Key rate kept at historic low as consumer prices struggle to recover

Key rate kept at historic low as consumer prices struggle to recover

TIRANA, Nov. 10 – Albania’s central bank has decided to keep the key interest rate unchanged at a historic low of 1.25 percent as average inflation rate in the first ten months of the year hit a record low of

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From illegal migrant to one of Italy’s most successful software developers

From illegal migrant to one of Italy’s most successful software developers

TIRANA, July 4 – Eight years ago Uljan Sharka was only a minor illegal  Albanian immigrant who had reached Italy through a speedboat in search of a better life and risked deportation by the authorities in the neighboring country across

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Justice reform supporters seek to clear remaining hurdles

Justice reform supporters seek to clear remaining hurdles

TIRANA, Dec. 24 – Proponents of a major reform of the justice system in Albania are working to bring about consensus on a proposed legislative package, including constitutional amendments, following a reply by an international expert commission on three drafts

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In blunt speech, Albania urged to deal with graft in the judiciary

In blunt speech, Albania urged to deal with graft in the judiciary

TIRANA, Dec. 15 – Taking a blunt approach trying to convince Albanians of the need for justice system reform to address widespread graft concerns, U.S. Ambassador Lu told a judges’ a conference this week that the corrupt among them should

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Anger over economy, governance yield violent opposition protest ➦

Anger over economy, governance yield violent opposition protest ➦

TIRANA, Dec. 9 – Aiming to capitalize on the public’s growing unease with the Socialist-led government over the state of the economy and mounting accusations of corruption and mismanagement, Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party held Tuesday a large protest rally

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Fuel prices likely to rise after sharp increase in gas station licence fees

Fuel prices likely to rise after sharp increase in gas station licence fees

TIRANA, Dec. 9 – Fuel prices in Albania will likely rise, following an announcement that the Albanian government has decided to increase licence fees on fuel and gas stations by a staggering 50-fold compared to current rates. The rates are

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Exports extend decline as oil, base metal prices remain at record lows

Exports extend decline as oil, base metal prices remain at record lows

TIRANA, Nov. 30 – Albania’s exports extended their decline to 4.3 percent in the first ten months of this year on a sharp drop in international oil and base metal prices which is having negative effects on the country’s economy

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Lending remains at negative growth rates for third month in row

Lending remains at negative growth rates for third month in row

TIRANA, Dec. 2 – Lending to the economy slightly recovered last October but continued remaining at negative growth rates for the third month in a row, according to data published by the country’s central bank. Data shows lending contracted by

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Albania committed to address climate change issues, Nishani tells UN conference

Albania committed to address climate change issues, Nishani tells UN conference

TIRANA, Dec. 2 – Albania will do its modest part to protect the planet from climate change, the negative effects of which are already felt by the country, President Bujar Nishani has told a large UN conference on the topic

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Rama pitches Albania to Chinese investors as a jumping point to Europe

Rama pitches Albania to Chinese investors as a jumping point to Europe

TIRANA, Nov. 29 – Vying to attract Chinese investments, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made a three-day visit to China pitching the Albanian market as a good transit point for doing business with the rest of Europe. Rama appeared to

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 10 - Albania's central bank has decided to keep the key interest rate unchanged at a historic low of 1.25 percent as average inflation rate in the first ten months of the year hit a record low of 1.13 percent, almost 2 percentage points below the Bank of Albania's target of 3 percent, estimated to have a positive impact stimulating economic growth and consumption.

Governor Gent Sejko said the central bank expects consumption and private investments to bring the Albanian economy to normality in 2017 when the GDP is expected to accelerate to about 4 percent, compared to sluggish growth rates of 1 to 3 percent in the past eight years and a pre-crisis decade of 6 percent.

"The return of the economy to an equilibrium and the stabilization of the external environment will set the conditions for a progressive increase in the inflation rate in the mid-term. Annual inflation is expected to register 2.3 percent after four quarters and achieve its target in 2018," said Sejko.

Speaking of lending prospects, the governor blamed the banks' ongoing tight policy for the sluggish performance of credit which is struggling to return to positive growth rates since more than a year.

