Vegetable prices soar on lower domestic production, export orientation

Vegetable prices soar on lower domestic production, export orientation

TIRANA, Jan. 15 – Lower domestic production and orientation toward much more profitable foreign markets has led to a considerable increase in vegetable prices in Albania, a country where interest in fresh and dried vegetable cultivation has been on the

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Albania’s R&D spending remains one of region’s lowest

Albania’s R&D spending remains one of region’s lowest

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – Albania spends one of the region’s lowest amounts on research and development in a key barrier for the country’s emerging economy and its ability to innovate on products and services. A recent report by the UNESCO

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World Bank urges faster reforms to overcome expected economic slowdown

World Bank urges faster reforms to overcome expected economic slowdown

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – The World Bank says Albania has to continue doing business reforms and be careful with its ambitious public-private partnership program in order to maintain its growth pace for the next couple of years. The warning comes

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Albania resumes costly electricity imports in new threat to country’s economy

Albania resumes costly electricity imports in new threat to country’s economy

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Jan. 14 – A prolonged drought that Albania has been facing since mid-2018 has forced the country’s hydro-dependent state-run operators to switch to compulsory costly electricity imports in a situation that could have severe consequences for

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Shell’s new Albania oil search plans met with resistance

Shell’s new Albania oil search plans met with resistance

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Jan. 11 – Exploration surveys that oil giant Shell is planning to conduct during this year in a southern Albanian region have triggered concerns among some local government officials who fear local protected areas and tourism

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Inflation rate misses target by 1% for second year in row

Inflation rate misses target by 1% for second year in row

TIRANA, Jan. 10 – Albania’s average inflation rate remained unchanged at 2 percent in 2018, missing Albania’s central bank 3 percent target by 1 percent for the second year in low, hinting ongoing sluggish consumption and negative effects associated with

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Experts urge reforms to make growth sustainable

Experts urge reforms to make growth sustainable

TIRANA, Jan. 10 – At a time when the Albanian economy is growing amid growing pessimism by businesses and households and thanks to weather-related conditions and a hike in international commodity prices, experts says recovering growth is not translating into

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Albanians in Italy send home €120 mln annually in remittances

Albanians in Italy send home €120 mln annually in remittances

TIRANA, Jan. 9 – Albanian migrants living and working in Italy send home more than €120 million annually in remittances, making Italy, home to some 500,000 resident Albanians, a key contributor to thousands of households relying on migration income. “With

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Albania orders ban on more than 340 online betting sites

Albania orders ban on more than 340 online betting sites

TIRANA, Jan. 9 – Albania’s electronic communications watchdog has ordered the country’s internet service providers to ban access to hundreds of local and international online sports betting and casino portals following a nationwide ban on online gambling, effective since Jan.

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World Bank expects Albania’s growth to slow down to 3.5% over next three years

World Bank expects Albania’s growth to slow down to 3.5% over next three years

TIRANA, Jan, 9 – The World Bank has upgraded Albania’s 2018 economic outlook to 4 percent, but expects the country’s economy to slow down to around 3.5 percent in the next three years. The forecasts are made in the January

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 15 – Lower domestic production and orientation toward much more profitable foreign markets has led to a considerable increase in vegetable prices in Albania, a country where interest in fresh and dried vegetable cultivation has been on the rise in the past few years and much of the local production has been destined for exports.

Potato, onion, leek prices have registered sharp double-digit hikes in the past month, with traders blaming lower production from traditional areas such as Korça, southeast Albania, and more local products in the region of Fier, the breadbasket of Albania’s agriculture southwest of the country, destined for more profitable exports.

Potato and onion prices have soared to around 100 lek to 120 lek/kg (€1) during the first two weeks of January, almost double compared to a year ago, in prices that are considered too high for more than a quarter of Albania’s population relying on $5 a day.

Vegetable and potato prices have increased by a total of 25 percent in the past couple of years in the country, according to INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute.

Farmers’ decision to cultivate less potato and onion for 2018 was affected by the 2017 overproduction that led to considerable part of production being sold too cheap or go rotten lacking warehousing facilities.

In addition, much of the vegetable production in the Fier region is being destined for exports, with rising demand by regional and EU markets pushing local prices up.

However, poor orientation over market needs also plays a major role.

Albania had an overproduction in apples in 2018 with top quality fruit trading as low as 30 lek (€0.23), in prices not justifying huge production costs.

In addition, a considerable number of farmers in the southern Albanian regions of Fier and Berat have switched to new products such as berries and mushrooms, working under contract with foreign market operators even for traditional fresh vegetables.

