Tirana, September 26th 2023
Within the framework of the Berlin Process, which this year is under the Albanian presidency, the Ministry of Finance and Economy of Albania together with the Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum and Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Albania, hosted the Business Forum that was held in Tirana and presented the achievements and challenges along the way of the region towards the EU single market.
„I firmly believe that at this very defining moment for Europe in the values of the common community, the time has come to think outside the box, and this is exactly what we are trying to do with this event with our great friends of the EU“ said Prime minister Edi Rama in his opening speech during the Business Forum, and added: „The new EU plan that is being announced should support the Western Balkans by opening several ways that will bring us closer to the EU, while for the integration process each country must do its own homework. We may still have important unresolved issues, but through this process we have learned that the only way is to try to agree as much as possible and do as many things together as possible. I believe that the better the atmosphere of cooperation, the bridges we build between our countries, the better the space to deal with the most difficult issues.“
Prime minister empahised importane of the Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum achievements in the previous years: „I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the chambers involved in this process-Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum, which has helped our companes and our governments a lot. It is very significant in the achievements of the Berlin process that more than 6000 companies have already benefited from the removal of barriers between the countries in the region, participated in events and activities that led them to closer mutual cooperation, and the chambers have great credit for that”.
Ines Mucostepa, president of the Union of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Albania, co-hosting the event, pointed out that EU needs to support the potential of the Western Balkans companies and to create a tailor-made regional development program to help them in accessing new markets. “The pandemic, the energy crisis, the war in Ukraine have hit the economy and have left some countries out of the market. Western Balkans companies are ready to join EU market and provide successful implementation of new, joint projects. The important number of companies from the region and the EU, is a fact that, the business sector, shares a common goal. For all of us, the European project is a two – way project, the prosperity for Western Balkan is the prosperity for the European Union. As President of European Commission declared, the future of the Western Balkans is in the Union, our Union! And hopefully, soon, we will have good news for our businesses!” she said.
Chairman of the WB6 CIF Managing Board and President of Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, Mr Lulzim Rafuna stressed: “The principle of free movement of goods is the cornerstone of economic integration. In order to further facilitate this integration, negotiations should be initiated for the conclusion of an agreement between the region and the EU for an Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products in Certain Industrial Sectors. This agreement will harmonize standards, ensuring that products from the Western Balkans meet EU requirements, thus facilitating trade. In addition, the mutual recognition of the certificates for authorized economic operators is also essential, which as recognition should be extended and include the establishment of special lanes for holders of AEO status at the most frequent border crossings with the EU. But we must also refer to the prolonged waiting time at the border crossings between the Western Balkans and the EU, which is currently over six hours on average for customs clearance of cargo vehicles, which is simply unacceptable”, concluded Rafuna.
Representative of the European Commission, Wojciech Kowalski expressed the assurance that European Union is with the region for the long run with, having its special focus is on micro, small and medium-sized businesses. “Our Economic and Investment Plan, of EUR 30 billion is working to improve the connectivity in the region and to help it through the green and digital transition, while its economies become more competitive, the human capital grows, and the business sector gets stronger and receives better access to finance”, said Mr Kowalski, mentioning additional support close to EUR 1 billion EU provisioning of 21 loan guarantee schemes through Western Balkans Investment Framework. He has also mentioned the importance of the future Growth Plan for the WB that aims to boost economic integration through the Common Regional Market, and at the same time, to promote integration with specific areas of the EU’s Single Market, but also called for the reforms in WB6 economies to create the adequate business climate.
According to Marko Cadez, member of the WB6 CIF Managing Board and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia, the representatives of the business communities of all economies from the Western Balkans are looking for a region without barriers in doing business and a new, faster model of inclusion in the economic structure of the European Union, otherwise, the region will not survive, nor the Union. Cadez
recalled that in recent years, at conferences within the framework of the Berlin process, he spoke about the reasons for regional cooperation, the need for a different relationship with the European Union, that it is important for politicians in the EU to understand where they see the industrial future of Europe and, for example, security in access to rare metals, which Europe imports 98% from China, instead of integrating the Western Balkans, which has all the necessary resources. Therefore, concrete solutions should be negotiated that will lead to the rapid entry of the region into the European economic community and utilization of all the benefits of the single market.
Ricardo Giucci, Managing Director at Berlin Economics and leader of German Economic Team presented data related to patterns, potential and barriers for trade within the Western Balkans, while Heinz Hetmeier, Deputy Director-General for European Policy, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) and Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, OECD Deputy Secretary General presented their insights in the current situation related to the potentials of WB for phasing into the EU Single Market.
As part of the panel discussion on the challenges and potentials of the common regional market, ministries – Ervin Mete, Minister of Finance and Economy, Rozeta Hajdari, Minister of industry, entrepreneurship and trade, Goran Đurović, Minister of Economic Development and Tourism Kreshnik Bekteshi, Minister of Economy and Tomislav Momirović, Minister of Domestic and Foreign Trade and local companies represented by Mr Angel Angjusev (Green Machines), Nenad Ristic (Elixir Group), Sanja Prastalo (Mikroelektronika), Merve Ozer Yilmaz (Newko Balkan) and Antje Muller (German Eastern Business Association) discussed investments, free movement of people, goods, services and capital, green transition, human capital development etc.
Vjekoslav Vukovic, President of the Foreign Trade Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina moderated the event and pointed out conclusions and initiatives from the business community, highlighting the requirements from local companies to have a good environment for growth, through:
- better access to EU and national financing instruments for investing in technologically advanced products
- transparent and competitive national procurement procedures
- support in aligning with EU values related to green emissions including cross-border, EU and national funding instruments for green investments
- EU support in establishment of the regional certification body/laboratory that is one of the main problems for companies due to the fact that none of the laboratories is available in the region
- Neccessity for joint regional training academies to have certified experts in different fields
- Establishment of the sectorial associations within WB6 CIF to have more focused approach
Business Forum has hosted high level French delegation, in the presence of Olivier Becht, Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade, Economic Attractiveness and French Nationals Abroad and led by Jean-Paul Agon, Chairman of the France-Albania Business Council – MEDEF International and President-Chairman of the Board, L’Oréal. On this occasion Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between MEDEF International (Mouvement Des Entreprises De France International) and WB6 CIF.