"The low interest rate and a liquid, well-capitalized banking system are positive prospects for the credit growth and the financing of the country's economic growth. However, the banks' lending standards remain conservative as a result of the tightening of supervisory and regulatory standards at a European level, but even because of high credit risk perception in the country," said Sejko, adding that the tackling of non-performing loans, currently at 21 percent, will help ease lending standards.

The central bank decided to keep unchanged the inter-bank market rates at 2.5 percent and the one-day deposit rate at 0.25 percent and the one-day loan rate at 2.25 percent.

Since late 2011 when the key rate was at 5.25 percent, the central bank’s easier monetary policy has been mostly reflected on deposit rates and T-bill yields on government’s internal borrowing, rather than lower loan interest rates.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_128371" align="alignright" width="223"]Uljan Sharka Uljan Sharka[/caption]

TIRANA, July 4 - Eight years ago Uljan Sharka was only a minor illegal  Albanian immigrant who had reached Italy through a speedboat in search of a better life and risked deportation by the authorities in the neighboring country across the Adriatic.

Now at 24, he has turned into one of the most successful young entrepreneurs in Italy, running an IT and programming company worth about Euro 25 million.

The self-taught Albanian programmer has come up with a discovery that could revolutionize digital marketing.

“The software reads all big data on social networks in real time, processes them and offers advice on how to improve marketing in personal platforms by using technology as a lever," Sharka told Italy's Corriere Della Sera.

His ‘crystal’ software is scheduled to launch next September in San Francisco, at TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the world’s leading authorities in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies.

A quick search through the software can show the most emotional posts, most popular hashtags or colours.

"You can improve your online marketing in only one click. Consultancy with others will be needless because with this software you can do it on your own based on the data produced by the software," says Sharka.

"We have been strongly supported by Google and it's thanks to them that we created the first 'crystal' version in only four months," he adds.

Sharka's inventions have already drawn Euro 1.5 million in investment by two businessmen who liked his ideas.

"We believe in Uljan. We are professional investors but also have a lot of experience from working in private enterprises. His ‎iGenius project and other ideas by this young man are extraordinary," says Carlo Cartasegna, a financial market manager who has contributed to Sharka's project.

Uljan Sharka, who eight months ago was working alone in his Milan-based ‎iGenius ICT, now employs 25 young men and women and the company is further expanding.

His IT and programming passion was cultivated when he started working in an IT shop after initially working as a barman following his arrival in Italy in 2008 when he was only 16.

Life in Albania was tough, says Sharka, who abandoned his high school studies in Albania to follow his dream in Italy.

"I wanted to create something big, something mine, but in Albania I didn't have this opportunity," he says.

Gregorio Cutelle, his main supporter who compares the Albanian developer to Facebook's Zuckerberg, says the company is planning to open branches in London and San Francisco and targets becoming Italy's first start-up with a value of $1 billion in the next four years.

"I will give my platform for free to mid-sized enterprises so that they grow with digital publicity at no extra costs," he says.

Uljan has turned into one of the most successful Albanians in Italy, where about half a million Albanians live and work since the early 1990s following the collapse of the communist regime.

One out of 16 Albanians residing in Italy has started their own business, mainly as self-employed in the construction industry, according to Italy’s Unioncamere chamber of commerce.

Data shows some 30,700 companies, mainly small businesses, in Italy were owned by Albanians at the end of 2014 when some 502,000 Albanians were reported holding a residence permit in the neighboring Adriatic country, making it the key host of Albanian migrants since the early 1990s, soon after the first exodus following the collapse of the communist regime.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 24 – Proponents of a major reform of the justice system in Albania are working to bring about consensus on a proposed legislative package, including constitutional amendments, following a reply by an international expert commission on three drafts sent to it by Albania's ruling coalition and opposition parties.

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission issued its interim opinion on Dec. 19, expressing support for the effort of the Albanian authorities aimed at the comprehensive reform of the Albanian judicial system and agreed that the reform is needed urgently due to a critical situation that justifies radical solutions.

“The draft amendments represent a solid basis for further work in this direction; that being said, the proposals contained in the draft amendments need to be simplified and, at places, clarified; certain elements are to be regulated by an organic law or by ordinary legislation,” the legal opinion noted. “The whole institutional arrangements should be revisited and simplified.”