Agriculture is a key sector of the Albanian economy that employs about half of the country’s population but which due to its poor productivity provides only about a fifth of the national output.

Experts say unclear property titles for around half of the country’s agricultural land is a key barrier for the development of larger farms and access to local and EU subsidies that could make Albania’s products much more competitive.

In addition to land fragmentation, poor financing, lack of subsidies and key infrastructure such as irrigation as well as a high tax burden are a serious problem for Albania’s agriculture sector, with high costs often making local products uncompetitive.

Due to the high tax burden applied on oil, at €1.4/liter, Albania has one of Europe’s highest fuel prices, and lack of subsidies sharply increase local product costs.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 14 – Albania spends one of the region’s lowest amounts on research and development in a key barrier for the country’s emerging economy and its ability to innovate on products and services.

A recent report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows Albania’s spending on R&D has remained almost unchanged at 0.2 percent of the GDP during the past decade, the lowest among regional EU aspirant countries, of which Serbia has the highest spending of around 0.8 percent of the GDP.

At 0.2 percent of the GDP in 2017, Albania spent around $250 million on research and development, but when measured in purchasing power parity dollars (PPP$), a unit that eliminates price differences, Albania’s spending on R&D is estimated at only $37.4 million, higher only compared to tinier Montenegro among regional competitors, according to the UN's cultural and scientific agency.

Almost half of the amount, some $18 million in PPP$ is spent by universities, that involves some 38 higher education institutions, of which 24 privately-run ones. The rest is spent by government-funded agencies.

The UN agency estimates Albania has some 450 scientific researchers at a rate of 156 per million inhabitants.

A decade ago, back in 2008, Albania devoted only 0.15 percent of its GDP to R&D, just 3.3 percent of which came from the business enterprise sector.

Albania targets increasing its spending on science, research and innovation to 1 percent of the GDP by 2022 through public and alternative funds, according to a national strategy.

Back in 2018, a study on three of Albania’s main public universities found that Albania’s public universities spend more on luxury reconstruction and purchases rather than research and scholarships.

Albania climbed 10 places to rank 83rd among 126 economies in the 2018 Global Innovation Index, but yet lagging behind some of its key regional competitors.

The report shows Albania’s ranking is hampered by poor knowledge and technology outputs, a low level of business sophistication, low spending on human capital and research as well as insufficient creative outputs which rank the country 86th to 110th.

In its latest country report on Albania, the European Commission says the capacity for technological absorption, research, development and innovation in Albania remains low.

In a bid to stimulate private investment and employment on the information technology sector, the Albanian government has cut the corporate income tax on the IT sector to 5 percent starting this year, down from a previous standard 15 percent. The tax cut applies to software design, development and maintenance.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_140070" align="alignright" width="300"]wb albania Maryam Salim, the World Bank country manager for Albania[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – The World Bank says Albania has to continue doing business reforms and be careful with its ambitious public-private partnership program in order to maintain its growth pace for the next couple of years.

The warning comes by Maryam Salim, the World Bank country manager for Albania, after the Washington-based financial institution recently upgraded Albania’s 2018 economic outlook to 4 percent, but expects the country to slow down to around 3.5 percent over 2019-21, in forecasts that are up to 1 percent lower compared to the Albanian government’s baseline scenario of growth picking up to 4.5 percent by 2021 when Albania heads to new general elections.

Speaking in an interview with local Monitor business magazine, the World Bank’s Albania representative says the Balkan country has to focus on long-term solutions to the land reform, the improvement of the business climate, setting a predictable and enforceable tax legislation and applying careful fiscal policies.

A long-standing unclear property titles issue and a higher tax burden compared to regional EU aspirant Balkan countries are among the top concerns for local and foreign investors operating in the country, in addition to highly perceived corruption and an inefficient judiciary which Albania is trying to settle through a judiciary reform that has already ousted dozens of judges and prosecutors for failing to justify their financial assets.

“Albania should accelerate doing business reforms and create equal conditions for foreign entrepreneurs to invest and make use of the country's untapped potential. The country's labor force should be appropriately qualified to integrate better into the global value chain,” Salim is quoted as saying in the Albanian version of the interview.

The World Bank appeal comes at a time when TAP and the Devoll Hydropower, the two major energy-related projects that drove FDI in the past four years, are set to complete their investment stage by the end of this year, leaving a huge trade gap that will be difficult to fill unless other key projects replace them.

“Investment in health and education should be priorities on the government agenda,” she adds.

Albania currently spends only around 3 percent of its GDP on health and education, two sectors that play a major role in residents’ willingness to leave the country, in addition to poor income.

