Delay and revise Albania-Kosovo highway tolls, producers tell gov’t

Delay and revise Albania-Kosovo highway tolls, producers tell gov’t

TIRANA, May 4 – Albanian producers have asked the government to delay the implementation of Albania’s first toll road system until next September when the peak tourist season ends and revise downward tolls for the business community in order not

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Central bank, experts divided over reasons behind lek’s constant strengthening

Central bank, experts divided over reasons behind lek’s constant strengthening

TIRANA, May 3 – As the euro hit a 10-year low of 127.7 lek this week, the central bank reassured the downward trend of Europe’s single currency will be short-term and not affect the country’s highly euroised economy which it

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Insurance claims paid out drop by about a quarter in early 2018

Insurance claims paid out drop by about a quarter in early 2018

TIRANA, May 2 – Claims paid out in Albania’s insurance market registered a significant drop in the first quarter of this year as insurance premiums stood almost unchanged. Data published by Albania’s Financial Supervisory Authority shows claims paid out in

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Banking sector consolidation: Challenges ahead for Albania’s 14 remaining banks

Banking sector consolidation: Challenges ahead for Albania’s 14 remaining banks

TIRANA, May 2 – Albania’s banking system has entered a consolidation stage as two small commercial banks were acquired by bigger internal competitors in the past few months, reducing the number of active banks to 14 after more than a

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First Nordic tourist arrivals, a test for Albania’s emerging tourism industry

First Nordic tourist arrivals, a test for Albania’s emerging tourism industry

TIRANA, May 1 – Albania’s tourism industry is set to host the first sizeable number of Nordic tourists in the upcoming tourist season in what will be a test that could prove decisive for the future of one of Albania’s

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State-run postal operator increases market share

State-run postal operator increases market share

TIRANA, May 1 – State-run Posta Shqiptare (Albanian Post) gained some ground against private operators in 2017 when it handled the overwhelming majority of 94 percent of postal items, but generated only 58 percent of the internal market income, according

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Mobile operators’ income hits 15-year low

Mobile operators’ income hits 15-year low

TIRANA, April 30 – Albania’s mobile phone operators suffered a double-digit income decline in 2017 in an ongoing downward trend since almost a decade triggered by tougher competition and smartphone apps replacing traditional phone calls and text messages. An annual

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Exporters warn of massive losses over national currency’s ongoing strengthening against euro

Exporters warn of massive losses over national currency’s ongoing strengthening against euro

TIRANA, April 30 – Albanian exporters have warned the considerable strengthening of Albania’s national currency, lek, against Europe’s single currency in the first four months of this year will lead to losses of at least €100 million for the country’s

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Households’ financial situation deteriorates, central bank survey shows

Households’ financial situation deteriorates, central bank survey shows

TIRANA, April 26 – The Albanian households’ financial situation deteriorated in the second half of 2017 as income dropped and spending increased while informal borrowing continued to remain widespread, says the central bank. Albania’s inflation rate hit a 5-year high

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World Bank loan supports rehabilitation of roads at tourist sites

World Bank loan supports rehabilitation of roads at tourist sites

TIRANA, April 26 – The World Bank has approved a US$50 million loan to finance the rehabilitation of about 55 km of regional and local roads, bringing better and safer connectivity to tourist areas home to around 80,000 residents. The

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 4 - Albanian producers have asked the government to delay the implementation of Albania’s first toll road system until next September when the peak tourist season ends and revise downward tolls for the business community in order not to negatively affect Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges and tourist flows.

Their request comes in a letter the Union of Albanian Producers has sent to the country’s infrastructure ministry as the Albanian concessionaire is working to repair the tolling system that was destroyed and burned down in a March 31 protest that turned violent as local Kukes residents, one of the country’s poorest, strongly opposed average tolls of €5.

Twenty-three local Kukes residents in northeastern were arrested following the protest. Four of them still remain in prison awaiting trial while the remaining have been released to house arrest.

The Union of Albanian Producers says it has also held meetings with Kosovo transport companies and supports a solution that would lead to the improvement of the business climate and the increase in the competitiveness of Albanian products.

Albanian infrastructure authorities have earlier said it could take at least 60 days, apparently until early June 2018, for the concessionaire to repair the destroyed tolling system.

Tolls ranging from €2.5 for motorcycles, to €5 for passenger cars, €11.2 for buses, and €16.2 and €22.5 for mid and high-tonnage trucks have been described as too high by the Albanian and Kosovo business communities, who fear trade exchanges between the two ethnic Albanian countries could receive a severe blow.

The government had initially described the fees as non-negotiable but withdrew following violent protests by local residents and is now considering offering €3 tolls for return trips to Kukes inhabitants.

Frequent road users such as transport companies are also expected to benefit discounts and offered season tickets.

While the tolling system will be in place by early next June, it remains unclear whether the Albanian concessionaire that will manage and maintain the so-called Highway of Nation for the next 30 years will start imposing tolls during summer when Kosovo tourists dominate the country’s foreign visitors in what is known as ‘patriotic tourism.’

Operational since 2009 on the Albanian side and from 2013 in Kosovo, the Highway of Nation linking the two countries has given a strong impetus to trade and human exchanges in the past decade.

Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges dominated by Albanian exports rose by 31 percent to hit a historic high of 29.4 billion lek (€220 million) in 2017 after fluctuating at about the same level of about €160 million in the past five years, according to Albania’s INSTAT statistical institute.

Meanwhile, the number of Kosovo tourists to Albania dropped by about 20 percent to 1.75 million in 2017 following a consecutive hikes in a decade, apparently negatively affected by constantly rising prices in Albania’s main summer destinations.