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialist Party and his chief ally, Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta of the Socialist Movement for Integration, have been strong proponents of the reform.

Opposition leader Lulzim Basha has expressed concerns, but he said this week his Democratic Party is ready to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission and called on the ruling coalition leaders to follow the Commission's recommendations.

"This is the road map for political parties, parliamentary parties should follow to successfully complete the judicial reform, Basha said, adding there should be consensus on “a comprehensive reform of the justice to fight corruption and to same time to prevent the political capture of justice system.”

Basha's comments came after he met with U.S. Ambassador Donal Lu, one of the international actors working to bring political consensus on the proposed changes.

Supporters of a consensus legislative package say it would give the changes more legitimacy as well as clear the 94-vote mark required in parliament to make changes to the constitution.

The opposition Democratic Party has said it is in favor of the reform but not the draft which has been prepared by the governing majority.

Prosecutor General Adriatik Llalla has also criticized certain aspects of the draft changes, and added the draft had not received the full opinion of all the interested parties, including prosecutors. He also expressed concern that local and international actors are painting all those involved with a broad brush of corruption allegations.

Experts believe that a draft that gets the green light from the Venice Commission experts is more likely to pass with consensus.

Albania's justice system is plagued by allegations of corruption at all levels and enjoys low public trust.

Changing the image of the judiciary is seen as a key step in Albania’s road toward joining the European Union.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125398" align="alignright" width="300"]U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu’s comments at the judicial system conference were the latest in a series he and his EU counterpart, Romana Vlahutin, have made urging a fight on corruption in the justice system. (Photo: U.S. Embassy/Facebook) U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu’s comments at the judicial system conference were the latest in a series he and his EU counterpart, Romana Vlahutin, have made urging a fight on corruption in the justice system. (Photo: U.S. Embassy/Facebook)[/caption]

TIRANA, Dec. 15 - Taking a blunt approach trying to convince Albanians of the need for justice system reform to address widespread graft concerns, U.S. Ambassador Lu told a judges’ a conference this week that the corrupt among them should “leave this profession immediately” and they could “also be put in jail soon.”

“My test for corruption is a simple one: If you have ever taken money or favors in exchange for a court decision, you are a corrupt judge. Even if you have only done this once, you have broken the law and are not fit to serve as a judge,” Lu said.

Lu’s comments were the latest in a series he and his EU counterpart, Romana Vlahutin, have made urging Albanians to address corruption in the justice system.

The ambassadors have called on the ruling and opposition parties to back the judicial reform in parliament. The reform, in the form of a draft legislation prepared with the help of American and German lawyers, is currently being reviewed by the expert Venice Commission. It will then be discussed for approval in the Albanian parliament.

“Please know that the United States and the European Union have been active drafters of every part of the reform and we endorse fully the current package of reforms,” Lu said at the conference.

Albania’s judicial system is widely seen as corrupt by common citizens and members of the judiciary themselves, according to polls.

A reform of the system is a condition for Albania’s bid to join the EU. The country is expecting to launch full membership negotiations with the block, but that is unlikely to happen unless the Albanian parliament approves the reform bill.

"If I were a judge in Albania ... I would be the first to demand the reform, including the vetting, because I would want to protect the respect and appreciation of my own work and my profession," Vlahutin, the EU ambassador, said at the conference.

The diplomats’ blunt language did not go entirely well with the audience of judges and prosecutors who are facing huge pressure to accept the reform.

Judge Xhezair Zaganjori, the head of the Supreme Court, said it was unfair to paint the entire system as corrupt. He added the reform would have met with less resistance if judges had been allowed to have more of a say in its drafting.

However, Zaganjori said he acknowledged the high level of public distrust in the courts due to perceptions of pervasive corruption and a lack of transparency.

Prosecutor General Adriatik Llalla added he was concerned about the justice system reform discussion being accompanied by negative public rhetoric against judges and prosecutors from many public actors, including local and foreign experts.

He added there were already cases of judges and prosecutors facing charges of corruption and as long as politics stayed out of the system, there would be improvements.

