World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/93

    12 December 1996

Organization    

    (96-5310)




    Original: English

MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE

Singapore, 9-13 December 1996

ALBANIA

Statement by H.E. Mrs. Suzana Panariti

Minister of Industry, Transport and Trade

    It is a pleasure for me to be here today and to present to you the greetings on behalf of the Government of Albania.

    This Conference is a very important meeting which will assist of course, the development of the multilateral trading system.

    Respectful of the role of the WTO in the process of globalization of the world economy and international trade, I wish to emphasize the importance that Albania's Government gives the accession of our country in the WTO, considering this membership one of the priorities of its foreign economic policy.

    We appreciate better now the WTO, and its objectives and functions. I would like to mention some issues concerning:

    -    The evolution and current status of Albania's programme to establish a market economy;

    -    the role of international trade policy in Albania's economic reform programme;

    -    Albania's prospective membership in the World Trade Organization; how our Government sees membership supporting its economic policy objectives, and how it would expect to fulfil the requirements of membership, recognizing that this membership involves obligations as well as rights.

    Albania's success in stabilizing its economy is the result of the implementation of comprehensive economic reforms since 1992. The objectives were to halt the decline in output, reduce inflation, begin structural changes needed for the transition to a market economy.

    The Albanian Government has established a legal framework providing for private ownership, entrepreneurial activity, open competition, bankruptcy, foreign investment, protection of consumers, privatization of small, medium and large enterprises and many other elements of a modern commercial, legal regime. The steady growth of domestic and foreign investment over the past four years is a vote of confidence by the private sector in Albania's commercial law reform.

    Now the Albanian Government has reduced its role in almost all fields of economic activity. As a result, the private sector now accounts for about 80-85 per cent of GDP, 56 per cent of exports and 82 per cent of imports. Approximately 76 per cent of Albania's work force is engaged in private business.

    Price controls have been almost completely eliminated. Controls remain on only a few public services, such a electricity, water and pharmaceuticals. Even in these areas, controls are only partial and further liberalization is foreseen.

    Albania's national currency, the lek, is internally convertible and has been floating freely since 1992. The relative stability of the lek over the past four years is one sign, among others, that Albania's efforts to exercise fiscal and monetary control and more generally to ensure macroeconomic stability, have been successful.

    Albania has turned its back on isolationism and pursued a programme to strengthen its ties with the rest of the world. We have concluded bilateral economic, trade and industrial agreements with 32 countries and 16 other agreements are under negotiation. We have also concluded bilateral agreements on promotion and protection of investment with 28 countries and 18 other agreements are under negotiation. We are a member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Black Sea Economic Initiative and the Organization of Islamic States.

    Looking to the future, Albania has been working hard since 1992 on its membership of the World Trade Organization, hopefully before 1997, and towards a Europe Agreement with the EU.

    Over the past four years, Albania has vigorously pursued a programme to establish a market economy and to become a full participant in the international community.

    Privatization, as the key to a functioning market economy, has begun since 1992 based in the laws and regulations approved in the Parliament. Until now, more than 75 per cent of national wealth has been privatized, among which:

    -    96 per cent of agriculture land;

    -    100 per cent of agriculture mechanics;

    -    100 per cent of road transport, etc.

    In March 1995, on the basis of a Presidential decree, began a mass privatization of large enterprises through vouchers, and Albania now has its first shareholders.

    During the past six months we have held two national elections which had important implications for the future direction of Albania's economy. The result was a resounding victory for democracy and economic reform. These results will allow Albania to build on the progress that has been made over the past five years and to pursue without interruption important international initiatives. In this context, the democratic Government that I represent her today, attaches particular importance to Albanian accession to the WTO. We wish to make up for lost time.

    It is important to consider the role of international trade policy in Albania's overall economic reform programme. Trade liberalization has been one often main pillars of economic stabilization and reform along with price liberalization, exchange liberalization, fiscal control, monetary restraint and rapid privatization of agricultural land and small enterprises.

    The choice was made early in the reform process to pursue rapid trade liberalization rather than slow, progressive liberalization.

    The Government of Albania recognizes that an open trade regime has made and continues to make important contributions to Albania's economic and social well-being.

    Total trade has grown steadily over the past four years and in 1995 represented approximately 19.9 per cent of GDP. Imports accounted for 31.5 per cent of GDP and exports 9 per cent. Export activity is growing and becoming a more important source of foreign exchange.

    The growth in total trade has been facilitated by a relatively open trade regime. I would like to highlight the main characteristics of Albania's trade regime:

    -    Simple import tariff structure;

    -    no quantitative restrictions on imports or exports;

    -    no export subsidies;

    -    no restrictions on current transactions;

    -    no trade-related investment measures.

    We believe that Albania's trade regime is comparatively open, transparent and non-discriminatory in its treatment of foreign goods, services and service providers.

    How would membership in the World Trade Organization affect the economic reform process and why is Albania seeking membership?

    The answers to such questions may seem obvious for your countries, but I believe that it is useful for you to have an understanding of the considerations that motivate our accession efforts and our perspective on what membership entails.

    First, this membership will help increase foreign direct investments.

    Second, it is in the interest of Albania to make known that its programme of economic reform is in conformity with international trade standards.

    Third, WTO membership will support our efforts in increasing exports, obtaining better and more secure access to foreign markets, and in the meantime to offer similar access to our partners, especially in the sectors where Albania has export potential such as agriculture, textiles and clothing.

    Another consideration concerns the maintenance of an open trade regime. It is one thing to establish an open trade regime. It is another thing to maintain one. As time goes on and as Albania's domestic production begins to re-establish itself and grow, there will be increasing pressures to use trade policy instruments to protect domestic producers. As all of you know, the commitments that an acceding country must make regarding the openness of its trade regime can be useful in resisting the temptation to slide back into protectionism, a temptation that all countries face at one time or another.

    We also recognize that such commitments serve as a stamp of credibility for the permanence of economic reforms. This credibility is essential for a country in transition that is trying to convince potential investors that today's reforms will not disappear tomorrow.

    In conclusion, I wish to emphasize once again, the importance that Albania attaches to cooperation in world trade to the best of our ability.

    On this occasion, I would like to wish the Ministerial Conference success in its work, and hope that it is able to bring among the countries a closer cooperation.