 

The three requests by the Union of Albanian Producers to the infrastructure ministry
  1. Postpone the implementation of the tolling system until September 1 2018
  2. Review tolls on trucks based on daily return tickets of €16, valid for 24 hours.
  3. Be part of the ongoing negotiating tables on the issue of tolls applied by the concessionaire for the Milot-Morine segment until a consensual deal for both parties is reached.
[post_title] => Delay and revise Albania-Kosovo highway tolls, producers tell gov’t [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => delay-and-revise-albania-kosovo-highway-tolls-producers-tell-govt [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-04 11:41:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-04 09:41:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136945 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136897 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-03 15:17:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-03 13:17:04 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 3 – As the euro hit a 10-year low of 127.7 lek this week, the central bank reassured the downward trend of Europe’s single currency will be short-term and not affect the country’s highly euroised economy which it says is heading toward constant recovery after hitting a 9-year high of 3.8 percent in 2017. Speaking at a press conference this week, central bank governor Gent Sejko attributed the significant strengthening of the national currency to increased euro inflows from foreign investment, remittances and tourism as well as an increase in exports, but warned the de-euroisation strategy that the bank has unveiled has also had some psychological effect. “The Bank of Albania estimates that the mid-term trend of the strengthening of Albania's national currency, a process which started in the second half of 2015, reflects the operation of fundamental factors. Those factors materialized in an increase of the foreign currency supply as a result of the narrowing of the current account gap, the high level of foreign direct investment and lower risk premia in the internal financial market,” said governor Sejko. The national currency, lek, has been on a gradual upward trend that began in mid-2015 as the euro’s five-year reign of about 140 lek came to an end, negatively affecting Albania’s poorly diversified exports, two-thirds of which are destined to Eurozone countries. As a rule, Albania’s free-floating exchange rate regime is determined by market demand and supply, but the central bank can also intervene in emergency situations. "We have envisaged that the de-euroisation strategy and stimulating the use of the national currency has a neutral effect on the banking system and financial system. That is because the measures applied on the compulsory foreign currency reserve are compensated by those in the national currency and vice versa. We expect lower exposure to foreign currency in a three to five-year period. In addition, the measures are not in force yet,” said Sejko. “In case we have a psychological effect, which is not impossible, that is market-driven. That is a result of rumor, overreaction, misunderstanding or maybe ill-reaction by market perception. But there are a lot of other factors related to the real market, there is high inflow of foreign currency,” he added. The governor says that the central bank is monitoring the exchange rate on a daily basis to determine its reaction strategy based on the conventional instruments of the monetary policy. “I call on all economic stakeholders not to act hastily and show bias against the exchange rate which means not making hurried conversions pushed by exchange rate fluctuations because they could incur huge losses in the future,” said Sejko. “One thing is for sure, that we have high euro inflows in the economy. But the strengthening of the national currency parameters could also be a result of speculative market factors. Our objective is the price stability and an excessive appreciation of lek would affect our target,” he added. The strengthening of lek is estimated to have curbed inflation by 0.2 to 0.3 percent in 2017 when consumer prices hit a five-year high of 2 percent, but yet standing below the central bank's 3 percent target which has a positive impact on the economy and consumption. Economy expert Adrian Civici, a former member of the central bank’s supervisory board, says the analysis to national currency appreciation phenomenon leads to the conclusion that the main reason behind is the high availability of supply of euro on the market compared to the national currency. “Another factor that has to be underlined is the public reaction to de-euroisation policy that Albania is currently pursuing, which in many cases has been wrongly interpreted as a trend and target to abandon the euro for lek,” says Civici. Earlier this year, Albania's central bank adopted a de-euroisation campaign in a bid to discourage current high levels of borrowing and saving in Europe’s single currency, accounting for half of the total.  The de-euroisation package makes it more expensive for commercial banks to provide Euro-denominated loans and accept deposits in Europe’s single currency, by their increasing compulsory reserve requirements and lowering requirements for credit and savings in the national currency. “If we consider the upcoming tourist season which has been historically accompanied by massive inflows of euros, it is clear that even in the upcoming months the euro will continue to trade at levels of 127 to 129 lek,” says Civici. According to him, the consequences of this exchange rate will mostly be felt in Albanian exporters' income and euro-denominated savings whose value will drop. “I think commercial banks are also being negatively affected by a weaker euro,” says Civici. “Meanwhile, importers are expected to benefit, especially those operating in the Eurozone. It will also have positive effects for households and businesses who have borrowed in euro and have their regular income in lek. This category is favored in paying out loan instalments. Even the government is favored by the downward euro trend as the public debt stock goes down,” he adds.   Cannabis effect?   Economy expert Suzana Guxholli, an opposition Democratic Party official, links the phenomenon to illegal euro inflows resulting from the peak 2016 cannabis cultivation and ongoing drug trafficking in the country, considered a major cannabis producer and a key transit route for cocaine and heroin for European markets. "All sources of information and processed and unprocessed data, do not provide an answer to this phenomenon which clearly proves the inflow of euro in the Albanian economy from informal and unofficial inflows starting last year,” says Guxholli. The main opposition Democratic Party has accused the ruling Socialists of laundering alleged drug proceeds in a new construction boom and the much-rumored €1 billion public private partnership that the government is implementing in public investment. “That is why the labeling of our economy by local and foreign economists and journalists as a cannabis economy provides an answer to this typical Albanian financial phenomenon.  