Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges drop as new barriers emerge

Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges drop as new barriers emerge

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, April 4 – Albania’s trade exchanges with neighbouring Kosovo suffered a setback in 2016 negatively affected by the poor diversification of products traded and ongoing doing business barriers, with the volume of trade remaining at almost

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Editorial: Albania’s little dangerous Potemkins

Editorial: Albania’s little dangerous Potemkins

Focusing on virtual realities hurts both the people and the government Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski was a Russian military leader, statesman, nobleman and favorite of Catherine the Great. His rule is associated with the “Potemkin village“, a largely fictional method

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Albania suffers lowest number of births on record as population shrinks, ages

Albania suffers lowest number of births on record as population shrinks, ages

TIRANA, March 30 – Albania’s estimated number of newborn babies last year fell to 31,733, the lowest figure on record, further contributing to the ageing and shrinking of the country’s population, official data published by the Institute of Statistics showed

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Choice between caretaker government and no elections, opposition says

Choice between caretaker government and no elections, opposition says

TIRANA, March 27 – Albania’s opposition parties reiterated this week their decision not to register at the Central Elections Commission for the June 18 elections, “until a political agreement for the formation of a caretaker government is reached.” In a

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Ruling coalition buckles as disagreements continue

Ruling coalition buckles as disagreements continue

SMI says it won’t participate in Kavaja elections without the opposition’s participation TIRANA, March 27 – Albania’s president has set May 7 as the by-election date to replace the mayor of Kavaja, setting in motion a rise in disagreements between

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Meat imports from Brazil blocked until tests show it’s safe

Meat imports from Brazil blocked until tests show it’s safe

TIRANA, March 30 – Albanian food authorities say they have blocked Brazilian meat imports to the country and have taken samples to test products over their safety after some of the world’s biggest importers of Brazilian meat imposed bans. The

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Prosecutors investigating Vlora judge over alleged ties with drug baron

Prosecutors investigating Vlora judge over alleged ties with drug baron

TIRANA, March 22 – The ongoing investigation on the wealth and assets of a former local government officials and alleged drug baron, Klement Balili, have revealed that a judge of the Court of Appeals in Vlora was paid $47,000 to

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CEC to audit decriminalization declarations of 21 MPs and 8 mayors

CEC to audit decriminalization declarations of 21 MPs and 8 mayors

TIRANA, March 21 – Albania’s Central Election Commission will double-check questionnaires submitted by several MPs and mayors in the framework of the decriminalization bill, indicating that it suspects the self-declarations were not entirely truthful. The CEC will review the documentation

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PM willing to hold elections without the opposition as protest continues

PM willing to hold elections without the opposition as protest continues

Ruling coalition shows cracks over prospects of elections without opposition’s participation TIRANA, March 22 – The upcoming general elections will not be postponed even if the opposition decides not to participate, Prime Minister Edi Rama said this week. The opposition

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Initiative to ban communist-era movies meets strong opposition

Initiative to ban communist-era movies meets strong opposition

TIRANA, March 21 – An initiative by the state-funded Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes to ban the screening of communist era movies on public and private-run TVs because of their propaganda serving the country’s former hardline Stalinist regime

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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, April 4 - Albania's trade exchanges with neighbouring Kosovo suffered a setback in 2016 negatively affected by the poor diversification of products traded and ongoing doing business barriers, with the volume of trade remaining at almost the same levels for the past five years despite a costly highway having considerably eased transport and both governments holding joint meetings to boost economic cooperation.

The two ethnic Albanian countries have overcome a number of trade barriers over certain products in the past few years and made some procedures easier, but lack of an early tradition in economic cooperation seems to be the main issue preventing the creation of a single market of about 5 million resident consumers.

The recognition of mutual phytosanitary certificates has emerged as a key barrier for businesses in both countries as the two countries seek to diversify trade exchanges mainly relying on “fuel, electricity, construction material and metals.”

Kosovo experts had earlier complained Albania still doesn’t recognize certificates of origin issued by Kosovo authorities which makes the export of Kosovo products to Albania difficult and causes unnecessary long lines and wait-times at the Vermice border crossing point with Albania.

Phytosanitary certificates are not mutually recognized creating problems for the circulation of agricultural products.

"The Kosovo-Serbia relations are not good, but businesses seem to have a psychological obsession. A Kosovo businessman can easier engage in trade relations with a Serbia businessman while it is easier for Albanian businessmen to deal with Greek businessmen,” said Kosovo’s Economic Development Minister Blerand Stavileci speaking in Tirana on Monday at a conference on a single Albania-Kosovo market.

Data shows that behind political rhetoric of excellent economic cooperation with Kosovo, trade exchanges between the two countries are almost the same compared to Albania’s trade volume with Serbia and only half of what Kosovo imports from Serbia.

Albania’s Economy Minister Milva Ekonomi said the customs barriers faced by businesses were a result of Kosovo not being yet a member of Paris-based European cooperation for Accreditation, a network of nationally recognized accreditation bodies based in the European geographical area.

"There is kind of institutional deadlock because if Albania's Accreditation Agency is now recognized by the European co-operation for Accreditation, the situation is not the same for Kosovo which is trying to win this status. Of course, when Kosovo gets this status, every testing lab will be recognized and this will give more space to the exchange of goods," said Ekonomi.

Since gaining independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo has been recognized by more than 100 countries, but is still facing difficulty in gaining membership to several important international organisations.

Alban Zusi, a former deputy agriculture minister who heads the Albanian Exporters Association, said customs duties at about 17 percent are too high and only favour big companies, mainly construction and steel companies in exports with Kosovo.

According to him, the ongoing application of non-tariff barriers remains a key issue for the access of Albanian SMEs to the Kosovo market.

"This way of handling things has strengthened big businesses, but curbed small ones. It is much more profitable working with the French and Austrian markets rather than with Kosovo exactly because of these issues," said Zusi.

Representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo said the two countries need to harmonize phytosanitary certificates, otherwise it is useless talking about cooperation.

"The decisions undertaken by both governments run counter to the spirit of cooperation promoted between the two countries. It is useless for the two countries to impose barriers upon each other when they cannot compete with the same products, but have complementary ones," said Arian Zeka, the head of the Kosovo AmCham.

