Opposition worried over Albania’s failure to make it to U.S. investment climate report

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 26, 2018 10:27

Opposition worried over Albania’s failure to make it to U.S. investment climate report

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  • "The decision by the U.S. Department of State to exclude Albania from the list of friendly countries to American businesses is punishment for the Albanian economy," says Jorida Tabaku, an opposition Democratic Party MP who is also the deputy head of the parliamentary economy committee

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TIRANA, July 25 – Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party has blamed what it calls a hostile business climate for the country’s failure to make it in the annual investment climate statements published by the U.S. Department of State although the U.S. embassy in Tirana later clarified that the Albania chapter will be published soon.

The opposition Democrats consider the report covering more than 170 countries nationwide punishment for the Albanian economy and blames corruption and ill-governance for the unfriendly business climate that Albania offers to American investors.

“The decision by the U.S. Department of State to exclude Albania from the list of friendly countries to American businesses is punishment for the Albanian economy,” says Jorida Tabaku, an opposition Democratic Party MP who is also the deputy head of the parliamentary economy committee.

“Failure to be a friendly country for American businesses means there is a hostile climate toward them with high taxes, unfair competition from dirty drug trafficking and corruption money and that the economy is concentrated on a handful of oligarchs and customers of [Prime Minister] Edi Rama,” she added.

Serbia and Macedonia were also among the Western Balkan countries not immediately included in the 2018 investment climate statements, which the U.S. department says help U.S. companies make informed decisions on doing business in foreign markets, and in doing so help increase U.S. exports and generate U.S. jobs.

The main opposition party claims Russian and Georgian investors are replacing Americans and that public private partnerships are being awarded through unsolicited requests to businessman close to the Prime Minister.

The accusations come amid media allegations that a company with close ties to Russia’s Gazprom oil and gas giant is on track to get major oil fields that were previously run by a U.S.-based company south of the country.

In last year’s report on the Albania’s investment climate, the U.S. lambasted Albania’s business climate as unfavorable, with corruption, unclear property rights and discrimination against foreign investors as the top concerns.

The State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs rated endemic corruption as the top concern holding back U.S. investors to Albania.

The rising concern came after two major North American oil companies, former Canadian-owned Bankers Petroleum and U.S.-based TransAtlantic Petroleum left the country in 2016 following disputes with tax authorities in the country and a slump in international oil prices.

The stock of U.S. foreign direct in Albania has been on downward trend in the past three years, dropping to €74 million in early 2018, down from a peak €97 million in early 2015, according to Bank of Albania of data, ranking the U.S. out of the top 10 largest investors in Albania.

Frequently changing tax policies, almost on an annual basis, unclear land ownership titles and lack of a cadastral map are the key barriers current and potential foreign investors face in Albania, says the American Chamber of Commerce in Albania.

Trade exchanges between the U.S. and Albania are at a modest of about 12 billion lek (€95 mln, $111 mln) annually, accounting for only 1.5 percent of Albania’s trade volume, according to Albania’s statistical institute, INSTAT.

The trade exchanges are overwhelming dominated by machinery and equipment Albania imports while medicinal plants lead the country’s exports to the U.S.

Despite the modest level of trade and investment, the U.S. has been a strategic partner in Albania’s Euro-Atlantic integration and a key donor in the country’s transition to democracy and market economy.

Albania’s affection to the U.S. started after World War I when former President Woodrow Wilson stood up to support Albania’s independence to prevent any further partition of Albanian territories.

The two countries re-established diplomatic relations on March 15, 1991, after a break of 52 years following World War II and Albania’s isolation under communism.

President George W. Bush was the first sitting American President to visit Albania on 10 June 2007.

Some 200,000 Americans of Albanian descent live in the U.S. while the number of Albanian-Americans who permanently live in Albania is estimated at 20,000.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 26, 2018 10:27