Like never before in the past 10 years, the euro has depreciated to record lows while the Albanian lek has strengthened, turning into a trend for several months, in a completely strange and inexplicable way at a time when the euro has been growing outside Albania and has strengthened,” says Guxholli. According to her, the exchange rate strengthening for the national currency, makes exports more expensive and imports cheaper, lowering internal demand and encouraging import spending. “For an anemic economy such as Albania, a stronger lek creates a vicious cycle with negative mid and long-term consequences. It has a positive impact only in economic flourishing reducing inflationary pressure. In the depressive Albanian economy, it increases pressure, reduces foreign investment as foreign investors see the country as highly risky with an unsafe economy,” says Guxholli. “By making exports more difficult and reducing them, the appreciation of lek cuts economic growth, lowers the competitiveness of domestic products, bringing an undesired increase in imports, the trade gap, unemployment etc.,” she adds. [post_title] => Central bank, experts divided over reasons behind lek’s constant strengthening [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => central-bank-experts-divided-over-reasons-behinds-leks-constant-strengthening [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-03 17:39:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-03 15:39:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136897 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136892 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-02 16:41:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-02 14:41:02 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 2 – Claims paid out in Albania’s insurance market registered a significant drop in the first quarter of this year as insurance premiums stood almost unchanged. Data published by Albania’s Financial Supervisory Authority shows claims paid out in the motor vehicle dominated insurance market dropped by 22 percent to 1.1 billion lek (€9 million) as market operators saw their insurance premiums increase by a mere 2.5 percent to 3.5 billion lek (€27.6 million). Almost 80 percent of claims paid out went to cover motor insurance in road accidents. Albania has one of Europe’s highest death tolls from road accidents with an estimated 15 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. Some 370 road accidents took place in Albania in the first quarter of this year, with a death toll of 47 people, slightly lower compared to the same period last year, according to INSTAT statistical institute. The compulsory motor third party liability accounts for about two-thirds of the small and underdeveloped Albanian insurance market with an annual turnover of €120 million, about 1 percent of the country's GDP. Insurance premiums in the eight private companies operating in the market grew by an annual 5.4 percent to about 16.2 billion lek (€121 million) in 2017, in a slowdown for the fourth year in a row as the market remains overwhelmingly non-life oriented and reliant on compulsory motor insurance. [post_title] => Insurance claims paid out drop by about a quarter in early 2018 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => insurance-claims-paid-out-drop-by-about-a-quarter-in-early-2018 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-02 16:41:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-02 14:41:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136892 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136886 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-02 15:15:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-02 13:15:04 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 2 – Albania’s banking system has entered a consolidation stage as two small commercial banks were acquired by bigger internal competitors in the past few months, reducing the number of active banks to 14 after more than a decade of 16 commercial banks. In early 2018, the Albanian subsidiary of the National Bank of Greece was acquired by the American Bank of Investments, an American-Albanian bank that has been operating in Albania since 2016. Back in mid-2017, Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo Albania unit, the country’s fourth largest bank acquired the bankrupt Veneto Bank in Italy and its subsidiaries in several European countries including Albania. Banking experts say the consolidation process, the process by which one banking company takes over or merges with another, is expected to continue and further the reduce the number of banks in the country, but at the same time not affect competition in a market where the four largest banks already hold more than two-thirds of total assets, at 68 percent at the end of 2017. Experts believe the consolidation process will lead to tougher competition and improved access to banking services at a time when credit still remains sluggish, negatively affected by both tight lending standards applied by banks and poor demand by businesses and households. Banks are expected to further cut branches and staff this year following two internal market acquisitions in the past year, leading to restructuring that could also cut the number of commercial banks in the country to 14 if the acquisitions are rebranded. The 16 commercial banks operating in the country cut dozens of branches and jobs nationwide last year as lending remained sluggish and e-banking gradually expanded despite banks registering record high profits. The country’s banking system is considered well-capitalized, liquid and profitable. However, in its latest statement, the IMF recommends that “ensuring that new market entrants have solid banking experience and meet fit and proper criteria to operate in the Albanian banking market will be critical.” Turkish-owned BKT, Austria’s Raiffeisen and Albanian-owned Credins bank were the top three banks in terms of assets that include loans, investment in securities and interbank placement at the end of 2017.   Below are the opinions of three experts, originally published in Albanian on the “Bankieri” (Banker) magazine of the Albanian Association of Banks.   [caption id="attachment_135770" align="alignright" width="300"]Elvin Meka Elvin Meka[/caption] Elvin Meka, banking expert   2017 marks the beginning of a consolidation process in all of Albania's banking system as Veneto Banca was acquired by Intesa Sanpaolo Bank in Italy and as a result also in Albania, while ABI Bank fully purchased the shares of NBG Bank in Albania. Those deals could be followed by efforts and other purchase agreements in order to further consolidate the sector considering signals coming from business corridors. This is an important process and at the same time special for Albanian customers, the banking system and the regulator as everybody was used to an increasing number of banks in the past 20 years, at least until 2007 when the number of banks reached 16. The Albanian banking environment has now made a huge step forward as it has entered the maturity stage when mergers and acquisitions are being carried out as normal business deals and not forced by major problems generated by the banking sector or the country's economy. This is a positive step which shows that the Albanian banking system is stable and able to manage such special operations which are difficult, complex and easy manageable. The consequence that customers mostly fear in this respect is that a smaller number of big commercial banks remaining after mergers and acquisitions could damage competition. The number of banks in a country's financial market is not very important as far as competition in the banking system is concerned as a bigger number of banks does not