Previous trade disputes over potatoes, cement, milk, flour, wine and pharmaceutical products have considerably curbed trade exchanges between the two neighboring countries in the past few years.

Trade exchanges and investment

Trade exchanges between Albania and Kosovo dropped to 22.4 billion lek (€163 mln), down from a record high of 26.4 billion lek (€192 mln) in 2015, remaining at almost the same level compared to 2012 and representing about 10 percent of total volume of trade, according to INSTAT, the state statistical institute.

The lower trade exchanges were affected by a 20 percent drop of Albanian exports to Kosovo, the second most important destination for Albanian exports.

Mainly relying on “fuel, electricity, construction material and metals,” Albania’s exports to Kosovo are poorly diversified and subject to commodity price shocks.

However, compared to 2009 when Albania completed its part of the highway, trade exchanges have more than doubled and tourist numbers sharply increased.

Tourists from landlocked Kosovo account for almost half of foreign tourists to Albania in what is known as ‘patriotic tourism.

When it comes to mutual investment, the level of investment is largely dominated by Albanian companies.

Albanian investors have been among the top five foreign investors in Kosovo in the past few years with the 2016 FDI estimated at about €29 million, down from a peak level of €40 million in 2015. The Albanian FDI stock in Kosovo, mainly concentrated in the real estate, financial and trade sector, is estimated at €193 million and is represented by some 900 Albanian companies.

Kosovo companies in Albania have been less active in the past few years with their stock of FDI only slightly increasing to a total €29 million.

Some 600 Kosovo companies operate in Albania, mainly in the construction and trade sectors.

Albania and Kosovo have held three joint government meetings in the past three years in a bid to boost cooperation with a focus on the economy, but trade disputes continue hampering the expected boost in trade exchanges, which remain significantly below their potential despite the Highway of Nation having considerably cut the distance between the two countries.

Authorities have identified setting up a joint customs point at Durres Port to further ease trade exchanges between the two countries. The one-stop shop means Kosovo enterprises using Albania’s Durres Port will no longer have to undergo new inspections at the Albania-Kosovo border crossing points.

While traditional factors due to the isolation and lack of communication between the two Albanian-speaking countries for almost five decades until the early 1990s and the late 1990s Kosovo war that led to its independence from Serbia in 2008 partly explain the situation, the huge almost 2 billion euro investment in the so-called Highway of Nation on both sides of border sharply cutting travel time does not yet justify a slowly growing annual trade volume of less than €200 million between the two countries.

Plans to impose tolls on the Highway of Nation could further hamper trade exchanges and tourism arrivals. Albania has already selected a concessionaire that will apply Euro 5 tolls on its part of the highway while Kosovo is also advancing plans to apply tolls on its side.

The Tirana and Kosovo Chambers of Commerce have identified several barriers including “a climate of mistrust which risks undermining cooperation and the perspective toward a national economy.”

Chamber representatives say practices enabling the quick movement of goods are not working while lack of 24/7 phytosanitary experts makes the timely circulation of food products difficult.

The two countries have also stepped up cooperation in the energy sector.

In mid-2016, Albania and Kosovo inaugurated a German-funded 400 kV interconnection line that will help the two neighboring countries increase energy security by diversifying electricity resources and set up a joint energy market, but its launch is being held back by Serbia over a transmission grid dispute with Kosovo.

 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => Focusing on virtual realities hurts both the people and the government

Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski was a Russian military leader, statesman, nobleman and favorite of Catherine the Great. His rule is associated with the "Potemkin village", a largely fictional method of ruse involving the construction of painted façades to mimic real villages, full of happy, well-fed people, for visiting officials to see.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is seen by many as a powerful and charismatic individual. And with great fame come a bunch of groupies. In many years he has attracted around him in various public service duties young people that try to imitate him. They imitate the way he talks, the way he moves his hands and they imitate his need to make things look good.

These little Potemkins, like moths around the lamp, revolve around the PM’s personal cult, his style, his content. The most obvious example and the one that was made fun of frequently was the young woman who had the position of Head of the Tax Directorate. However, what people forget is that there is a phenomenon behind the individual. A miniature army of devoted little Potemkins ardently trying to please.

After the previous head of the QSUT, the most important university hospital center in the country that faces the brunt of the patients traffic from all over Albania, became the healthcare minister, she was replaced by a new face – the former head of one of the key national TV-s, sacked after losing a court battle with the owner.

This particular TV channel under his direction has been for years deeply loyal to Rama personally when in opposition and now in power. A person with arguably sufficient managerial experience of a TV company but no connection whatsoever with the health sector is now managing the most important hospital center in the country. It is not a very different story from the previous minister of healthcare, himself a friend of the PM and a very tall kind of Potemkin.

The healthcare sector is one of the least performing ones in the country, with significant problems in medicine supply, corruption, access to services of marginalized people, etc. Without denying the good of some investments in the related infrastructure, the fervor of the administration to portray the changes in the whole sector as a success is ridiculous. And now one of the key people that has overseen the advertisement industry of one of the richest media channels in the country will be at the helm of a critical juncture of the sector. And there he can put his experience to good use. The digital Potemkin Village is our new healthcare virtual reality. Looks good. But it's fake. And yet, let’s remember that the real issue here is not the individual, but the phenomenon.

Potemkins of course are not limited to this administration. The previous prime minister with his unchecked aggressiveness also inspired his lot. Their specialty was of a less subtle, more violent nature. They were often dangerous, always fighting dissent. The ones now are perhaps less intense but equally hazardous.

On and on the Potemkins go about raising cardboard or virtual propaganda villages and trying to mask the reality just like their great predecessor, the Russian general did for Empress Catherine. Their passion and loyalty is unchecked. They will go to lengths that other don’t. They obscure reality in surprisingly efficient ways. In that they represent a hidden threat to this country, be it with or without the blessing of their leadership.

 
                    [post_title] =>  Editorial: Albania’s little dangerous Potemkins
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 30 – Albania’s estimated number of newborn babies last year fell to 31,733, the lowest figure on record, further contributing to the ageing and shrinking of the country’s population, official data published by the Institute of Statistics showed Wednesday.