“In every public event where the justice reform is discussed there is a perception that the justice system and corruption are one and the same thing,” Llalla said. “The justice system, like any other state body in Albania is not immune to graft. But the generalization of these cases is completely irrelevant.”

The backlash from the justice system actors has included the creation of a new association which aims to protect honest practitioners from being painted with the same brush as the corrupt ones.

The reform will need a two-thirds parliamentary majority to become law and may also demand amendments to the constitution.

The Socialist-led governing parties are in favor of the reform. The opposition has expressed some concern but, under international pressure, it has not said it will veto the reform, demanding some changes to the draft instead.

For Lu, the calculation is simple. The corrupt must go and the honest must be rewarded.

“To the honest judges: Have faith, change is coming,” he said. “I believe that the majority of judges and prosecutors in this country are honest, hard-working professionals who want to be proud of their profession.”

He added he knows it’s difficult to be an honest judge in Albania.

“You don’t work for much money, and there are pressures from every direction to make important decisions for all the wrong reasons,” the U.S. ambassador said. “Honest judges, like you, deserve to work in a system that rewards integrity.  You deserve to be promoted based on merit and experience.  And you should become the new symbol of the system, in place of the image today of corrupt judges wearing Cartier watches.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125300" align="alignright" width="300"]bunker protest tirana Protesters set fire to a monument featuring a replica bunker, which was to serve as part of the museum dealing with the country’s communist past.[/caption]

TIRANA, Dec. 9 – Aiming to capitalize on the public's growing unease with the Socialist-led government over the state of the economy and mounting accusations of corruption and mismanagement, Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party held Tuesday a large protest rally accompanied by egg and paint attacks on the prime minister's offices and the burning of a controversial memorial featuring a replica bunker.

The Democrats’ leader, Lulzim Basha, said the large attendance at the rally was “a referendum against the government,” which should resign as soon as possible and make way for a custodian government.

But the Democrats face an uphill battle as the Socialist-led coalition of Prime Minister Edi Rama, which includes Ilir Meta's Socialist Movement for Integration, came to power two and a half years ago with a solid win and handily defeated the Democrats this summer in the municipal elections.

However, the Socialist government has undertaken very painful reforms that have hit the poorest Albanians hardest, increasing anger among many Albanians, analysts say. And recent opinion poll numbers show the Socialists have lost the support of about 250,000 out of the 1 million of those who voted for them in the last elections.

Basha says, however, that the government of Socialist Prime Minister Rama had ran out of time, accusing it of corruption, mismanagement of the economy and allowing people with criminal ties to take seats in parliament and be elected become mayors.

The center-right opposition had chosen Dec. 8 for the rally, as a national holiday, Youth Day, set to commemorate student protests in 1990 that started the toppling of the then-communist regime in Albania, forcing it to accept political pluralism.

Basha said the protest 25 years after fall of communism was aimed “against crime, corruption and glorification of the past by [the] Rama government.”

Protesters hit symbols of PM power

The protest was accompanied with some violent incidents, as activists threw eggs, paint, hard objects and fireworks toward the Prime Minister’s Office, in front of which the opposition rally was being held.

A modern art installation, a recent addition to the building, was partially damaged. At least two people were arrested by police.

A former political dissident imprisoned during Albania’s communist era then urged protesters to attack a monument under construction on the grounds of the Interior Ministry. The monument was later set on fire. It features a replica bunker, which was to serve as part of the museum dealing with the country’s communist past.

But some thos

[caption id="attachment_125301" align="alignright" width="300"]Democratic Party protesters rally in front of the Prime Minister's Office on Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo: DP handout/Facebook) Democratic Party protesters rally in front of the Prime Minister's Office on Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo: DP handout/Facebook)[/caption]

e who suffered under the regime say it glorifies communism instead, and they accuse the ruling Socialist Party of having ties to the former communist regime.

Rocks were also thrown at windows of nearby ministries. Two Democratic Party PMs could be seen putting themselves between the rock throwers and the ministries, telling the protesters to stop attacking the buildings.