necessarily imply tougher competition and lower competition is not necessarily accompanied by a smaller number of banks. Competition in the banking sector is not simply a question of numbers, but involves how qualitative or how poor the banking system is toward customers, its added value per unit of cost and how much the economy of scale allows bigger banks to offer more services at cheaper prices, the strength of the banking market to force higher customer fees for the services provided, the efficiency of the regulatory measures by the respective authorities to discourage inappropriate anti-competitive behavior etc. Such a consolidation could be key to encouraging banks in Albania to start considering offering other financial services related to asset management, investment banking and securities in order to contribute to the deepening of the financial system as they will be big enough to engage in these value-added operations. In addition, this will be a 'must' for them as banks will have to make calculations about the possible sectoral and inter-sectoral competition they could face from new potential competitors either by commercial banks or non-bank financial institutions and FinTechs especially in the payment system and financing of startups. As a result, the consolidation process in the Albanian banking system will bring important benefits for the Albanian banking system and economy regarding the efficiency, diversification and expansion of credit. That means more market power, more services for bank customers, more efficient and professional human resources, more access to finances for everybody by preserving the stability of the financial system.     [caption id="attachment_136888" align="alignright" width="300"]Edvin Libohova Edvin Libohova[/caption] Edvin Libohova, secretary general of the Albanian Insurers Association   The 25-year-old story of Albania's banking system has gone through several development stages as a reflection of the country's economic development itself, although banks have always been one step ahead and continue to remain the country's most developed financial institutions. The first stage of the development of banking market was marked by the entrance of foreign capital, initially in the form of joint ventures with the government and then as 100% private enterprises representing foreign financial groups. The inflow of foreign capital laid the foundations for the complete privatization of state-run banks (a process carried out in the late 1990s and early 2000s) The privatization of banks marked an important step for the country's economy and the banking system itself as it enabled the introduction of new banking services, the expansion of the network of branches in all areas where the economy developed and increased competition among market operators. In addition to this process, banks with local capital were established as the peak stage of maturity and the business operation as a corporation. For a period of almost 10 years, the banking system continues to grow and develop fast, being the main supporter and financier of the economy and at the same time successfully handling the effects of the 2008-2010 global crisis. During this period, new operators entered the market by acquiring existing banks while the number of banks remained unchanged at 16. After several stages from its establishment, 2017 marked the moment when the banking system organically sought its consolidation. This process started last year and is expected to continue for the next 2 to 3 years, marking an important step in the development of this market. The main events include the acquisition of smaller banks by bigger ones, the expansion of banks by purchasing other market operators, the transfer of inactive banks to active investment groups etc. Consolidation brings a major process in the banks' life span. Firstly, banks that grow and consolidate undergo restructuring that involves its network of branches, organizing structures, human resources and banks' operating systems, relations with shareholders, customers and third parties. Of course these processes bring headaches to the banks, but on the other hand have a positive impact on re-dimensioning the bank's status to the current market conditions. Secondly, the market undergoes structural changes, there will be closures of branches and re-positioning of current branches. Thirdly, there will be staff cuts, a process that has an impact on the redistribution of experienced human capital in the financial market. From the general point of view, bank customers are the biggest beneficiaries of the consolidation. Consolidation brings tougher competition which means better and more competitive deposit and loan rates, commissions, and a diversity of products and terms that the customers are offered. It also helps expand the presence of banks to uncovered areas and increase the lending capacities. It is clear that a bank's expansion through consolidation is accompanied among others with the consolidation of capital which is the prime element for increasing its lending capacity. Regardless of the number of banks and their network, which can be considered quantitatively enough, the market needs new products and services and especially specialized banks. We are all aware that the market lacks investment banks, agriculture focused banks, mortgage banks, branchless banking etc.   [caption id="attachment_136889" align="alignright" width="300"]Ornela Liperi Ornela Liperi[/caption] Ornela Liperi, Monitor magazine editor   The banking system has been recently involved in a stage of consolidations with sales, mergers and acquisitions and that is happening for several reasons. Firstly, as a result of the restructuring of the Greek banking sector which after the debt crisis, in line with the European Central Bank recommendations, is reducing assets outside Greece. There are three banks with Greek capital in Albania that hold 14 percent of total assets. Secondly, other banks, small and big ones seem to no longer have an interest in the Albanian market after years of stagnation and have decided to go on sale. On the other hand, there are banks who have an interest in expanding in the internal market and plan to do this not only through organic growth, but also through the purchase of other bank subsidiaries. This year, the banking system will be reduced from 16 to 14 banks as two purchases have already been completed. The same to 2017, even this year is also expected to bring many developments in the banking sector. Based on the Greek restructuring plan, Tirana Bank, a subsidiary of Greece's Pireaus Group that holds 5.4 percent of the banking sector assets, is also on sale. Offers on this banks are already underway including from those private groups who until now had no experience in the financial sector. The [Malaysian] International Commercial Bank is also on sale but its weight on the system at about 0.7 percent is too small. Since several years, the banking system has been experiencing low growth affected by the high level of non-performing loans which reached about a quarter of total loans in mid-2013. In the past few years, asset growth has been minimal, the number of branches has been declining and the number of employees as well. The capital adequacy ratio has stagnated at 16 percent while the profitability indicators, the return on equity and assets dropped to 0.74 percent and 7.15 percent in 2016 before recovering to 1.54 percent and 15.71 in 2017. The system's financial results