According to INSTAT, the number of births in 2016 was nearly 1,000 births less than 2015 and 4,000 births less than in 2014.

In 1929, when Albania established its first civil registry, the number of births was over 30,000 while in the 80s the country had over 60,000 births a year. Data shows that in 1990, the number of births reached to 82,000. The number of newborn babies was in decline since the 1990 and it reached to 35,000 in 2006. The decline in Albania’s birth rate is a result of cultural changes in the typical Albanian household, decline in marriages and high emigration rates, experts note.

In 2015 and 2016, Albania has hit by a new emigration wave. Thousands of Albanians have left the country in search of a better life while in the past 25 years the country lost one third of its population.

The decreased birth rate is expected to have multiple consequences to the country’s demography, economy and society in the future decades.

Albania’s population is shrinking and aging rapidly. The number of 14-year-olds living in Albania is currently 522,000 and is expected to go down in the years to come. The number of citizens over 65 years old is currently 378,000 and is expected to increase rapidly.

The World Bank has warned the recent fertility decline in Albania has been dramatic and rapid. “For example, the shift from an average fertility rate of over five children per woman to below the population replacement rate took two centuries in France but only 34 years in Albania,” the World Bank says in its Golden Ageing report.

Shrinking populations pose a formidable fiscal challenge, placing public finances of countries under pressure on increased spending on pensions and health, reduce economic growth and make it more difficult to reduce public debt as a share of GDP, according to an IMF research paper.

In addition, the migration wave of the young continues further lowering the population able to have babies. Nearly 52,000 Albanians applied for asylum in Germany between January and November 2015, an increase of around 645 percent on the previous year, Deutsche Welle cites Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). The exodus was mainly a result of economic reasons but also disappointment and hope for better life although German officials have made it clear no Albanian will be granted asylum for economic reasons.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131830" align="alignright" width="300"]basha Lulzim Basha, head of Democratic Party and opposition, told supporters gathered at the tent erected in front of the Prime Minister’s Office that the protest is a “life or death battle for the future of Albania.” (Photo: Facebook)[/caption]

TIRANA, March 27 – Albania’s opposition parties reiterated this week their decision not to register at the Central Elections Commission for the June 18 elections, “until a political agreement for the formation of a caretaker government is reached.”

In a statement issued Monday, opposition parties said that “the formation of a caretaker government with broad support is the only solution that would guarantee free and fair elections.”

“We unanimously confirm not to submit the registration request at the CEC until a political agreement is reached. The caretaker government must implement decriminalization law, fight drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering and pave the way to free and fair elections,” the statement read. “Considering the latest international reports such as the one from U.S. State Department and Europol, Albanians are now on the verge of having their elections destroyed by organized crime and drug lords tied to the government.”

Lulzim Basha, head of Democratic Party and opposition, told supporters gathered at the tent erected in front of the Prime Minister’s Office that the protest is a “life or death battle for the future of Albania.”

“In the cause of free and fair elections, cutting crime ties from central power and fighting drug trafficking without compromise, the Democratic Party has the total support of Washington,” Basha said.

Basha's statement came after a television station known for its strong ties to the Socialist prime minister broadcast a report citing an unnamed U.S. Embassy spokesperson to have said the U.S. government “supports free and fair elections, decriminalization and fight against narcotics” but warned that “these issues must not be used as an excuse to boycott parliament, block elections or delay the implementation of justice reform.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Edi Rama has warned that the ruling Socialist Party will head to elections even if Democratic Party and other opposition parties decide not to participate.

The ruling majority has accused the opposition of purposely delaying justice reform and vetting process, which is aimed at cleansing the system of corruption and people with criminal records.

According to the Socialist Party, the opposition is also ruining the country’s progress towards EU which has considered implementation of the judiciary reform as crucial to opening of accession talks.

The last deadline for political parties to register at the Central Election Commission for the parliamentary elections is April 9.

 
                    [post_title] => Choice between caretaker government and no elections, opposition says
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                    [post_content] => SMI says it won't participate in Kavaja elections without the opposition's participation

[caption id="attachment_131809" align="alignright" width="300"]rama-meta-ne-kryesi Socialist Party leader, Prime Minister Edi Rama (L), and Socialist Movement for Integration leader, Ilir Meta.[/caption]

TIRANA, March 27 – Albania's president has set May 7 as the by-election date to replace the mayor of Kavaja, setting in motion a rise in disagreements between the two main governing coalition partners, the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the Socialist Movement for Integration of Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta.

The main opposition Democratic Party says it won't participate in the Kavaja elections – as part of its wider boycott of institutional political life as long as Prime Minister Rama doesn't resign to allow for a caretaker government to run the general elections of June 18 to guarantee they will be free and fair.

Early elections in Kavaja are being held after former Socialist Mayor Elvis Roshi was sacked for having a criminal record, the latest in a series of officials to be sacked under a decriminalization process pushed for by the opposition Democratic Party.

Edi Paloka, a DP official, said "the election with Prime Minister Edi Rama, with gangs and drug money will not be held in Kavaja or in any other area."

Rama expressed "regret” the DP would boycott, but added the elections would go forward nonetheless both in Kavaja and across Albania.

“DP must forget the caretaker government and delaying the elections,” Rama said in his weekly address to people on Facebook. “The elections belong to the people and not the parties.”

However, Rama's chief ally, SMI has repeatedly said electrons without the opposition would not be accepted.

In the case of Kavaja, SMI was clear – it won't participate in the elections and the campaign at all. It hasn’t registered with election officials to do so. 

The public move made the SP unhappy, and a strongly-worded reaction came from Saimir Tahiri, who until recently was minister of interior and now serves as head of the Socialist Party for Tirana. 

Tahiri said SMI are playing DP's game.

Tahiri said the SMI comments about not participating in the Kavaja elections “are destructive and do not help anyone.”

“We govern in coalition with SMI to implement radical reforms in Albania. We are aware that there are costs and deficiencies to these reforms, even in sectors led by our SMI colleges,” Tahiri said.

He added the two parties will work together until they figure out “whether they want the same things,” adding that “with or without SMI, we will respect the sovereign rights of the Albanian people to choose the best offer.”

Tahiri said despite SMI’s public pronouncements it had showed it follows the same line as SP. 