 

PPP risk 

Commenting on the much-rumored PPPs, which the World Bank has earlier called for greater transparency and the cancellation of controversial bonuses for unsolicited proposals, the World Bank’s Salim says high spending on taxpayer-supported PPP projects and accumulation of new unpaid bills to private companies could pose fiscal risks.

“While it's too early to judge on the impact of those investments, we always require strong assessment of short and long-term implications for PPPs… which are a legal instrument but their use requires a strong environment with a strong public administration, control mechanisms and full transparency,” the World Bank official is quoted as saying.

According to Salim, Albania’s high debt levels of around 70 percent of the GDP, makes the strengthening of fiscal transparency a must to boost market confidence and reduce refinancing risks in internal and external markets.

The government should also actively manage fiscal risks from PPPs and state-run enterprises and engage in more efficient public spending, she adds.

Taxpayer support to some controversial public private partnerships is expected to increase by around 50 percent to €100 million for 2019 as the government starts paying on three news public private partnerships, taking PPP spending to 3 percent of the previous year’s fiscal revenue, compared to 5 percent threshold that the government has set.

 

Risks to growth outlook

The World Bank country manager says higher and more qualitative growth is the only way forward for Albania to catch up with EU member countries.

A late 2017 World Bank report showed that catching up with the average EU income could take Albania and other EU aspirant Western Balkan economies about six decades unless current sluggish GDP growth doubles to 5 or 6 percent.

“With faster growth of 5 to 6 percent, convergence could be achieved in just two decades. That will require a bold and sustained implementation of structural reforms and steady progress in EU accession processes,” says the Washington-based financial institution.

Risks to the 3.5 percent 2019-20 growth outlook that the World Bank predicts for Albania include a possible tightening of refinancing conditions for emerging markets and developments in the EU where Albania awaits a decision on the long-awaited launch of accession talks by next June soon after the upcoming late May 2019 European elections that could change enlargement balances at the European Parliament through a possible increase in populist representation.

Internally, it's essential to achieve progress in fiscal consolidation and the expansion of the taxpayer base so that macro-economic stability is preserved as a pre-condition of growth, says the World Bank official.

Supporting all-inclusive growth requires commitment to treat structural challenges related to the business environment, energy security and human capital, she adds.

Experts estimate the Albanian economy has to grow by 6 percent annually, a growth rate it enjoyed for around a decade ahead of the 2008-09 global financial crisis in order to produce sustainable growth.
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-14 12:01:07
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – A prolonged drought that Albania has been facing since mid-2018 has forced the country’s hydro-dependent state-run operators to switch to compulsory costly electricity imports in a situation that could have severe consequences for the 2019 public finances and planned investment in the outdated electricity grid.

Water levels at the state-run Drin Cascade, northern Albania, where the country’s three largest hydropower plants operate, are at almost record lows and recent snowfall has not helped improve the situation, although water flows are expected to considerably increase once snow melts.

With state-run operators currently covering only about a third of the country’s electricity needs, the OSHEE electricity distribution operators says it has purchased around €30 million in costly electricity imports for the first 17 days of January 2019 and that huge amounts could be needed unless the hydro-situation improves.

Prices have ranged from €74 to €103/MWh, according to local Klan TV, much higher compared to cheap electricity produced by state-run operators and the average €68/MWh regulated price set to local HPPs with a capacity of 15MW.

Albania handled 2018 pretty well as heavy rainfall in early 2018 filled the almost empty reservoirs of state-run and private hydropower plants, guaranteeing the country’s domestic electricity needs.

State-run power utility KESH also exported electricity worth around €60 million for the first half of 2018, in weather-related exports that also had a key impact on Albania’s exports increasing by around 15 percent last year despite the Euro’s free fall against the Albanian lek hitting Eurozone-dominated exports by reducing profits for local producers.

Albania’s current sole reliance on hydropower is considered one of the top threats to the country’s economy, especially in case of adverse weather conditions, increasing the need for costly electricity imports.

A prolonged drought cost the Albanian government about €200 million in costly electricity imports in 2017 when Albania faced one of the worst droughts in decades, putting public finances at risk through budget cuts and paralyzing much-needed investment in the dilapidated distribution system where losses still account for a fifth of electricity fed into grid.

Little rainfall during the second half of the 2018, and the country meeting all of its needs through domestic electricity generation, including the peak tourist season until last December, could mean trouble for the country’s economy in early 2019, increasing the country’s trade gap and placing public finances in trouble.

