cannabis phenomenon shifts attention from the key agriculture sector, distorts the labor market and strengthens the criminal economy. According EPCA association, Albania has the world’s highest per capita amount of medicinal and aromatic plants, but collects and processes one third of the plants grown in the territory. About 25,000 households nationwide still rely on medicinal plants for a living. Albania’s exports of medicinal plants, the country’s second largest agricultural exports after canned fish, registered a slight decline in 2016, ending their six-year upward trend that more than doubled their exports in the past decade. Exports of “oil seeds, industrial and medicinal plants and straw,” within which medicinal plants account for the overwhelming majority, slightly fell to 14,061 metric tons worth about 4 billion lek (€29 mln) in 2016, down from a record high of 14,453 tonnes worth about 4.1 billion lek (€30 mln) in 2015, dropping by an annual 3 percent, according to state statistical institute, INSTAT. The decline comes amid rising cannabis cultivation and as farmers have shifted to cultivating some imported seeds, not much favoured by buyers in the U.S. and Germany, the top destinations for the country’s medicinal plants. In communist times, Albania earned about $50 million a year exporting medicinal herbs, and the sector employed roughly 100,000 people. Experts say that if the plants were cultivated instead of being picked wild as they have been so far, the harvest could be increased as much as six fold. While Albania is rich in medicinal plants, it massively imports all essential oils due to an almost inexistent processing industry during the past 25 years. Agriculture is a key sector in the Albanian economy, employing about half of the country’s GDP but producing only about 20 percent of the GDP, unveiling its low productivity which is hampered by fragmentation of farm land into small plots and poor financing and technology employed. 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