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Statement by the U.S. Representative at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Albania

Statement by the U.S. Representative at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Albania

Geneva, Switzerland
May 11, 2016

*As Delivered*

Thank you, Chair. The United States warmly welcomes the delegation of Albania on the occasion of the WTO’s second review of Albania’s trade policy and practices.  We would like to thank the WTO Secretariat, and the Government of the Republic of Albania, for their efforts in compiling this analysis and information on Albania’s economic priorities and developments since the previous review in 2010.   

Albania has faced a number of economic challenges in recent years, including fall-out from the global financial crisis, which significantly depressed demand for Albania’s exports.  But as outlined in the Secretariat’s Report, Albania is well on its way to recovery, with per capita GDP increasing by 10% between 2010 and 2014.  Albania’s WTO membership and its EU aspirations continue to help drive positive economic and political reforms, which will be necessary for Albania’s further development.  

We congratulate Albania for undertaking several of the recommended reforms highlighted during its first TPR in 2010.  Albania’s success in recovering from the financial crisis depended on these reforms, which entailed reducing protectionist trade measures and proceeding with privatization.  The result is that today, Albania has a more competitive business environment.  Albania has also benefited from its pursuit of economic integration and multilateral free-trade agreements, becoming a signatory of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, the European Free Trade Association, and a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with Turkey.  Additionally, Albania participates in the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and the Stabilization Association Agreement with EU member states.

U.S.-Albania trade has increased substantially since the last TPR.  Two-way goods trade totaled $190.8 million in 2015, a 59% increase from 2014 and almost double the amount in 2013.  Since the 2010 review, Albanian firms have increased their use of the GSP program, reaching $2.9 million in 2015.  We are pleased that Albania is utilizing its GSP opportunities and will continue to work with Albania to help its businesses take maximum advantage of the program.

We also recognize that Albania has taken additional steps to create a firm foundation for future economic growth.  Albania has transitioned to a digital system for customs and border compliance, which has streamlined the processing of imports and substantially reduced fees. Furthermore, Albania has taken no anti-dumping, countervailing, or safeguard measures since its accession to the WTO.  We would also commend Albania for joining the ITA expansion agreement, and look forward to timely implementation if its commitments. We also commend Albania for submitting its acceptance of the Trade Facilitation Agreement yesterday.  This sends an important signal to the international community about Albania’s commitment to enhancing its competitiveness.

Looking ahead, we encourage Albania to maintain this positive momentum on reforms and to guard against back-sliding.  After reaching an all-time high on the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report at 68th place in 2015, Albania’s ranking fell to 97 in 2016.  The decline in ranking is an unfortunate reversal of a positive trend in Albania’s business climate; a number of high-profile international investment disputes, including disputes with U.S. companies, have not helped Albania promote itself as an attractive destination for foreign investment.  We are hopeful, however, that this is only temporary set-back.  We note Albania’s commitment to addressing systemic problems, such as a lack of transparency in institutions.  

We support Albania’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions and welcome Albania’s adoption of a National Plan for European Integration, with medium and long-term measures for meeting the requirements for joining the European Union.  The United States highlights the particular importance of two areas to strengthen rule of law in Albania: judicial reform and robust anti-corruption measures.  Further steps to reduce corruption and increase transparency will increase legal certainty, make Albania more attractive for trade and investment, and facilitate regional integration.

We note that in the area of intellectual property rights, applications for trademarks, patents, and industrial designs in Albania have grown significantly since the last review, reflecting an increasingly vibrant and innovative economy.  Albania is now party to several international conventions on intellectual property rights.  We look forward to learning more about Albania’s recently passed copyright law and how it will increase current copyright protections once implemented.  In particular, we are interested in knowing whether the law will provide legal protection for technological protection measures, which are not covered by the law currently in force.

The United States also has concerns about Albanian Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, especially the ban on the use of hormones in food and products of animal origins, including for imports.  The United States questions the scientific basis and justification for this prohibition.  The United States is also seeking clarification regarding Albania’s approach to foods produced through biotechnology.  Specifically, we would like to understand what is encapsulated in the category of “new food” as applied to products of biotechnology, and what the labeling requirements are.

The Secretariat’s Report notes that Law “Number 9374 On State Aid” prohibits incentivizing domestic over imported goods, in compliance with the WTO’s principles of non-discrimination. However, this law does not appear to apply to agriculture and fisheries, so the U.S. would appreciate clarification on that point. 

In conclusion, the United States welcomes Albania’s significant advances in several areas since its initial TPR in 2010, and we look forward to working with you in implementing the additional reforms necessary to facilitate Albania’s continued economic development and integration in Euro-Atlantic structures.  Thank you.