Water levels at the country's largest Fierza hydropower plant, dropped to around 268 meters in December 2018, down from a peak level of 296 meters last July, but are yet about 28 meters above the HPP's stoppage point, according to KESH, the state-run power utility that manages three HPPs producing around two-thirds of the country’s electricity.

Albania has more than 100 other smaller private and concession hydropower plants from which state-run-operators buy electricity at regulated prices based on the Hungarian Power Exchange average prices.

Norway’s Statkraft is also expected to launch its second larger Moglice HPP in the country this year, completing its €535 million Devoll Hydropower project with a capacity of 256MW in the most important electricity generation investment in the past three decades.

Albania has been trying to diversify its wholly hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation system through the launch of a major solar power plant and the re-activation of a thermal power plant built a decade by converting it into a natural gas-fired plant by linking it with the under-construction Albanian section of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline ahead of first Caspian gas flows by 2020.

Last November, Albania selected an Asian consortium led by India Power Corporation Ltd to build the country’s first major solar power plant in a bid to diversify current wholly hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation.

International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund expect Albania's growth to slow down to 3.5 to 3.7 percent this year, down from an expected 4.2 percent last year on the back of lower foreign direct investment and a series of internal and external factors expected to have a negative effect on the country's economy.
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-11 15:52:54
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Jan. 11 – Exploration surveys that oil giant Shell is planning to conduct during this year in a southern Albanian region have triggered concerns among some local government officials who fear local protected areas and tourism prospects could be hampered.

In a public hearing that the global oil giant held this week in Gjirokastra, a UNESCO World Heritage site in southern Albania, Shell’s ambitious plans to search for oil and gas in the county of Gjirokastra were met with resistance by local government officials of the Libohova municipality, one of the seven Gjirokastra municipalities were Shell is going to search for oil and gas this year.

The British-Dutch multinational oil giant, already engaged in some major oil exploration projects in Albania, is planning to initiate a seismic survey in the second quarter of this year in the southern Albanian county of Gjirokastra, investigating geological structures and their potential for exploration of petroleum, natural gas and mineral deposits by using explosives or specialized trucks.

The Zagoria national park, part of the Libohova municipality in the county of Gjirokastra, is among the affected areas.

Ilia Kuro, the deputy Mayor of the Libohova Municipality, says that the seismic survey that Shell plans to carry out at the Zagoria nature park could have severe consequences for the local fauna and flora.

"There is a government decision that has designated Zagoria as a national park. We will either have tourism or oil and gas extraction. The Shell interventions will have consequences for the local flora and fauna causing damage to it," Kuro is quoted as saying by local Libohova Online portal, questioning the legality of oil exploration in a protected area.

Located about 35 km east of Gjirokastra, the Zagoria park has been a protected area since 2015 and in May 2018, the whole area was declared a nature park by the government for its unique ecosystem and rare animals such as the brown bear and the wild goat and pig that breed there.

A Zagoria administrator said the local government unit is not even allowed to use concrete for the pavement of local streets due its protected area status.

"We asked for the reconstruction of a 500-meter street with concrete this year, but were not allowed because it's a protected area and we are now talking about the use of explosives," Akile Puleshi, a local Zagoria official, is quoted as saying.

A hilly area with only few hundreds of residents, Zagoria has been recently emerging as an adventure travel destination, with tour operators offering ‘travel back in time’ horse riding tours.

 

‘Minimal impact’

Shell’s Albania representatives have assured the environmental, social and health impacts during the seismic survey that could last up to six months will be minimal.

"The residual impacts from the proposed seismic survey activities, – which are mobile and transient operations over a six months period, are mostly likely to be low and insignificant overall," says a Shell-commissioned environmental assessment conducted by AECOM, a US-based engineering and environmental consultancy.

"In the unlikely event of fire, explosion or major fuel spill, the impacts on the environment and communities may remain significant. Shell Upstream Albania’s preparedness to deliver the emergency response to respond to such unlikely events (fire, explosion, spills) will ensure that impacts are prevented and minimized," the report adds.

Shell plans to drill around 3,000 shot holes and place small (1 to 4kg) non-toxic degradable explosive charges during its seismic survey in Gjirokastra in a bid to identify possible locations of future potential drilling as part of its newly acquired onshore Block 4, southern Albania.

Shell assures buffer zones of up to 200m will be provided to protect cultural heritage monuments where no explosive or specialised truck activities will be undertaken as part of its mitigation measures and a 50m buffer zone will be adopted for natural monuments with the exception of Zagori and Zhej, both protected areas in Gjirokastra.

Shell says the project is expected to create positive effects through the employment of local residents and use of accommodation, goods and services by a staff of around 200.