"Beyond all the internal debates or tendentious attacks in public, SMI has supported reforms and has collaborated with SP without ever violating the agreement set by our 1 million joint voters.”

SMI's deputy leader, Luan Rama, responded that his party was not consulted on the candidate selected to run for new Kavaja mayor, which was the primary reason it was not participating. 

However, in addition to the split over the elections, there have been several statements by representatives of the both parties that indicate both might be mulling running as separate entities in the next general elections to better test their strength. 

SP and SMI ran in a coalition in the previous elections, which gives advantages and increases lawmaker numbers based on Albania's electoral system, which has often been described as unfair to smaller parties and for its lack of direct representation.

The SMI used to be part of the Socialist Party a decade ago, but then split and at one point ruled in a coalition with the center-right Democratic Party for four years. It is the only third party in Albania that has managed to become a kingmaker in forming governments.

 SMI registers for June polls

But SMI has made its official request to register for the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for June 18, despite insisting that elections without the opposition would mean nothing.

The deputy chairman of the Socialist Movement for Integration, Luan Rama said Tuesday that “the electoral process in a democratic party must provide the basis for an all-inclusive race,” adding: “Anyone with a common sense cannot believe that Albania can hold elections without the opposition.”

The chairman of the SMI parliamentary group said that Albania’s political class is suffering from a “lack of trust,” and that “Albanians must go to elect their representatives and not just vote.”

“The ruling majority is responsible to show efforts and restore trust of the citizens and the opposition so that the elections meet standards and guarantee the expression of people’s will,” SMI's Luan Rama said. “Albania does not need political adventures.”

While the opposition parties decided not to register for the June polls, the Socialist Party chairman Edi Rama said that the senior coalition party would enter elections with or without Democratic Party or Socialist Movement for Integration.

Earlier last week, minister of justice, Petrit Vasili from the ranks of SMI, warned that Prime Minister Rama will not go to elections alone and that he will enter a dialogue with the opposition.  

The decision of SMI to register for the parliamentary elections ends the dilemma whether SMI will actually participate in the elections as scheduled on June 18, 2017.

Albanian voters, in the summer of 2013, handed a landslide victory to the Socialist-led coalition, guaranteeing a rotation of power that is proving to be the smoothest one since the fall of communism more than two decades ago, and one that Albanians hoped would act as a springboard for the country’s future membership in the European Union.

The 140-member parliament had 84 members from the Socialist-led coalition. The Socialist-led coalition owed much of its gains from the last election to junior coalition partner Socialist Movement for Integration, led by Ilir Meta, which received 20 seats in parliament in the election.
                    [post_title] => Ruling coalition buckles as disagreements continue
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                    [post_date] => 2017-03-30 16:41:32
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-30 14:41:32
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 30 – Albanian food authorities say they have blocked Brazilian meat imports to the country and have taken samples to test products over their safety after some of the world’s biggest importers of Brazilian meat imposed bans.

The temporary ban comes amid concerns that consumers might be at risk as Albania imports about a quarter of its meat products, mainly chicken and poultry, from Brazil, the world’s largest meat producer.

Preliminary tests carried out at the National Food Authority labs have shown the Brazil meat meets required standards, but authorities say the temporary ban will continue to remain in place until the samples are also tested at the more specialized Food Safety and Veterinary Institute.

In a statement following media reports of “rotten Brazilian beef” entering the country, the National Food Authority says the country has imported no beef from Brazil during the past five months and that it has recently blocked poultry and pork from entering Albania until tests show meat is safe to consumers. The watchdog says the temporary ban has been imposed despite no notice by the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.

Food authorities say Albania imports meat from Basil based on a 2006 deal between the two governments and only from plants certified to export to the EU.

China, Chile and Egypt lifted the ban on Brazil meat last weekend while the European Union, the second largest importer after China, announced it would reject produce from the plants under investigation in Brazil.

The Brazilian meat scandal was triggered by a huge police operation that found evidence of meat packers selling rotten and substandard produce for several years, in an operation severely affecting the exports Latin America’s largest economy for the past couple of weeks.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer says the government has decided to speed up the audit process in the 21 establishments cited in the Federal Police investigation.

“The facts are that among 11,000 employees, only 33 are being investigated into. Out of 4,837 establishments subject to federal inspection, only 21 are allegedly involved in irregularities. The objective of the investigation is not the agriculture and livestock defense system in place, whose rigor is widely recognized, but a few conduct deviations,” the Brazilian president is quoted as saying in a statement sent by Brazil’s embassy in Tirana.

Albania’s imports from Brazil dominated by meat, coffee and sugar slightly increased to 5.7 billion lek (€41 million) in 2016, accounting for only about 1.2 percent of the country’s total, according to state statistical institute, INSTAT. Meanwhile, Albania’s exports to Brazil are almost non-existent.
                    [post_title] => Meat imports from Brazil blocked until tests show it’s safe
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                    [post_date] => 2017-03-24 09:41:05
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 22 – The ongoing investigation on the wealth and assets of a former local government officials and alleged drug baron, Klement Balili, have revealed that a judge of the Court of Appeals in Vlora was paid $47,000 to act as a legal consultant for the companies owned by the Balili family.

In his 2015 declaration of assets, Judge Petrit Aliaj admitted that he worked as a legal consultant for Balili brothers and received a hefty sum by Albanian standards for his services, according to a report by VoA and BIRN.

Aliaj’s declaration and the probe on the origins of the money used to pay the judge are now part of the investigation on the wealth of the family of the man dubbed as “Escobar of Balkans”. 

Balili has managed to escape an international warrant issued on May 2016. He faces drug trafficking charges.

On June 8, 2015 the High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interests filed charges against Judge Petrit Aliaj over the failure to fully disclose the origins of his wealth and assets and false declarations. 

The case was investigated by prosecutors in Elbasan, who are now obliged to submit the findings to prosecutors in Vlora investigating Balili’s wealth. Prosecutors in Elbasan dismissed the original charges blaming lack of evidence.

Documents obtained by Voice of America and BIRN show that in 2006, Aliaj declared to have been paid $47,000 from for three months of legal consultancy services in 2015.