are very fluctuating depending on spending on provisions for bad debt. The positive thing is the decline in non-performing loans to an 8-year low of 13.2 percent at the end of 2017. The sales and purchases do not end here as bigger banks are also on sale if they manage to find buyers, although unfortunately the interest of big international banking groups on the Albanian market has been low in the past few years. Another new development is the interest of big Albanian business groups to enter the Albanian banking system as part of their expansion and diversification strategy of their investment portfolio. "To mitigate risks to banking stability, candidates for new banking licenses should possess adequate banking experience and avoid conflicts of interest," the IMF has said in a message that is directly aimed at businesses targeting to enter the banking system. [post_title] => Banking sector consolidation: Challenges ahead for Albania’s 14 remaining banks [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => banking-sector-consolidation-challenges-ahead-for-albanias-14-remaining-banks [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-02 15:17:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-02 13:17:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136886 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136879 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-01 17:17:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-01 15:17:16 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 1 - Albania's tourism industry is set to host the first sizeable number of Nordic tourists in the upcoming tourist season in what will be a test that could prove decisive for the future of one of Albania’s key emerging sectors. As the 2018 tourist season is already underway, Albania's air transport authorities have already approved new charter flights linking Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki to Tirana from May to early October 2018. In addition, direct charter flights from Poland, Hungary and Russia as well as new regular flights with Israel and a new low-cost carrier linking Tirana to London are much promising for this season. One of the leading tour operators in the Nordic region and serving about 1 million travelers each year, Apollo will be the first Swedish tour operator to offer direct flights and package holidays to Albania in the summer 2018. "We see great opportunities with Albania in the future. After the success in Saranda in southern Albania, we have increased our business this summer at the new destination of Durrës. We will offer direct flights from Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, and Copenhagen, to the colorful capital of Albania, Tirana. This is, without a doubt, a holiday destination to count on," Leif Vase Larsen, the CEO at Apollo, is quoted as saying by Swedish media. The Nordic tour operator has selected hotels in Saranda, southernmost Albania along the Albanian Riviera and Durres, the ancient Albanian city with long stretches of sandy beaches along the Adriatic coast of central Albania. "Much suggests that Albania will be the big travel news of this summer. We have noticed a great deal of interest and curiosity from our Swedish travelers, which also reflects in the number of bookings for this summer. Many want to take the opportunity to explore Albania, and the Durrës area is an exciting complement to Saranda in the south part of the country, says Peter Browall, General Manager at Apollo Sweden. The arrival of Nordic tourists from May 11 is seen as great news to curb the seasonality of Albania’s tourism industry relying on sun and sea, although the country’s three UNESCO world heritage sites and a number of mountain tourism destinations are promising for a year-round travel and tourism industry. Albania boasts cultural heritage sites ranging from ancient Illyria, the predecessor of Albania, and a mix of Roman, Greek, Ottoman civilizations. The local tourism industry currently mostly relies on what is known as patriotic tourism from ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia as well as migrants returning home to spend their summer vacations, a segment that mostly contributes during the peak July-August season. However, more and more central European tourists such as Germans, Poles and Czechs have been discovering Albania in the past few years. The Poles made it to the top ten of foreign tourists visiting Albania last year, with a record 74 percent hike to about 115,000 tourists. Tourism experts say Albania’s challenge now is be to keep the tourists coming and improve the quality of infrastructure and service so that the country that was once long isolated under communism and still remains largely unknown to Europeans turns into a real Mediterranean destination. Handling the waste disposal issue and improving road infrastructure as well as having more accommodations that can offer all-inclusive packages, still in their initial stage, are considered key to success. Albania has also lifted visas for Chinese tourists in addition to regular visa-free travel offered to Russians, some former Soviet Union countries as well as Persian Gulf tourists from April to October. The Albanian government says it is receiving assistance by Turkish Airlines, one of the world’s leading airlines, to set up its own national flag carrier and build a new airport in Vlora, southern Albania that would considerably improve service and reduce ticket prices, currently among the region’s highest.   An emerging destination Still undiscovered and little known by most European tourists, Albania has been placed as a 2018 under-the-radar destination by prestigious travel media and tour operators. The National Geographic has rated Albania among the 2018 places one needs to visit, especially for adventurer and divers. UK-based Wild Frontiers tour operator has also named Albania among the world’s top three adventure travel destinations for 2018 as part of an off-the-beaten path Western Balkans tour. The Irish Times has also rated Albania as the top two budget destination for 2018, sandwiched between the Spanish Costas and Turkey. Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past decade being nicknamed “A new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret.” The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income, up about 12 percent compared to a year ago as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists, according to central bank and INSTAT data. With tourism on top of the agenda as one of the emerging key drivers of Albania’s growth, the Albanian government is offering a series incentives for current and new investments in a bid to also promote luxury travel in the country in addition to the rapidly growing mass tourism. New luxury accommodation units built by internationally renowned chained-brand hotels or under management or franchise contracts with them, will benefit tax incentives for a ten-year period for building and operating four-star hotels and resorts with an investment value of at least €8 million or five-star units worth at least €15 million, according to a package of tax incentives Albania approved in late 2017. Some 17 airlines regularly connect Tirana to European destinations, mostly Italy where most passengers fly considering an estimated community of some 500,000 Albanian migrants in the neighbouring country across the Adriatic.   New charter destinations  
  1. Helsinki-Tirana; Flights from May 11 to September 28
 