“Key social and health impacts relate to the access and use of the land by project activities in areas used for cultivation or grazing, the potential development of or use of worker accommodation within villages, potential damage to buildings and disturbance from seismic survey activities, the potential for excessive use of community water sources and medical facilities, and the risk of disturbance created by project workers or traffic,” says the environmental assessment report.

 

Shell’s ambitious Albania plans

Albania expects good news from Shell’s oil exploration operations in the country and is hopeful the British-Dutch multinational oil giant will soon engage in oil production that could give a boost to Albania’s oil industry and much-needed foreign direct investment at a time when two major energy-related projects are set to complete their investment stage by the end of this year, leaving a huge gap in Albania’s FDI.

Albania is one of the few countries where Shell did not suspend its oil exploration operations following the mid-2014 slump in oil prices.

Last year, Albania concluded an oil exploration contract with Shell that will see the oil giant invest another $42.5 million over the next seven years in southern Albania, making it one of the few big Western investors with a presence in Albania. In case of oil discovery in Block 4, the development/production contract will be valid for 25 years with an option of renewal, according to the Albanian energy ministry.

The oil giant has included Albania on its map of more than a century-old key discoveries thanks to its early 2013 Shpirag 2 oil well discovery, in the southern region of Berat, in excess of 800 million of oil and flowing at rates of 800 to 1,300 barrels of oil per day.

The Albanian government says the contract with Shell is the first in the oil sector that enables the country to earn a portion from the first oil production in addition to the mining royalty.

The oil industry produces Albania’s second largest exports and employs more than 3,000 people, but what the Albanian government gets from exports is only a 10 percent royalty tax as no company currently pays the controversial 50 percent corporate income rate, which under current contracts, concessionaires start paying once they meet investment costs.

Most oil extracted in Albania is exported as crude, making it a low value added product and a portion of it goes to a local refiner which has changed hands several times following its failed 2008 privatization.

Bankers Petroleum, the country’s largest oil producer which in mid-2016 was fully acquired by China’s Geo Jade, accounts for the overwhelming majority of 90 percent of total domestic oil production.

Brent crude oil prices currently stand at $60 a barrel, having dropped from a three and a half-year high of $80 a barrel last October, with a negative impact on the country’s oil industry and new drilling plans.
                    [post_title] => Shell’s new Albania oil search plans met with resistance 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-10 13:01:42
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 10 - Albania's average inflation rate remained unchanged at 2 percent in 2018, missing Albania’s central bank 3 percent target by 1 percent for the second year in low, hinting ongoing sluggish consumption and negative effects associated with the free fall of Europe’s single currency against the Albanian lek.

Albania had set a 2.7 percent inflation target for 2018 after consumer prices hit a 5-year high of 2 percent in 2017 following a 16-year low of 1.3 percent in 2016, but inflation remained virtually unchanged and both the Albanian government and the country’s central bank now expect inflation to meet its 3 percent target, estimated to have a positive effect on the country’s emerging economy, by 2020.

Household consumption in the first three quarters of this year grew by around 3.4 percent, about 1 percentage point lower compared to the country’s GDP growth for the same period last year, hinting growth fuelled by weather-related electricity exports and higher oil and steel sales following a pickup in commodity prices.

Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency depreciated by around 7 percent against the Albanian lek in 2018, triggering  lower inflation pressure in the past few months, due to much cheaper imports, but also negatively affecting savers and remittance recipients in euro.

The 2018 inflation was fuelled by a 2.7 percent hike in 'food and non-alcoholic beverages,' the main item in the consumer basket, as well as 2.4 percent increase in the transportation sector following a hike in international oil prices.

Rent, water and electricity prices also registered an average 2.8 percent hike in 2018.

Albania has one of Europe’s lowest consumer prices, but consumption rates are still far below the EU average.

An earlier Eurostat report has shown Albania’s price levels for consumer goods and services are at 50 percent of the EU average, Europe’s second lowest.

When compared to disposable income, price levels, especially for food and non-alcoholic beverages at 73 percent of the EU average, are too high for the average Albanian. The situation is a result of the high level of imports and VAT being applied at an undifferentiated 20 percent rate even on basic food products.

Albania’s 2017 actual individual consumption, a measure of households’ material welfare was at 39 percent of the EU average, the region’s poorest, when expressed in GDP per capita in purchasing power standards (PPS), an artificial currency unit that eliminates price level differences between countries, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office.
                    [post_title] => Inflation rate misses target by 1% for second year in row
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-10 11:59:21
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 10 – At a time when the Albanian economy is growing amid growing pessimism by businesses and households and thanks to weather-related conditions and a hike in international commodity prices, experts says recovering growth is not translating into better welfare for the country’s residents.

