At the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, we addressed Mr Gerxhaliu, Secretary General of the Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum (WB6 CIF). Based on his 30 year experience, he gave us in depth analysis on seriousness of the whole situation and some indications for the future. He thinks that this crisis took away every kind of comfort and possibility to deal with the past in the future. According to Mr Gerxhaliu, now it is crystal clear that the past can’t help us, we all need regional cooperation to cope with the future. He stressed that the role of the Chambers of Commerce and the WB6 CIF office in Trieste will significantly increase and it will be good background for them to become leaders and set an example for politicians in the new world order, which according to Mr Gerxhaliu, will be set after this crisis.
Mr Gerxhaliu, we hear about thousands and thousands of dead people around the world every day. We are hearing about economic crisis of unprecedented proportions that probably awaits us. What do you think is happening and what we can expect in the future?
This Coronavirus pandemic was unexpected and has such large magnitude, which in itself presents a great danger. Human life is always in the first place and despite all these circumstances „life must go on“. In that context we need to be aware that world will not be as it used to, and if after nineties we had new world order, for sure now after Coronavirus pandemic new era in the way of human thinking will start. In human and economic sense there will be some major changes which will for sure cause a new order after the crisis is over. We need to be aware that more and more of such challenges will occur in the future of humanity and people will need to be prepared to accept them as a way of life and as a process that we need to live with. Human maturity is expressed when he accepts things he can’t change. Thereby human should strive to change what they can change. In global, when we think about the future, we need to think about ourselves and others, and equally about our surrounding.
To go back at the economic theme. How much will this crisis cost us globally?
The biggest problem is that we know when this virus or this pandemic started, but we don’t know when it will end. In that context we can make some predictions but it is not enough because everything relays on the time context, which makes time the most important factor. We need to be aware that any kind of global growth, either global or regional, will change significantly. Economic growth on a global level was projected to be 2.8% and now it is projected to decrease and become negative. We were witnesses that China’s projected economic growth was 4,6% but you can see that they also have some consequences. I expect the same for economic development in the Western Balkans. As a consequence of all this, we will certainly have a lot of businesses that will be closed and a lot of people will lose their jobs. The most affected are the private sector and employees. If you analyse trends, in America millions of people will lose their jobs, if you take a look on the situation in the Europe or in the Balkans, we need to take in account that after Coronavirus both the world and the Balkans will face economic pandemic which is far more dangerous than the Covid-19. As outcome of the economic pandemic, social pandemic is expected to occur. It remains to add this component and somehow the Balkans will be heated with the upcoming elections in North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia, which makes situation in the Balkans more difficult and dangerous. I think we still care more about political parties and groups then about our countries. Now that we have a common enemy, Coronavirus, it is time to strengthen our dialogue, have more humanity and understanding, and that is the only way to win this battle. After that we will have the new beginning because the world will not be what it uses to. In that context, we need to be ready for new challenges that the Coronavirus has caused.
Albania and North Macedonia finally have opportunity to start negotiations with the European Union. Can a Coronavirus destroy the economic benefits these two countries were supposed to receive?
I think this is a new moment for Western Balkans and I hope that Kosovo will get a visa liberalisation so the whole region has clear steps towards the European Union. Right now, we are witnessing the importance of dialogue and cooperation between the countries in the Region. In that context we need to prioritise economic development and economic cooperation. Second, the maturity of the county is reflected when they manage to turn such negative situation into opportunity for growth. Of course, now we can expect more resources and fundings and we need to be ready to absorb as much help as we can from various donors, even from the European Union. Most importantly, we all need to have priority after Coronavirus: it is not enough to remedy the consequences of the Coronavirus, but also use the momentum to improve mutual cooperation since economy will not be same as it was before the virus and having that in mind we need to be ready for new challenges. For sure there will be different indicators to measure it, but now you can see the importance and why we insisted on regionalisation and how important it is for Western Balkans, also we strived for development of the human resources and as well digitalisation and e-commerce. North Macedonia and Albania definitely are countries in different position now. We need to help them to absorb as much funding as possible from donors and the European Union. Only through economic development can the standard of citizens be improved and the European integration process accelerated. That is why this Coronavirus condition must be used as a turning point in one new direction, in integrated and developmental living in the Balkans. Europe knows that the Western Balkans only as a whole can be part of Europe, but Western Balkans that solves problems and Western Balkans that will leave problems in the past and will not subsequently transmit those problems within the European Union.
Will the structure of the economies of our countries affect the crisis degree impact and their recovery?
Every country in the Western Balkans has its own characteristics and simply economic development must be based on what each country has. Before you decide where you are headed, you need to know your current position. Having that in mind, an analysis of the current situation must be made. Tourism was affected the most in Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia, while construction has been affected as a major economic development activity in Kosovo and other countries. Therefore, one scan of the whole situation should be made and then the course of the action should be determined. But at all time we need to have in mind that the future of the Western Balkans lies in dialogue and unity, not conflicts. Of course, we also need the law and reform of the education system. Only by doing all of that we can we strengthen and increase economic cooperation. In this way, we will change the image of our countries abroad and become more attractive for foreign investments.
Can this health and economic crisis lead to a security crisis?
Many steps forward have been taken that we really need to be proud of. We need to separate politics from economy and make economic cooperation a priority for building the future and the so-called new world order in our counties as well. My message is that we should all be focused on how to build a better future, not beautify the past, because there is no benefit from it. We ask in vain for help from the past. The structure of the future is of crucial. And what is of great importance to all the politicians of the region is production of populism. Now is the time for another approach to the region, which is certainly an economic approach. We should learn from our past mistakes, they are the best guidelines for better future.
My institution the Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum and our Permanent Secretariat in Trieste is working in accordance with all these objectives, and for that I would like to thank them, including both employees in Trieste and our national coordinators delegated from our member chamber countries. We are all expecting a lot of challenges because this pandemic is a challenge itself. Only together we can persevere in this fight. There is no more going back because we just don’t have that comfort to deal with the past.
If we analyse whose merit it is having this current peace, the flow of goods, and this kind of functioning of the economy, it is not just the merit of politicians. More to the credit has the private sector, and the private sector would not succeed without well-organised chambers. That is why I think that in these difficult times Chambers of Commerce have passed their exam, as well as the WB6 CIF Association in Trieste. Literally every information available regarding the movement of goods and services and capital, we provide to our members all this information up to date. This is one among many indicators of what role chambers play in the region and what needs to be done to maintain those chambers. The voice of a businessman is essential for social peace. Many countries in the region didn’t have reserve funds or state reserves, so if anyone has a role to play in facilitating the situation in this period, it is the private sector and they have really gave their all. That is why we should be grateful to the chambers in the region, who are currently operating 24/7 as crisis headquarters, and I take this opportunity to thank them. Once again, I repeat, this is the only way to improve our image and set the example to the politicians.