In 2009, Aliaj admitted that he had worked as legal consultant to the companies Balili & Co and Balili Brothers located in Delvina.

In addition, Aliaj submitted two job certificates issued in January and February 2008 issued by the two companies owned by the family of Klement Balili.

The certificates show that Aliaj was paid in cash an annual fee of $24,000  from each of the companies. 

Judge Aliaj has repeatedly been named for his dubious affairs such as hiding the origins of financial means used to build a villa in the coastal city of Saranda, tuition fees paid for his daughter in a U.S school and deposits at the Central Bank.

The judge is suspected to have made several suspicious bank transactions worth thousands of U.S. dollars as a guarantee to get U.S. visas for himself and his family members.

The 46-year-old Klement Balili is the former director of a transport department at the coastal town of Saranda. He owned a luxury hotel and several other businesses. He is wanted in Greece on drug trafficking charges. 

The opposition Democratic Party has repeatedly accused Albania’s Socialist-led government of protecting the suspected drug baron due to his ties with high-ranking politicians. 

 
                    [post_title] => Prosecutors investigating Vlora judge over alleged ties with drug baron
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                    [post_date] => 2017-03-22 13:43:34
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 21 – Albania’s Central Election Commission will double-check questionnaires submitted by several MPs and mayors in the framework of the decriminalization bill, indicating that it suspects the self-declarations were not entirely truthful.

The CEC will review the documentation of a total of thirteen lawmakers and eight mayors. The list includes the names of MPs Eduard Halimi, Florian Mima, Myqerem Tafaj, Spartak Braho, Vangjel Dule and mayors Artur Bardhi, Edmond Themelko, Ndrec Dedaj, Rajmonda Balilaj, Adel Zala, Zef Hilaj, Termet Peci and Adriatik Zotkaj. 

The electoral watchdog announced that the verification process would start with the questionnaire submitted by the secretary general of the Democratic Party, Arben Ristani, and the former Democratic Party chairman, Sali Berisha. The two had been vocal in asking CEC to review the ruling Socialist Party MPs for criminal pasts.

During the CEC meeting, representatives of the center-right opposition Democratic Party demanded that the review process must be extended to only the two mayors Peci and Zotkaj -- where there is information of wrongdoing already -- but the CEC chairman Denar Biba said that the applications of the 21 officials will be double checked for accuracy purposes.

Last week, General Prosecutor Adriatik Llalla called on the Central Election Commission to strip Mayor of Poliçan Artur Zotkaj and the Mayor of Tepelena Tërmet Peçi of their mandates due to criminal records that were not disclosed in the decriminalization process. 

Llalla said that the two local government officials lied about their past and concealed criminal records that would prohibit them from exercising public duty. 

In addition, the General Prosecutor’s office has launched penal proceedings against Zotkaj and Peçi over forgery of documents.

According to prosecutors, Mayor of Tepelena was convicted in 2004 for forgery of documents. While Peçi said he did not remember the conviction, a court verdict reveals that the official pleaded guilty and even showed remorse for his actions.

Furthermore, prosecutors are investigating on allegations that Mayor of Poliçan Adriatik Zotkaj is part of a drug trafficking group.

His declaration form submitted to the Central Election Commission includes three convictions such as a three-year sentence for violation of traffic regulations, 10 month jail sentence for resisting arrest and a one-year jail sentence for an undisclosed criminal act.

The CEC decision is expected to fuel heated political debates as the country prepares for parliamentary elections scheduled for June 18.
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                    [post_date] => 2017-03-22 13:27:43
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                    [post_content] => Ruling coalition shows cracks over prospects of elections without opposition’s participation

TIRANA, March 22 - The upcoming general elections will not be postponed even if the opposition decides not to participate, Prime Minister Edi Rama said this week.

The opposition says it won’t take part in elections unless Rama resigns and allows a caretaker government staffed by technocrats to manage the elections so there are guarantees that they are fair and free from influence from what the opposition says is an alliance between the ruling Socialists and the criminal world.

The Socialists say the Democrats are just trying to make excuses because the opposition knows it will lose the elections. 

“The absence of the opposition would be a severe anomaly, but we will not be part of such a lack of respect toward the people. We will abide by the election date and commit to the electoral campaign like never before. These are the times we want to create a better future for the Albania of the next generation,” Rama said.

Prime Minister Rama accused the center-right parties of aiming to create an artificial political crisis through an election boycott. 

The statement sparked outrage among supporters of the Democratic Party that have been calling for a caretaker government for weeks. The opposition leader, Lulzim Basha, said elections can not be held without the participation of the opposition and that Democratic Party would not participate without guarantees of a free and fair process outside the influence of criminal world. 

Basha said criminal organizations are expected to invest billions in marijuana profits to help the Socialist Party stay in power.

“There will be no elections with Edi Rama as Prime Minister. The situation is simple: we are with the people, they are tied to crime,” Basha said before heading to United States, aiming to seek support for the anti-government protest.

Rama's junior coalition partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta, has said the elections must have the main opposition Democratic Party's participation in order to protect the country's stability.

The two main coalition parties seem to be divided on the possibility of going to elections without the opposition. 

SMI Secretary General Luan Rama said that elections without the participation of the opposition would be a “political farce.”

“Elections without the opposition are formal in the institutional framework, but from a democracy viewpoint they are a farce,” Luan Rama said in a televised interview.

However, the party chairman and Assembly Speaker, Ilir Meta, called on local media to not misinterpret Luan Rama’s statement since SMI’s main objective is to push elections forward and not undermine them.

“We should all work together towards the objective of holding excellent elections and refrain from an approach that would bring catastrophic consequences for Albania and its future,” Meta said.

“Let them all know, that pluralism in Albania came on December 12, 1990.”

The coalition unity is expected to be put to test at the regular parliament session on Thursday, as lawmakers will vote on the presidential decree appointing four new cabinet members. 

The confirmation of the new cabinet members requires a majority of 71 votes.

Last week, opposition parties decided not to register at the Central Election Commission (CEC) for the June 18 elections, threatening to boycott the process until a caretaker government is formed.

However, the CEC announced that it would soon launch procedures to replace commissioners of Democratic Party and Republican Party at the Commissions of Electoral Areas, KZAZ in full harmony with the Electoral Code recommendations.