The Albanian economy grew by a decade-high of 4.35 percent in the first three quarters of 2018, but growth was largely driven by a hike in hydro-dependent electricity exports and higher oil, mineral and steel sales following a pickup in global commodity prices.

Economy experts say the government should revise pensions and social assistance levels, which in the majority of cases are estimated at below subsistence levels.

"Economic growth should create wealth in this country and the welfare and social protection systems should redistribute that wealth in order to improve households' lives," expert Kosta Barjaba said this week during the presentation of a study by a group of economy and social affairs experts.

Albania’s Supreme State Audit has also recently urged government authorities to immediately consider a long-awaited subsistence level calculation on households’ basic needs in order to efficiently fight poverty reduction in the country.

Back in 2016, a study backed by the Ombudsman's office calculated Albania's subsistence level at 16,000 lek (€128) a month, an amount unveiling that current minimum wages, social assistance, unemployment benefits and pensions are too low for hundreds of thousands of workers and pensioners

The World Bank estimates that 28 percent of Albania's population lives on US$5.5/day, in a poverty rate that is higher compared to other regional EU aspirant countries.

Ardian Civici, an economy expert, says Albania’s growth during the past few years has been quantitative relying on low value-added sectors rather than qualitative.

"We'd better have a qualitative economic growth at a lower rate, but sustainable and as a result of technology and higher productivity, rather than quantitative growth that comes from low productivity sectors such as the garment and footwear and the call center," says Civici.

Civici, who earlier served as a member of the central bank’s supervisory board, says about 80 to 85 percent of economic growth in Albania originates from less than 20 percent of economic stakeholders and as a result the overwhelming majority of its benefits go in favor of this small group.

“Despite some positive changes during the past decade, Albania is still part of those countries with exclusive growth, meaning that the number of economic stakeholders who contribute to GDP growth is still low compared to the total economic stakeholders and as a result even the ‘lion’s share’ of economic growth goes almost entirely in favor of these stakeholders, triggering huge gaps in income and economic and financial benefits,” Civici has earlier said.

Expert Arben Malaj says Albania should be well-prepared to handle the effects of another potential global financial crisis and undertake anti-crisis packages.

Albania was one of the few countries to avoid recession in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, but growth rate lingered between 1 to 3 percent for around 8 years until 2016 and current growth rates of around 4 percent fuelled by some major energy-related projects are still considered below the required 6 percent rate for sustainable growth.

In a recent research paper, Malaj said that the massive migration that Albania has faced during the past 25 years could soon find the country facing a number of serious challenges that require transforming the Albanian economy into more dynamic by easing domestic and foreign investment.

“The most important challenge for Albania is turning the economy into a dynamic economy that eases local and foreign private investment, provides access for companies targeting emerging markets and companies with an ever growing need for young and experienced talents,” says Malaj,

Selami Xhepa, another economy expert, says the concentration of credit in few hands also affects the quality of economic growth in the country at a time when credit has been growing by moderate rates of 3 to 4 percent when adjusted for effects such as the euro’s free fall against the Albanian lek, and the write-off of non-performing loans, still at a high level of around 13 percent.

“The paradox of development in Albania is that during almost three decades of transition, economic growth has been strong, even though on a downward trend from one decade to another. Yet, real income and consumption, the real indicators of a society’s (material) welfare have only slightly increased,” Xhepa has earlier said.
                    [post_title] => Experts urge reforms to make growth sustainable
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-09 17:34:21
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 9 - Albanian migrants living and working in Italy send home more than €120 million annually in remittances, making Italy, home to some 500,000 resident Albanians, a key contributor to thousands of households relying on migration income.

“With reference to the contributions made by the Albanian community in Italy to their country of origin, we note that Albania ranks 12th as the recipient of remittances outgoing from Italy in 2016, with 123.7 million euros transferred (-€4.9 million on 2015), equal to 3 percent of the total sum of remittances transferred (more than 4 billion euros),” says the Italian labor ministry in a report examining the Albanian community in Italy.

More than a quarter of a century following the first early 1990s exodus, Albanians in Italy now make up the second largest non-EU migrant numbers in Italy and are one of the best well-integrated communities in the neighboring country across the Adriatic. Their contribution to the Albanian economy has been huge, being a key source of investment and know how at home.

Some 148,000 Albanians residing in Italy, about a third of the total, have acquired Italian citizenship since the early 2000s, local media say referring to data by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office.