Socialists focus on 'miserable vandalism'

The Socialists said the accusations are baseless, and chose to largely focus their response on the violence, calling protesters “vandals” in their media communications. Albanian media close to the government largely covered the protest through the same lenses.

The Socialists said the Democrats should wait for the next elections to see who has more popular support.

“Weren't the elections of 2013 free and democratic? Those were organized by the Democratic Party. Why can't Basha wait for the elections of 2017,” Rama's chief spokesman, Endri Fuga, wrote on Twitter.

Prime Minister Rama expressed anger at what he called “miserable vandalism” on the day that Albania remembers the student movement that helped bring down communism 25 years ago. It was the same movement that led to the creation of the Democratic Party.

“The Democratic Party is but a shadow of its former self, trying to get back the lost trust of Albanian through stones and petrol bottles thrown on public investment,” Rama wrote on Facebook. “The European will of the Albanians is not embodied by those who destroy two urban art installations — with the same primitive savagery that in fact, and unfortunately, they would have been destroyed by the communist regime too.”

Tirana’s Socialist mayor, Erion Veliaj, sent a bill of damages of about $163,000 done to public property to the Democratic Party and told them to pay up in 10 days or the party’s bank account’s would be frozen.

“Tirana city hall fines violent political party … vandalism of public property” Veliaj said on Twitter, showing pictures of the fine. “There's no bravery in destroying a city for politics, cowards do that! Brave is to clean, fix and protect,” he added.

Many Democratic Party supporters and independent observers pointed out that Socialist Party protests in the past had been far more violent that the Democrats' protest this week.

Int’l representatives: Protests are fine, violence isn't

Representatives of Albania’s top international partners, the European Union and the United States, have issued statements condemning the violence in Tuesday’s opposition rally.

The Delegation of the European Union to Albania said the right of the citizens to express concerns and discontent through peaceful protest is a core feature of modern European democracy and as such shall be preserved. But it also noted that a number of acts of violence and vandalism were reported.

“Resort to violence is unacceptable,” the EU delegation’s statement said.

The EU statement added Albania should focus on a demanding reform agenda in view of its European integration process.

“We call on all parties and public officials including not least the opposition to condemn the violence, and engage in a constructive political dialogue,” the EU statement noted.

The U.S. Embassy’s statement stuck to a similar tone, saying it “condemns the violence that took place during the protests in Tirana.

“The right of citizens to peacefully assemble, petition the government, and protest is a hallmark of a free and healthy society. However, acts such as throwing stones, lighting structures on fire, and damaging public property is inconsistent with democratic values,” the U.S. Embassy said. “We call on the Democratic Party of Albania and all other parties to renounce these acts and to take all necessary steps to ensure that any future demonstrations remain peaceful and constructive.”
                    [post_title] => Anger over economy, governance yield violent opposition protest ➦
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                    [post_date] => 2015-12-09 13:40:54
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 9 - Fuel prices in Albania will likely rise, following an announcement that the Albanian government has decided to increase licence fees on fuel and gas stations by a staggering 50-fold compared to current rates.

The rates are expected to considerably affect the operation of some 1,000 fuel stations in Albania and translate into higher costs for Albanian consumers who already face one of Europe's highest oil prices.

Experts expect fuel prices to undergo new hikes of up to 10 lek (€0.07)/litre.

The government has decided the fee on the granting and renewal of licences on oil and liquid gas stations will increase to 5 million lek (€36,000) for retail oil and gas businesses operating in the municipality of Tirana and to 2 million lek (€14,500) for other municipalities. The current rates on the five-year licences range from 130,000 lek (€940) for the municipality of Tirana to 100,000 lek (€724) in Durres.

The licence fees on liquid gas sale for household consumption, used as a cheaper alternative to heating and cooking, will be 1 million lek (€7,237) for the Municipality of Tirana and at 200,000 lek (€1,447) for the remaining 60 municipalities.

The new taxes which are set to enter into force in the next few days are expected to spark a new hike in fuel prices, already among the highest in Europe because of the high tax burden levied on them.

Fuel prices in Albania have undergone only a moderate decline despite international oil prices having haled during the past year.