 

 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-03-21 16:56:59
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131687" align="alignright" width="300"]kapedani Kapedani (The Captain), Directed by Fehmi Hoshafi and Muharrem Fejzo, 1972 Photo: Albanian Cinema Project[/caption]

TIRANA, March 21 - An initiative by the state-funded Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes to ban the screening of communist era movies on public and private-run TVs because of their propaganda serving the country's former hardline Stalinist regime has sparked a public debate in Albania on whether such a step should be undertaken 25 years after the collapse of the regime and whether the ban will have the adverse effect of increasing interest on these movies which can be easily accessed via the internet.

Writer Agron Tufa, the head of the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes and Consequences in Albania, journalism professor Anila Godole and Erald Kapri of the Audiovisual Media Authority are among the few public figures that have come out to back the idea of banning or curbing communist era films on TVs because of having a negative impact on the younger generation.

Meanwhile, film directors, researchers and an apparent major part of the public strongly oppose the censorship idea, arguing tha vital legacy is lost with their censorship.

Agron Tufa

“I don't know what kind of educational role can have the propaganda movies sparking hatred among Albanians, promoting genocide with the class war, religion and the most important post World War II poets, films that invent saboteurs and pay tribute to the party-run trials, that fling mud on the bourgeoisie, Europe and the U.S.,” says Agron Tufa, the initiator of the idea.

[caption id="attachment_131688" align="alignright" width="300"]Writer Agron Tufa Writer Agron Tufa[/caption]

A report by the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes has unveiled the 45-year communist regime that collapsed in the early 1990s imprisoned or interned for politically motivated reasons more than 90,000 people, of whom about 7,000 were killed or died of tortures.

“Are we trying to educate children and younger generations with the democratic spirit of freedom in order to be decent citizens of the country and Europe? Then, the free food with the genocidal and propaganda movies is not the right way,” says Tufa, who suggests the movies could screen at late hours with a short introduction.

“The proposed approach does not erase everything. We have stressed that the movies should be shortlisted in order to have a selection considering artistic/aesthetic criteria and based on these values, even though there could still be propaganda, the movies should be allowed to air in the late hours, preceding their screening with a five-minute talk. This talk, parenthesis or short speech, should explain that the movie should be understood in the era's ideological context and be aired thanks to its arts values (performing/directorial). A commission composed of cinema, literature, visual arts experts should be set up,” Tufa has told Albanian media in an interview.

According to him, the movies that have less propaganda can be aired with a notification orienting unprepared viewers. “Of course, this is a repertoire serving the former Albanian Labour Party for whoever doesn't know! That's why the late screening hours and the explanations should be compulsory,” he adds.

Tufa says such practice is also being followed in other former communist countries.

“The movies don't disappear. They remain in archives and are open to study, but there should be no free airing as currently happens in more than 30 TV channels. This cinematographic product should be included in the copyright law, because it belongs to their authors and creators. Such a solution has already been made in former communist countries such as East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and even Bulgaria. This means introducing rules in the jungle, otherwise if you offer viewers today such genocidal movies or documentaries, they will for sure keep alive and activate the nostalgic communism channel,” he adds, stressing the need for legal action to support the initiative.

“This should be proposed to the Albanian Parliament to include it under a special law.  A small number likes these movies, but we should act by a law banning propaganda, nostalgia and recidivism, if we have to clearly distance ourselves from our Stalinist dictatorship past as the former ‘people's democracies’ have earlier acted. At least this should come to an end on Albanian TVs. Of course, if you ask filmmakers of that era, they will not accept this at all. But they will also benefit from their copyright because their works are stolen with these transmission methods. If someone wants to watch let them surf on youtube as long as they can,” says Tufa.

Asked if his proposal damages a whole community of creators, directors, and actors, Tufa says "their right goes as far as it does not infringe our right. We are not at the peak of communism. There is no such precedent in the EU member countries, once satellites of the communist camp. When compared to them, like everything else in the field of culture, our cinema is 10-fold more compromised.”

Jonila Godole

[caption id="attachment_131689" align="alignright" width="300"]Jonila Godole Jonila Godole[/caption]

Jonila Godole, a journalism professor with the public University of Tirana who also runs a media and culture NGO, also support the idea of curbing communist era movie propaganda on TV, saying "maybe a single movie would pose no danger, but a thousand ones do.”

"Because these propagandist movies have only caused damage year after year, invented imaginary enemies, unfairly flung mud on social groups, created fake realities, typified the new Socialist man, whose evil model we have not yet removed from our skin, created seemingly historical myths based on nonsense, playing with the emotions of a downtrodden people suffering the need for freedom and independence without being based at all on these facts, if you consider the propagandistic documentaries of the socialist success that still air on TV with no accompanying explanation,” Godole has written on social networks.

The professor says the damage that this propagandist machinery of Albanian movies caused to the Albanians' cultural subconscience has been immeasurable in the past 70 years.

“I don't believe that those who today yell out the opposite are pushed by anybody rather than being the sheer argument of the consequence these movies have left on their individual memory. Why should the younger generation be served dangerous products for their mental and aesthetic health?! Let the respective experts decide on the movie/propaganda product despite their side effects and make decisions based on the cases in point. But first of all, remove them from the TV screens. Whoever is nostalgic, let them watch wherever they want or satisfy their appetite on Facebook, it is permitted."

 Erald Kapri

Erald Kapri a member of the Complaints Council of the Audiovisual Media Authority, AMA, also supports the idea of banning or curbing the screening of communist era movies on TV.

“As a member of AMA's Council of Complaints I will initiate institutional steps on a decision-making on their full ban or their screening in a predetermined hours. Children and youngsters do not have to watch mediocre movies that promote ‘the new man’,” he says.

“In no Eastern Europe country, furthermore in Germany and Italy are former dictatorship films or documentaries screened. This should also apply for Albania. Personally, as a researcher of war and establishment of dictatorship, I have followed with interest every film of documentary of the former communist dictatorship in Albania and almost each of them can be accessed on youtube. Everybody who is interested can find them online but their screening on TV is not legitimate at all,” he says.