The Italian labor ministry report shows the more prosperous northern Italy was the prime destinations for around two-thirds of the 442,000 Albanians legally residing in Italy during 2017.

One out of 15 Albanians residing in Italy has started their own business, mainly as self-employed in the construction industry.

In 2017, there were 31,358 Albanian-owned businesses operating in Italy, with around three-quarters running their own small construction firms.

Albania has several famous singers, ballet dancers, chefs and football players in Italy, the country’s main trading partner and one of the top investors.

Integration of Albanians into the Italian society is also shown by more than 1,000 mixed marriages taking place each year.

Greece, where another estimated half a million of Albanians live and work, is also a top remittance source for Albania.

Migrant remittances slightly grew in the first three quarters of 2018, in an upward trend that has seen them modestly increase in the past couple of years following an uphill battle since the 2008-09 global crisis and recession in the Eurozone, hitting more than 1 million Albanian migrants, representing around 40 percent of the country’s resident population.

Remittances slightly increased in 2017 when they recovered to €636 million, up from €616 million in 2016, but yet were about a third below their peak level of €952 million in 2007 just before the onset of the global financial crisis, according to Albania’s central bank.

Remittances were mostly hit by recessions in Italy and Greece, the hosts of around 1 million Albanian migrants, but also rising family reunions.
                    [post_title] => Albanians in Italy send home €120 mln annually in remittances
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-09 15:09:21
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 9 – Albania’s electronic communications watchdog has ordered the country’s internet service providers to ban access to hundreds of local and international online sports betting and casino portals following a nationwide ban on online gambling, effective since Jan. 1, 2019.

The electronic communications authority, AKEP, has identified 343 local and international sports betting and online casino portals, including global giants such as williamhill and bwin.

“Every [ISP] entrepreneur is obliged to act immediately on the ban of access to illegal content and immediately notify AKEP on blocking their access,” the electronic communications authority says in a statement.

While many of the red-flagged websites are still accessible, including some key Albanian ones, experts say imposing a complete ban will be an almost mission impossible due to a variety of technological options.

In addition, the Albanian government has hinted the ban will be temporary and could also consider new legal changes to turn sports betting into a state monopoly.

Albania has more than 25 internet service providers with the four largest having a market share of 85 percent.

Internet is accessed in the majority of the country either through ISPs or mobile phone operators.

Dritan Shakohoxha, a renowned sports commentator in Albania, says gambling continues secretly in the country despite the ban, alleging that powerful Russian companies have entered the country.

"The betting shops that used to accept bets [until Dec. 31, 2018], have only removed signs and continue operating the same to before. Powerful Russian companies have entered the Albanian market. They run their own portals in Albanian," Shakohoxha has told a local TV talk show.

Albanian police have identified more than a dozen cases of illegal gambling activities in Tirana and outside the Albanian capital city in the past few days and initiated legal action against ten people, including three gamblers, for organizing and participating in illegal gambling activities, in legal sanctions that could see them fined or face a prison sentence of up to six months.

 

Read more: Albania launches crackdown on illegal gambling following nationwide ban
                    [post_title] =>  Albania orders ban on more than 340 online betting sites 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-09 12:47:19
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan, 9 - The World Bank has upgraded Albania's 2018 economic outlook to 4 percent, but expects the country's economy to slow down to around 3.5 percent in the next three years.

The forecasts are made in the January 2019 Global Economic Prospects report where the World Bank has revised upward Albania's 2018 prospects by 0.4 percent to 4 percent, and upgraded the 2019 outlook by 0.1 percent to 3.6 percent, but left unchanged its 2020 prediction of 3.5 percent. Prospects for 2021 are not much better with the Albanian economy expected to maintain the same growth rate of 3.5 percent.

The World Bank forecasts are considerably more pessimistic to the ruling Socialists' baseline scenario that expects growth to gradually recover from an expected 4.2 percent in 2018 and pick up by 0.1 percent each year until it reaches 4.5 percent by 2021 when Albania heads to new general elections.

With a growth rate of around 3.5 percent in the next three years, Albania is expected to lose its pace as one of the fastest growing economies in the Western Balkans and register stronger growth rates only compared to Macedonia and Montenegro among regional competitors.

One of the main reasons that the World Bank has downgraded its Albania outlook for the next few years is the 2019 completion of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Devoll Hydropower, the two major energy-related that drove economic growth in the past five years, triggering more than €1 billion in foreign direct investment.

“Growth in Albania is projected to slow somewhat as private investment decelerates after two large FDI-financed energy projects are completed,” the World Bank said in a late 2018 report.