Data published by GlobalPetrolPrices portal this week show Albania’s diesel prices stood at €1.22/litre, higher than Macedonia’s €0.78/litre, Montenegro’s €0.97/litre and Serbia’s €1.12 and even Germany's €1.13 and Italy’s €1.2/litre.

Starting January 2015, the circulation tax on fuel increased by another 10 lek (12 lek VAT included) taking it to 27 lek litre (€0.19), not to mention the excise tax at 37 lek/litre (€0.27), the carbon tax at 1.5 lek/litre on petrol and at 3 lek/litre on diesel, VAT at 20 percent, and other customs duties which make fuel prices in Albania among the highest in the region and Europe despite the country having one of Europe’s lowest GDP per capita.

 

 

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Fuel prices likely to rise after sharp increase in gas station licence fees
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                    [post_date] => 2015-12-04 12:22:48
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122050" align="alignright" width="300"]The Durres sea port is Albania's hub for international trade. (Photo: Archives) The Durres sea port is Albania's hub for international trade. (Photo: Archives)[/caption]

TIRANA, Nov. 30 – Albania’s exports extended their decline to 4.3 percent in the first ten months of this year on a sharp drop in international oil and base metal prices which is having negative effects on the country’s economy with lower production affecting both employment and government revenue.

Data published by the country’s state statistical institute, INSTAT, shows Albania’s exports in the first ten months of this year dropped to 215 billion lek (€1.55 billion), down 4.3 percent compared to the same period last year, on a sharp cut in exports of “minerals, fuel and electricity” and a slowdown in “garment and footwear” products, Albania’s top exports which account for two-thirds of total exports.

The sharp cut in international oil and base metal prices has affected the activity of some of the key operators in Albania which is one of Europe’s top ten oil producers.

Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, the country’s biggest oil producer, has slightly cut production while U.S.-based TransAtlantic Petroleum has put its loss-making Albanian unit up for sale only one year after acquiring it from Canada-based Stream Oil & Gas due to the sharp cut in international oil prices. A Turkish-Chinese consortium operating a copper plant in the northern Albanian district of Puka has also announced the suspension of its activity for one year, leaving hundreds of workers jobless.

The garment and footwear industry, the country’s top exporter, saw its exports increase by only 3 percent to 74.7 billion lek (€539 mln) in the first ten months of this year, leading Albania’s exports. The industry, which employs about 100,000 people being one of the country’s top employers, has requested a package of incentives to handle hikes in taxes and electricity prices in order to preserve its competitiveness relying in cheap labor costs.

Meanwhile, Albania’s imports also dropped by 2 percent to 442 billion lek (€3.2 billion) year-on-year on a sharp drop in “minerals, fuel and electricity” imports mainly due to lower electricity imports because of a reform in the country’s hydro-dependent state-run electricity system which has cut grid losses and collected accumulated unpaid bills.

Imports of “machinery, equipment and spare parts,” also an indicator of private investments, grew by 9 percent to 92 billion lek (€664 mln) in the first 10 months of this year, registering the country’s top imports.

Albania’s exports are estimated to have been negatively affected even by the recent depreciation of the euro against the Albanian national currency as exports to Eurozone countries account for more than two-thirds of the country’s total. The euro traded at an average of 138.18 lek in Nov. 2015, down 1 percent compared to the previous months, hitting a three-year low against the Albanian national currency.

In addition to Albania’s poor diversification of exports, a moderate recovery in Italy and a new recession in Greece, Albania’s top trading partners, is expected to further affect Albania’s exports in the next couple of year.

Albania is a net importer with exports covering only about half of the country’s total imports.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Exports extend decline as oil, base metal prices remain at record lows
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                    [post_date] => 2015-12-04 12:19:57
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 2 - Lending to the economy slightly recovered last October but continued remaining at negative growth rates for the third month in a row, according to data published by the country's central bank.

Data shows lending contracted by 1.5 percent year-on-year in October 2015 due to poor demand for new loans and tight lending standards as non-performing loans stand at 20 percent. 

Interest rates on both lek and euro-denominated loans at historical lows are also proving inefficient to fuel demand on new loans.