 

Against the ban

Regina Longo

[caption id="attachment_131690" align="alignright" width="300"]Regina Longo Regina Longo[/caption]

Regina Longo, an American film and media archivist who heads the Albanian Cinema Project, an organization dedicated to preserving, restoring, and promoting film heritage under communism, is against the initiative to ban communist era movies.

In its four years of operation, the Albanians Cinema Project has already restored five films dating from 1967 to 1982 including Tomka dhe Shoket e Tij (Tomka and his friends) and the Nentori i Dyte (Second November), screening them in Albania and abroad.

“Put in short, according to me, these films bear values and it's worth restoring them and making them livelier even though we have to punish the regime of the era they were created. When we understand the story of how they were produced and how many people worked in the field of cinema in the Kinostudio era and how many studied filmmaking abroad etc. we will notice that not everything was closed down in Albania. There was always an open window. The cinema reflects the culture of the era when these movies were produced, but also a desired image,” Longo says in a letter addressed to director Piro Milkani published on local Albanian media.

“There are so many Albanian movies important from the point of view of artistic value and both historically and politically. As an archivist, my job involves saving and conserving as much as I can with the available tools and make possible the opening of these discussions, be they even tough ones, because in my opinion when we reach the crossroads, we have the opportunity to elaborate on these arguments and understand the past and the present better. If we don't watch them, we cannot discuss their goal and this can take to nowhere,” she adds.

Piro Milkani

[caption id="attachment_131691" align="alignright" width="300"]Piro Milkani Piro Milkani[/caption]

“I have the answer on the tip of my tongue and I am not at all hesitant about it. I have said as many times as I have been asked even when this debate was not open. I don't know yet if it was a good or bad thing but at a time when Hitler's Mein Kampf is published in Albania and banned in Germany there is no room for discussion,” says Piro Milkani, one of the country's best directors who studied filmmaking in Prague in the 1960s.

“Are Albanian movies so dangerous? I think this is a rather exaggerated debate despite the great respect toward those who in contrast to us were persecuted and suffered a lot under communism,” says Milkani, who has directed some of the country’s best movies films both under communism and during the past 25 years of transition.

Citing late Macedonian-Albanian politician Arben Xheferi, Milkani says the films produced at that time were not made for 3 million Albanians, but 10 million Albanians wherever they live.

"That is why I think that those who try to censor these movies, should bear in mind once and for all. They want to censor not 3 million, but 10 million Albanians,” he adds.

Elvira Diamanti

[caption id="attachment_131692" align="alignright" width="300"]Elvira Diamanti stars in 1987 Perralle nga e Kaluara (Tale from the past) movie Elvira Diamanti stars in the Perralle nga e Kaluara (Tale from the past) 1987 movie[/caption]

“As the director of the State Central Film Archive I want to tell you that we possess invaluable film heritage involving 8.5 million meters of film and that must be preserved with every means because we are not only Albania's archive, but also part of regional and world heritage,” says actress Elvira Diamanti.

She says launching this idea on the absolute TV ban of pre-1990s movies is in the best case something hurried and rancor that this piece of heritage does not deserve.

“A small and poor country such as Albania has one of the Balkan region's richest archives, even because of the passion Enver Hoxha's dictatorship had to document everything. What's going to happen after this? Should we ban all pre-90s literature, sculptures and everything created in those years,” says Diamanti, famous for her roles in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“Today in the internet and information boom era, how is it possible for youngsters to be damaged by the propaganda of these movies. This is impossible and underestimation for the Albanian society's intelligence. I think that in the end, only the passing of time will select the Socialist realism works and make it possible for their directors, actors and composers to get what they deserve.”

 BBC Radio

[caption id="attachment_131693" align="alignright" width="300"]Thomas Logoreci Thomas Logoreci[/caption]

The debate has also caught the attention of BBC radio who interviewed these days Thomas Logoreci, an Albanian-American filmmaker based in Tirana and one of the founders of the Albanian Cinema Project, created to protect the endangered Albanian film archive.

"Not elaborating on the aesthetic part which is different depending on viewpoints, I think these movies represent great historical values, because we have fiction, documentary animated films that were created under a period of great repression from 1944 to 1990,” said Logoreci.

"These movies also tackle social issues and this was recently researched by Juljan Bejko and I think these movies convey everything about that period even the regime's absurd aspect,” added the filmmaker, describing the initiative as politically motivated and an action that can have a bad impact on future movies.

Julian Bejko, a sociology professor with University of Tirana who has been researching into the history of the Albanian cinema for six years, says the communist-era movies serve to better understand the past and present.

“Albania today suffers from a more sophisticated type of amnesia in which discourse is fragmented into easy narratives that fit the political agendas of both right and left. Only through a nuanced understanding of communist modes of representation, rather than a facile dismissal of these tactics as an instrument of propaganda, can we begin to understand Albania’s complex and fractured development over the past two decades. It is this silence that ultimately harms memory and it is vital to undertake research to better realize the present visible within our cinematic past,” Bejko has written.

 Communist nostalgia remains strong

[caption id="attachment_131694" align="alignright" width="300"]Protesters in Tirana topple the statue of dictator Enver Hoxha in February 1991 Protesters in Tirana topple the statue of dictator Enver Hoxha in February 1991[/caption]

Albania has changed drastically since the death of the country’s communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, 31 years ago. But Hoxha, the leader of a brutal communist regime that murdered thousands of innocent Albanians, crushed all opposition and left the country in dire poverty in the late 1980s, is now seen in a positive light by a surprising large number of Albanians, a late 2016 survey supported by the OSCE Presence in Albania found.

According to a survey report on the Understanding and Perception of Citizens of the Communist Past in Albania, almost half of the population of Albania sees Enver Hoxha’s role in the history of the country as positive. The study found that 55 percent of citizens in the regions of southern and southwestern Albania that were interviewed, had the most positive view of Albania’s former communist dictator.

Almost half of the people surveyed think that Communism in Albania was “a good idea, poorly implemented.” Over a third of respondents think that Communism was simply “a bad idea.”

 
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            [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, April 4 - Albania's trade exchanges with neighbouring Kosovo suffered a setback in 2016 negatively affected by the poor diversification of products traded and ongoing doing business barriers, with the volume of trade remaining at almost the same levels for the past five years despite a costly highway having considerably eased transport and both governments holding joint meetings to boost economic cooperation.