  1. Copenhagen - Tirana; Flights from June 2 to august 18
 
  1. Budapest - Tirana (unspecified)
 
  1. Moscow - Tirana: Flights from June 19 to September 11
 
  1. Stockholm-Oslo- Gothenburg; Flights from May 12 to October 2
 
  1. Gothenburg-Tirana. Flights from June 6 to October 3
 
  1. Gdansk/Poznan/Warsaw/Prague/Katowice/London Gatwick - June to September
  New scheduled destinations 1. Tel Aviv - Tirana: Late June to October 26 2- Luton –Tirana:               April 19 to October 27 [post_title] => First Nordic tourist arrivals, a test for Albania’s emerging tourism industry [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => first-nordic-tourist-arrivals-a-test-for-albanias-emerging-tourism-industry [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-01 17:17:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-01 15:17:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136879 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136872 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-01 11:00:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-01 09:00:14 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 1 – State-run Posta Shqiptare (Albanian Post) gained some ground against private operators in 2017 when it handled the overwhelming majority of 94 percent of postal items, but generated only 58 percent of the internal market income, according to a report by the electronic and postal communications authority, AKEP. While the share in postal items handled remained unchanged, the state-run operator increased its revenue share by 1 percentage point. The remaining 10 private operators, some of which subsidiaries of big international delivery service providers, handled only 6 percent of the postal items, but had a market share of 42 percent in terms of income. Revenue market shares among private operators range from 22 percent for the Albanian subsidiary of German DHL International, followed by FedEx representatives TNT Express Albania with 7.9 percent and Ulysses Enterprises with 6 percent. Albanian-owned Albanian Courier had a 4 percent market share. Postal operators handled 25 million items in 2017, up only 2 percent compared to 2016. Postal market income rose to 2.3 billion lek (€17.7 mln), up 10 percent compared to 2016. A tenth of the annual income, some 251 million lek (about €2 mln), was invested, shows the report. State-run Posta Shqiptare has a nationwide presence with some 568 offices and 2,810 workers, some 88 percent of the total workforce in the postal sector. While advancement in electronic communication represent huge challenges for postal service providers, e-commerce have increased demand for international package delivery. Postal operators reported income of about 2 billion lek (€15.3 mln) in 2016, down from 2.8 billion lek (€21 million) in 2012 when the Albanian Post held a 65 percent market share in terms of income.       [post_title] => State-run postal operator increases market share [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => state-run-postal-operator-increases-market-share [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-01 11:00:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-01 09:00:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136872 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136861 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-04-30 17:23:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-30 15:23:01 [post_content] => TIRANA, April 30 - Albania's mobile phone operators suffered a double-digit income decline in 2017 in an ongoing downward trend since almost a decade triggered by tougher competition and smartphone apps replacing traditional phone calls and text messages. An annual report by the country’s electronic communications authority, AKEP, shows the country’s four mobile operators saw their revenue drop by an annual 12 percent to 29.7 billion lek (€230 mln) in 2017, the lowest level since 2003 when only two mobile operators were offering their services in Albania. The 2017 situation was mainly a result of a sharp 44 percent decline in incoming international phone calls, leading to a 3.4 billion lek (€26.3 mln) drop in annual income. Incoming phone calls mainly from Italy and Greece, the hosts of about 1 million Albanian migrants, are estimated to have dropped by four times compared to 2013. The electronic communications watchdog says the situation is a result of the replacement of international calls with over-the-top apps and higher fees some EU operators have been charging on calls originating from non-EU member states such as Albania. The market started slightly shrinking in terms of revenue in 2009 after the successful launch of the third operator, Turkish-owned Eagle Mobile and Albanian-owned Plus two years later. Total income for fixed line internet, phone and TV service providers, accounting for 20 percent of the electronic communications market, also dropped by 14 percent in 2017. The number of active mobile phone users, defined as those who have made or received at least one call or text message in the last three months, rose by about 3 percent to 3.5 million in 2017 in a population of about 2.8 million residents. Meanwhile, 2 million subscribers, had access to 3G and 4G services at the end of 2017, with a penetration rate of 72 percent, compared to only about 10 percent of the population in 2011 when 3G services were first offered. In 2017, an active mobile phone subscriber paid an average of 3.12 lek (€0.024)/minute (VAT included) and spend an average of 509 lek (€3.93) a month on mobile services, in slightly higher rates of 3 and 7 percent respectively compared to 2016. However, AKEP says Albania's mobile operators' average income remains one of the region's lowest and at €36.6, Albania's average revenue per user is four times lower compared to the EU average. However, average GDP per capita and consumption in EU aspirant Albania is at about a third of the EU average, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office. In 2017, an Albanian mobile phone subscriber talked an average of 160 minutes in outgoing phone calls and sent 34 text messages in slightly lower figures compared to 2016, but consumed 2.06 GB, up 38 percent compared to the previous year. Data shows market operators maintained their market shares in 2017 with UK-based Vodafone leading with a 49 percent share in total income, followed by German-Greek owned Telekom Albania with a 30 percent share, Turkish-owned Albtelecom with a 12 percent share and no-longer operational Albanian-owned Plus Communication with an 8 percent share. Although with a small market share, the late 2017 exit of Albanian-owned Plus Communication is expected to increase market concentration, leading to lower competition. The electronic communications watchdog says it is assessing the new market situation in order to undertake measures that stimulate efficient competition and bring sustainable mid-to long-term benefits after two largest operators, Vodafone and Telekom Albania, each acquired 50 percent stakes in Albanian-owned Plus Communication. The smallest and sole Albanian-owned operator, Plus ceased operations in January 2018, reducing the mobile phone market to three operators and leaving some 206,000 active subscribers with no choice but to switch to either Vodafone, Tekekom Albania or Albtelecom in order to continue having access to mobile phone services. Plus’s market exit came seven years after launching its operations as the fourth and sole Albanian-owned mobile operator. Albania’s electronic communications watchdog has recently ordered the country’s mobile operators to switch back to 30-day pre-paid standard bundles starting next June after cutting the packages to 28 days for the past couple of years, increasing consumer costs in practices not applied in regional countries. [post_title] => Mobile operators’ income hits 15-year low [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => mobile-operators-income-hits-15-year-low [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-30 17:23:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-30 15:23:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136861 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136851 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-04-30 12:48:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-30 10:48:04 [post_content] => TIRANA, April 30 – Albanian exporters have warned the considerable