The latest Western Balkans Regular Economic report by the World Bank showed Albania is almost immune to current global trade tensions between leading economies and Turkish market volatility to the Western Balkans, but a possible escalation of trade conflicts between key players could also affect the small Albanian economy as it did in the aftermath of the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

Fiscal consolidation, more efficient public spending, and structural reforms are still critical to sustainable and equitable growth, urges the Washington-based financial institutions which has been supporting Albania with a series of projects and reforms since the early 1990s collapse of the communist regime.

The World Bank expects Albania’s poverty rate measured at US$5.5/day in purchasing power parity to drop to about a quarter of population by 2020, down from about 28 percent, but yet remain one of the highest in the region.

The World Bank forecasts are also the most pessimistic among international financial institutions.

IMF has also revised upward its 2018 economic outlook on Albania to 4 percent, but expects the country’s growth to linger around 3.7 percent to 4 percent over 2019-2023.

In its latest economic outlook, London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development  slightly revised Albania’s 2018 economic growth outlook upward to 4 percent and left unchanged its 2019 forecast at 3.9 percent, rating the Balkan country as one of the fastest growing economies in its South-eastern Europe region.

The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies says it expects Albania’s economy to grow by an average of 4 percent annually over the next couple of years, but warns of risks that public private partnerships and the implementation of a justice reform could pose to the country’s public debt reduction agenda and EU integration prospects.

The European Commission has also revised Albania’s 2018 growth outlook upward, but expects the Albanian economy to slightly slow down over the next couple of years due to lower electricity production and the completion of two large energy projects that drove FDI growth in the past few years.

The EU’s executive arm has raised Albania’s 2018 GDP outlook to 4.1 percent, but the outlook for 2019 when Albania hopes to launch EU accession talks has been left unchanged at 3.9 percent and the Commission expects growth to linger around the same level even in 2020.

In its latest autumn forecast, the European Commission also warns a slowdown in reforms and public debt reduction agenda could pose downside risks to the country’s outlook. In addition, a slowdown in growth in Italy, Albania’s main trading partner and the destination of more than half of the country’s poorly diversified exports could mean more trouble for Albania.

Albania’s GDP growth has only in the past couple of years picked to about 4 percent after avoiding recession, but growing between 1 to 3 percent for about 8 years until 2016. Experts say the country needs to grow by 6 percent annually in order to produce tangible and all-inclusive growth and bridge the huge gap with EU members.
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            [post_date] => 2019-01-15 12:19:43
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 15 – Lower domestic production and orientation toward much more profitable foreign markets has led to a considerable increase in vegetable prices in Albania, a country where interest in fresh and dried vegetable cultivation has been on the rise in the past few years and much of the local production has been destined for exports.

Potato, onion, leek prices have registered sharp double-digit hikes in the past month, with traders blaming lower production from traditional areas such as Korça, southeast Albania, and more local products in the region of Fier, the breadbasket of Albania’s agriculture southwest of the country, destined for more profitable exports.

Potato and onion prices have soared to around 100 lek to 120 lek/kg (€1) during the first two weeks of January, almost double compared to a year ago, in prices that are considered too high for more than a quarter of Albania’s population relying on $5 a day.

Vegetable and potato prices have increased by a total of 25 percent in the past couple of years in the country, according to INSTAT, the state-run statistical institute.

Farmers’ decision to cultivate less potato and onion for 2018 was affected by the 2017 overproduction that led to considerable part of production being sold too cheap or go rotten lacking warehousing facilities.

In addition, much of the vegetable production in the Fier region is being destined for exports, with rising demand by regional and EU markets pushing local prices up.

However, poor orientation over market needs also plays a major role.

Albania had an overproduction in apples in 2018 with top quality fruit trading as low as 30 lek (€0.23), in prices not justifying huge production costs.

In addition, a considerable number of farmers in the southern Albanian regions of Fier and Berat have switched to new products such as berries and mushrooms, working under contract with foreign market operators even for traditional fresh vegetables.

Agriculture is a key sector of the Albanian economy that employs about half of the country’s population but which due to its poor productivity provides only about a fifth of the national output.

Experts say unclear property titles for around half of the country’s agricultural land is a key barrier for the development of larger farms and access to local and EU subsidies that could make Albania’s products much more competitive.

In addition to land fragmentation, poor financing, lack of subsidies and key infrastructure such as irrigation as well as a high tax burden are a serious problem for Albania’s agriculture sector, with high costs often making local products uncompetitive.

Due to the high tax burden applied on oil, at €1.4/liter, Albania has one of Europe’s highest fuel prices, and lack of subsidies sharply increase local product costs.
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