The two ethnic Albanian countries have overcome a number of trade barriers over certain products in the past few years and made some procedures easier, but lack of an early tradition in economic cooperation seems to be the main issue preventing the creation of a single market of about 5 million resident consumers.

The recognition of mutual phytosanitary certificates has emerged as a key barrier for businesses in both countries as the two countries seek to diversify trade exchanges mainly relying on “fuel, electricity, construction material and metals.”

Kosovo experts had earlier complained Albania still doesn’t recognize certificates of origin issued by Kosovo authorities which makes the export of Kosovo products to Albania difficult and causes unnecessary long lines and wait-times at the Vermice border crossing point with Albania.

Phytosanitary certificates are not mutually recognized creating problems for the circulation of agricultural products.

"The Kosovo-Serbia relations are not good, but businesses seem to have a psychological obsession. A Kosovo businessman can easier engage in trade relations with a Serbia businessman while it is easier for Albanian businessmen to deal with Greek businessmen,” said Kosovo’s Economic Development Minister Blerand Stavileci speaking in Tirana on Monday at a conference on a single Albania-Kosovo market.

Data shows that behind political rhetoric of excellent economic cooperation with Kosovo, trade exchanges between the two countries are almost the same compared to Albania’s trade volume with Serbia and only half of what Kosovo imports from Serbia.

Albania’s Economy Minister Milva Ekonomi said the customs barriers faced by businesses were a result of Kosovo not being yet a member of Paris-based European cooperation for Accreditation, a network of nationally recognized accreditation bodies based in the European geographical area.

"There is kind of institutional deadlock because if Albania's Accreditation Agency is now recognized by the European co-operation for Accreditation, the situation is not the same for Kosovo which is trying to win this status. Of course, when Kosovo gets this status, every testing lab will be recognized and this will give more space to the exchange of goods," said Ekonomi.

Since gaining independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo has been recognized by more than 100 countries, but is still facing difficulty in gaining membership to several important international organisations.

Alban Zusi, a former deputy agriculture minister who heads the Albanian Exporters Association, said customs duties at about 17 percent are too high and only favour big companies, mainly construction and steel companies in exports with Kosovo.

According to him, the ongoing application of non-tariff barriers remains a key issue for the access of Albanian SMEs to the Kosovo market.

"This way of handling things has strengthened big businesses, but curbed small ones. It is much more profitable working with the French and Austrian markets rather than with Kosovo exactly because of these issues," said Zusi.

Representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo said the two countries need to harmonize phytosanitary certificates, otherwise it is useless talking about cooperation.

"The decisions undertaken by both governments run counter to the spirit of cooperation promoted between the two countries. It is useless for the two countries to impose barriers upon each other when they cannot compete with the same products, but have complementary ones," said Arian Zeka, the head of the Kosovo AmCham.

Previous trade disputes over potatoes, cement, milk, flour, wine and pharmaceutical products have considerably curbed trade exchanges between the two neighboring countries in the past few years.

Trade exchanges and investment

Trade exchanges between Albania and Kosovo dropped to 22.4 billion lek (€163 mln), down from a record high of 26.4 billion lek (€192 mln) in 2015, remaining at almost the same level compared to 2012 and representing about 10 percent of total volume of trade, according to INSTAT, the state statistical institute.

The lower trade exchanges were affected by a 20 percent drop of Albanian exports to Kosovo, the second most important destination for Albanian exports.

Mainly relying on “fuel, electricity, construction material and metals,” Albania’s exports to Kosovo are poorly diversified and subject to commodity price shocks.

However, compared to 2009 when Albania completed its part of the highway, trade exchanges have more than doubled and tourist numbers sharply increased.

Tourists from landlocked Kosovo account for almost half of foreign tourists to Albania in what is known as ‘patriotic tourism.

When it comes to mutual investment, the level of investment is largely dominated by Albanian companies.

Albanian investors have been among the top five foreign investors in Kosovo in the past few years with the 2016 FDI estimated at about €29 million, down from a peak level of €40 million in 2015. The Albanian FDI stock in Kosovo, mainly concentrated in the real estate, financial and trade sector, is estimated at €193 million and is represented by some 900 Albanian companies.

Kosovo companies in Albania have been less active in the past few years with their stock of FDI only slightly increasing to a total €29 million.

Some 600 Kosovo companies operate in Albania, mainly in the construction and trade sectors.

Albania and Kosovo have held three joint government meetings in the past three years in a bid to boost cooperation with a focus on the economy, but trade disputes continue hampering the expected boost in trade exchanges, which remain significantly below their potential despite the Highway of Nation having considerably cut the distance between the two countries.

Authorities have identified setting up a joint customs point at Durres Port to further ease trade exchanges between the two countries. The one-stop shop means Kosovo enterprises using Albania’s Durres Port will no longer have to undergo new inspections at the Albania-Kosovo border crossing points.

While traditional factors due to the isolation and lack of communication between the two Albanian-speaking countries for almost five decades until the early 1990s and the late 1990s Kosovo war that led to its independence from Serbia in 2008 partly explain the situation, the huge almost 2 billion euro investment in the so-called Highway of Nation on both sides of border sharply cutting travel time does not yet justify a slowly growing annual trade volume of less than €200 million between the two countries.

Plans to impose tolls on the Highway of Nation could further hamper trade exchanges and tourism arrivals. Albania has already selected a concessionaire that will apply Euro 5 tolls on its part of the highway while Kosovo is also advancing plans to apply tolls on its side.

The Tirana and Kosovo Chambers of Commerce have identified several barriers including “a climate of mistrust which risks undermining cooperation and the perspective toward a national economy.”

Chamber representatives say practices enabling the quick movement of goods are not working while lack of 24/7 phytosanitary experts makes the timely circulation of food products difficult.

The two countries have also stepped up cooperation in the energy sector.

In mid-2016, Albania and Kosovo inaugurated a German-funded 400 kV interconnection line that will help the two neighboring countries increase energy security by diversifying electricity resources and set up a joint energy market, but its launch is being held back by Serbia over a transmission grid dispute with Kosovo.

 

 

 
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