Average interest rates on lek-denominated loans dropped to 7.95 percent in October 2015, down from 8.18 percent last September and a historic low of 7.66 percent in October 2014 despite the central bank reducing the key rate in two interventions to an all-time low of 1.75 percent in early November. 

The loan rates in the national currency, although considerably lower compared to the pre-crisis period, are still considered high and unaffordable by the business community because of being six times higher compared to the deposit rates which have dropped below the average inflation rate for the past year. Albania’s Competition Authority has also launched an enquiry into the banking system on an alleged deal preventing competition and the recovery of lending.

Meanwhile, interest rates on Euro-denominated loans, which account for around 60 percent of total lending, dropped to a record low of 4.74 percent, down from 5.91 percent last September and 6.93 percent in October 2014 soon after the European Central Bank cut its key rate to a historic low of 0.05 percent.

In a recent interview, central bank governor Gent Sejko said high risk perception by both banks and businesses is holding lending at sluggish growth rates.

“The risk perception is what counts most in financial institutions. This is a case of demand and supply. We at the central bank try influencing on the supply side so that it is more attractive to customers. On the other hand, banks themselves perceive high risks levels and businesses have some limitations on investment initiatives," said Sejko.  

The launch of a nationwide campaign against informality last September accompanied with massive field inspections and legal changes increasing fines on tax evasion by several times as well as pending amendments to the Criminal Code making tax evasion punishable by prison seem to have had a negative psychological effect on the business community whose demand for new loans has been sluggish despite interest rates registering a considerable decline. 

Lending to the economy has been striving to maintain positive growth rates since 2012 after growing by 30 to 50 percent annually in the pre-crisis years and an average of 10 percent from 2009 to 2011.

Meanwhile, deposits slightly accelerated by 1.4 percent compared to October 2014 but were down by 5.4 billion lek (€38.6 mln) compared to their peak level in Dec. 2014. 

Average interest rates on lek-denominated deposits stood at 1.36 percent and at 0.26 percent on euro deposits, positively reflecting the cuts to the key interest rates which target promoting investments by discouraging investments in deposits.
                    [post_title] => Lending remains at negative growth rates for third month in row
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125006" align="alignright" width="300"]Albanian President Bujar Nishani speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in the Paris region. (Photo: President.al)  Albanian President Bujar Nishani speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in the Paris region. (Photo: President.al)[/caption]

TIRANA, Dec. 2 - Albania will do its modest part to protect the planet from climate change, the negative effects of which are already felt by the country, President Bujar Nishani has told a large UN conference on the topic this week.

Nishani represented Albania at the COP21, UN Climate Change Conference held in Le Bourget, outside Paris, this week. 

He said Albania is ready to work for reducing greenhouse-effect emissions. 

“Albania is in a unique position in regards to low gas emissions since a third of its energy comes from renewable sources,” Nishani said in his speech to the conference. 

He added the country’s officials were working to influence developments of various sectors of the economy to lower carbon emissions even further. 

Albania is among Europe’s most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change and global warming. The country will suffer from coastline erosion and increased floods and heatwaves as global warming becomes worse, experts believe.

Nishani said Albania is working on a national strategy to deal with climate change in line with EU policies. 

The Albanian head of state was one of more than 180 world leaders attending the major global conference.

At the summit’s opening on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said leaders "have the power to secure the well-being of this and succeeding generations."

"You are here today to write the script for a new future, a future of hope and promise of increased prosperity, security and dignity for all," Ban said.  "We need the world to know that we are headed to a low-emissions, climate resilient future and there is no going back."

This year, 183 countries, including Albania, have issued long-term plans to cope with climate change, but difficult negotiations are expected at the summit and related international meetings that run through Dec. 11.

Before the conference opened, U.S. President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said the two countries have a common vision of what is needed in an agreement, including steps toward a low carbon global economy and helping financial support to help developing nations adapt.

The U.S. has pledged to cut emissions up to 28 percent by 2025, while China set targets to peak its emissions by about 2030.