strengthening of Albania’s national currency, lek, against Europe’s single currency in the first four months of this year will lead to losses of at least €100 million for the country’s economy for 2018 alone. In an open letter to Prime Minister Edi Rama and central bank governor Gent Sejko, the Albanian Export Center representing some of the country’s main agri-food producers and exporters, says the situation could escalate to crisis unless no measures are taken. Europe’s single currency currently trades at a 9-year high of 128.86 lek, down 4.5 percent compared to the same period last year with a negative impact on the country’s poorly diversified and Eurozone- oriented exports and also damaging local producers who now face tougher competition from cheaper imports. Exporters attribute the faster strengthening of Albania’s national currency in the first four months of this year when the euro lost 3.2 percent of its value, to Albania’s central bank de-euroisation strategy. Already partly in force, the strategy targets reducing current high levels of euro-denominated deposits and loans, accounting for about half of the country’s savings and credit, a key barrier for the pass-through of Albania’s easier monetary policy to stimulate sluggish lending and consumption. “As we had already warned since the de-euroisation strategy was publicly unveiled, there were expectations that the action undertaken under its framework and simply its psychological effect would have a market impact by depreciating the euro against the local currency and this way damage the exporting industry, tourism and the country's most vulnerable groups who rely on remittances,” says the Albanian Export Center. The new de-euroization rules that Albania’s central bank will apply by next June make it more expensive for commercial banks to provide euro-denominated loans and accept deposits in Europe’s single currency, by increasing compulsory reserve requirements. Farmers seem to be the hardest-hit category with a double setback from lower export income but also tougher domestic competition from cheaper milk and meat imports, exporters say in their letter. Albanian exporters estimate the country’s economy will be stripped of at least 14 billion lek (€108 mln) for 2018 if Europe’s single currency continues to trade at this 9-year-low rate against the Albanian lek. There will be 7 billion lek (€54 mln) less in internal circulation from export losses, 3.5 billion lek (€27 mln) in losses from remittances and another 3.5 billion lek from tourism to account for a total of 14 billion lek less circulating in the Albanian economy, says the association. According to the Albanian Export Center, losses are far bigger if damage to the state budget and export and tourism-related industries are taken into account with total damage equal to creating about 3,500 to 7,000 jobs. "I believe those figures are significant enough to establish a working group that would manage the situation arising from this rapid devaluation of the country's exporting capabilities and a decline in money circulating in the Albanian economy," says Alban Zusi, the head of Albanian Export Center. “If the situation persists, in autumn we will have the first crisis effects and in spring next year nobody will deny the crisis," warns Alban Zusi, a former deputy Agriculture Minister from 2013 to 2015. In late March 2018, when the euro traded at similar levels, Albania's central bank said it was not planning to make any intervention in the country’s free-floating exchange rate regime determined by market demand and supply. “The Bank of Albania intervenes in the market in case of sharp fluctuations in the exchange rate, and the occurrence of circumstances specified by the central bank. In the concrete case, we deem that the circumstances specified for intervention are not in place,” central bank governor Sejko told journalists then. The national currency, lek, has been on a gradual upward trend that began in mid-2015 as the euro’s five-year reign of about 140 lek came to an end, negatively affecting Albania’s poorly diversified exports, two-thirds of which are destined to Eurozone countries. Albania’s central bank attributes the strengthening of the national currency against the euro to higher GDP growth fuelled by an increase in FDI and tourism revenue, but the opposition and some experts say the euro inflows from the peak cannabis cultivation 2015-2016 and ongoing drug trafficking have also had an impact. On the positive side, the depreciation of the euro against the national currency is good news for borrowers in Europe’s single currency who have their income in lek, the government’s external debt payments as well as imports whose cost has slightly dropped.   No visual effect on exports so far The significant strengthening of Albania’s national currency has had no apparent negative effect on exports in early 2018 as they grew by 19 percent in the first quarter of this year and seem on track to register strong growth for this year, mainly due to the resumption of electricity exports and crude oil production wholly destined for sales abroad following the bankruptcy of a local refiner. Albania’s exports grew by 12 percent in 2017 following modest growth of 0.1 percent in 2016 and a 5 percent decline in 2015 triggered by a sharp cut in international oil and mineral prices. However, certain industries such as the garment and footwear relying on cheap labour costs and tourism whose package holidays have already been booked could be negatively affected by the national currency’s ongoing strengthening. Exporters have earlier warned a stronger national currency could make them lose their competitive advantage especially in key sectors such as the garment and footwear industry producing the country’s top exports, employing about 100,000 people and relying on cheap labor costs. The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income, up about 12 percent compared to a year ago as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists, according to central bank and INSTAT data. Albania’s exports are currently poorly diversified with three-quarters of them relying on ‘garment and footwear,’ 'minerals, fuels and electricity’ and ‘construction materials and metals,’ exposing the country's economy to industry-specific shocks such as the mid-2014 slump in commodity prices significantly reducing the country’s key oil and mineral exports. A Harvard University study has unveiled Albania needs to consider the plastics and agriculture sectors to diversify the country’s exports in order to make the country’s economy more competitive and reduce exposure to international headwinds such as sharp swings in energy prices. [post_title] => Exporters warn of massive losses over national currency’s ongoing strengthening against euro [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => exporters-warn-of-massive-losses-over-national-currencys-ongoing-strengthening-against-euro [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-30 12:48:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-30 10:48:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136851 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136800 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-04-26 17:59:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-26 15:59:49 [post_content] => TIRANA, April 26 - The Albanian households' financial situation deteriorated in the second half of 2017 as income dropped and spending increased while informal borrowing continued to remain widespread, says the central bank. Albania’s inflation rate hit a 5-year high of 2 percent in 2017 while wages modestly rose for the public sector and are estimated to have registered no change in the private sector, employing about 80 percent of the population. In a survey with 1,200 households nationwide, the central bank says 28 percent of the respondents reported having a loan to pay off and two-thirds had borrowed informally from friends and relatives, a situation which remained the same compared to the first half of 2017. However, the amount of informal borrowing accounts for only a fifth of the total credit among households. The survey shows Albanian households mostly borrow to finance consumption in 42 percent of the cases, followed by purchase and repair of property in 26 percent of the cases and business development in 12 percent of the cases. Most households say they are pessimistic about the first