The United States, China and India account for about half of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and that scientists have identified as a leading cause of the rising global temperatures.
                    [post_title] => Albania committed to address climate change issues, Nishani tells UN conference
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_124994" align="alignright" width="300"]Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Nov. 26 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Rama attended the Fourth Summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries. (Photo: GoA/Facebook) Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Nov. 26 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Rama attended the Fourth Summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries. (Photo: GoA/Facebook)[/caption]

TIRANA, Nov. 29 - Vying to attract Chinese investments, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made a three-day visit to China pitching the Albanian market as a good transit point for doing business with the rest of Europe.

Rama appeared to focus on funding the Arber Highway construction, offering a port to be managed by Chinese businesses as well as investments for the proposed Adriatic-Ionian highway, also known as the Blue Highway.

The proposals are still a long way from being finalized, but there is a general understanding between the two countries to strengthen cooperation in infrastructure building. 

Rama met with his host counterpart, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The two agreed to increase political and economic relations and turn cooperation into outcomes to benefit the people of both nations, according to an official statement.

The Chinese government supports Chinese enterprises in helping build Albania's ports, railways, power grids and industrial parks, Li said, adding that the two countries should expand cooperation in financing, mining and agriculture. 

The Chinese premier hoped Albania would make Chinese investment and tourism more convenient. 

Rama urged China's role in infrastructure and hopes to expand cooperation in agricultural trade and tourism. He said Albania is willing to streamline visa access for Chinese people, according to a report from China’s official Xinhua news agency. 

Rama attended the fourth leaders' meeting between China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, the first time China has hosted the annual meeting since it began in 2012.

"China is in talks with the CEE countries on more transportation projects," said Li, adding that the country's fast, safe, and low-priced high-speed trains perfectly meet the needs of CEE countries. 

Li also announced that China will invest in constructing and upgrading port facilities in the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas.

Chinese company to build Montenegro-Albania highway

 The talks in China came shortly before a large Chinese construction company, China Pacific Construction Group, announced it had agreed in principle to build a highway linking Montenegro to Albania.

The Chinese construction company, the largest in the country by revenue, signed a memorandum of understanding that could be worth 3 billion euros to build an expressway between Montenegro and Albania, the company told the Reuters news agency.

Construction of the 280-kilometer link will begin in the second half of 2016 and take about eight years to complete, it said.

"The construction of this 280 kilometers link will begin in the second half of 2016 and end in 2018," the company’s president, Yan Jiehe, told reporters at a press conference in Beijing. 
The firm plans to use as collateral road fees for this project. "Funding has yet to be finalized," he added.

 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 10 - Albania's central bank has decided to keep the key interest rate unchanged at a historic low of 1.25 percent as average inflation rate in the first ten months of the year hit a record low of 1.13 percent, almost 2 percentage points below the Bank of Albania's target of 3 percent, estimated to have a positive impact stimulating economic growth and consumption.

Governor Gent Sejko said the central bank expects consumption and private investments to bring the Albanian economy to normality in 2017 when the GDP is expected to accelerate to about 4 percent, compared to sluggish growth rates of 1 to 3 percent in the past eight years and a pre-crisis decade of 6 percent.

"The return of the economy to an equilibrium and the stabilization of the external environment will set the conditions for a progressive increase in the inflation rate in the mid-term. Annual inflation is expected to register 2.3 percent after four quarters and achieve its target in 2018," said Sejko.

Speaking of lending prospects, the governor blamed the banks' ongoing tight policy for the sluggish performance of credit which is struggling to return to positive growth rates since more than a year.

"The low interest rate and a liquid, well-capitalized banking system are positive prospects for the credit growth and the financing of the country's economic growth. However, the banks' lending standards remain conservative as a result of the tightening of supervisory and regulatory standards at a European level, but even because of high credit risk perception in the country," said Sejko, adding that the tackling of non-performing loans, currently at 21 percent, will help ease lending standards.

The central bank decided to keep unchanged the inter-bank market rates at 2.5 percent and the one-day deposit rate at 0.25 percent and the one-day loan rate at 2.25 percent.

Since late 2011 when the key rate was at 5.25 percent, the central bank’s easier monetary policy has been mostly reflected on deposit rates and T-bill yields on government’s internal borrowing, rather than lower loan interest rates.
            [post_title] => Key rate kept at historic low as consumer prices struggle to recover
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