half of 2018 as they don't expect any significant improvement in their ability to repay loans and take out new loans. The situation reflects tight lending standards that commercial banks continue to apply as non-performing loans have dropped to 14 percent, down from 25 percent in mid-2014 and poor demand by households. The findings of the survey also indicate that the construction-fuelled growth of about 3.8 percent in 2017, a nine year-high for Albania, failed to have any major impact on accelerating household consumption which was about 1 percent lower compared to the GDP growth, according to state-run statistical institute, INSTAT. The situation is not that optimistic even for businesses which rate tough competition and finding new markets as the most pressing challenges affecting their operations, especially small enterprises. Sales in the second half of 2017 grew for medium-sized and large enterprises but dropped for small businesses, shows the central bank survey with 1,200 businesses nationwide. The situation reconfirms the difficult situation small businesses are facing amid tougher competition by commercial centers and supermarket chains and a hike in the tax burden as more than 10,000 small enterprises were included in the 20 percent VAT system in April 2018, triggering protests. About half of the surveyed businesses said they had a loan to pay out but only about 7 percent had borrowed informally. More than half of respondent businesses said they have no chances of borrowing in the first half of this year and a considerable number that they are little likely to borrow. The Albanian government expects the country’s economy to recover to 4.2 percent in 2018, but international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF expects growth to slow down to 3.7 percent as major energy-related projects that drove growth in the past few years complete their investment stage by the end of this year. [post_title] => Households’ financial situation deteriorates, central bank survey shows [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => households-financial-situation-deteriorates-central-bank-survey-shows [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-26 17:59:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-26 15:59:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136800 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136792 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-04-26 14:07:13 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-26 12:07:13 [post_content] => TIRANA, April 26 - The World Bank has approved a US$50 million loan to finance the rehabilitation of about 55 km of regional and local roads, bringing better and safer connectivity to tourist areas home to around 80,000 residents. The 20-year soft loan is part of a regional and local roads connectivity project for Albania to improve access to selected agricultural and tourism centers and strengthen their municipalities' capacity to manage their road assets, says the World Bank. The first-year program includes three segments known for their importance on tourism and agriculture development such as Fier-Seman, Pogradec-Tushemisht, and Qafë Thore-Theth roads. The lake town of Pogradec, southeastern Albania and the Theth mountain tourism site in northern Albania, are two of Albania’s major destinations. "The new project will focus on prioritization of interventions with higher economic impact that complement productive sectors, particularly in agriculture and tourism," says Maryam Salim, the World Bank Country Manager for Albania. "Tourism development will benefit by improving road access to existing and potential tourism destinations. The project also helps the integration of agricultural producers into agri-food value," she adds. The World Bank says about half of the regional and local network is categorized as being in poor or very poor condition and the existing condition of regional and local road networks is not able to serve the emerging tourism industry, hindering the development of the agricultural sector. The main Tirana-Durres highway is also in desperate condition, forcing drivers to take the fast lane in order to avoid potholes. Albania has one of Europe's highest death tolls from road accidents with an estimated 15 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. [post_title] => World Bank loan supports rehabilitation of roads at tourist sites [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => world-bank-loan-supports-rehabilitation-of-roads-at-tourist-sites [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-26 14:07:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-26 12:07:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136792 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136945 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-05-04 11:41:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-04 09:41:47 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 4 - Albanian producers have asked the government to delay the implementation of Albania’s first toll road system until next September when the peak tourist season ends and revise downward tolls for the business community in order not to negatively affect Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges and tourist flows. Their request comes in a letter the Union of Albanian Producers has sent to the country’s infrastructure ministry as the Albanian concessionaire is working to repair the tolling system that was destroyed and burned down in a March 31 protest that turned violent as local Kukes residents, one of the country’s poorest, strongly opposed average tolls of €5. Twenty-three local Kukes residents in northeastern were arrested following the protest. Four of them still remain in prison awaiting trial while the remaining have been released to house arrest. The Union of Albanian Producers says it has also held meetings with Kosovo transport companies and supports a solution that would lead to the improvement of the business climate and the increase in the competitiveness of Albanian products. Albanian infrastructure authorities have earlier said it could take at least 60 days, apparently until early June 2018, for the concessionaire to repair the destroyed tolling system. Tolls ranging from €2.5 for motorcycles, to €5 for passenger cars, €11.2 for buses, and €16.2 and €22.5 for mid and high-tonnage trucks have been described as too high by the Albanian and Kosovo business communities, who fear trade exchanges between the two ethnic Albanian countries could receive a severe blow. The government had initially described the fees as non-negotiable but withdrew following violent protests by local residents and is now considering offering €3 tolls for return trips to Kukes inhabitants. Frequent road users such as transport companies are also expected to benefit discounts and offered season tickets. While the tolling system will be in place by early next June, it remains unclear whether the Albanian concessionaire that will manage and maintain the so-called Highway of Nation for the next 30 years will start imposing tolls during summer when Kosovo tourists dominate the country’s foreign visitors in what is known as ‘patriotic tourism.’ Operational since 2009 on the Albanian side and from 2013 in Kosovo, the Highway of Nation linking the two countries has given a strong impetus to trade and human exchanges in the past decade. Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges dominated by Albanian exports rose by 31 percent to hit a historic high of 29.4 billion lek (€220 million) in 2017 after fluctuating at about the same level of about €160 million in the past five years, according to Albania’s INSTAT statistical institute. Meanwhile, the number of Kosovo tourists to Albania dropped by about 20 percent to 1.75 million in 2017 following a consecutive hikes in a decade, apparently negatively affected by constantly rising prices in Albania’s main summer destinations.   The three requests by the Union of Albanian Producers to the infrastructure ministry
  1. Postpone the implementation of the tolling system until September 1 2018
  2. Review tolls on trucks based on daily return tickets of €16, valid for 24 hours.
  3. Be part of the ongoing negotiating tables on the issue of tolls applied by the concessionaire for the Milot-Morine segment until a consensual deal for both parties is reached.
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