Albania and Slovenia in Search of Wide-Ranging Economic Cooperation
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published November 7, 2017
"Slovenia and Albania have excellent relations on the political level, but given this foundation we wish to have much better economic relationship," has said Mr. Zdravko Pocivalsek, Minister of Economic Development and Technology of the Republic of Slovenia.
Minister Pocivalsek made that comment in an exclusive interview with Albanian Daily News on Monday in the frame of his visit to Tirana where he attended the 'Albania-Slovenian Business Forum' and had meetings with Albania's ministers in charge of economy, infrastructure, trade and finance. He was not happy that the total trade volume between the two countries amounted to 74 million euros during the last year. "I think that there is a lot of potential for both economies to improve such a situation," said the Slovenian minister, who saw tourism as one of the most important field of cooperation.
"My message is to upgrade the excellent political relations accompanying them with better economic cooperation at all levels," said Slovenia's Minister of Economic Development and Technology of the Republic of Slovenia Zdravko Pocivalsek in the following interview:
- In the first place, I cannot fail to thank you, Mr. Minister, for this opportunity given to Albanian Daily News to share some of your assessments on the bilateral relations between Albania and Slovenia. So to start with how would you evaluate the relations between the two countries?
- First, I have to say that we have excellent relations on the political level but given this foundation we wish to have much better economic relationship. The total trade volume between the two countries was 74 million euros during the last year. Mostly it was Slovenian export to Albania. I think that there is a lot of potential for both economies to improve such a situation.
You should know that Slovenia is a very well developed industrial country. Some 80 percent of our GDP is made by export companies. Our main export partner is the European Union while the Western Balkan countries rank the second, then follow Russia, China, the United States etc. Our wish is to split the trade to other countries so that it must not be oriented only just to the European Union.
So, in this frame, Albania is a good opportunity for us. I maintain that the main problem is in our heads. Albania is near and in reality Slovenia is part of this Western Balkan region. But in our heads, and I mean from the Slovenian point of view, Albania is far away from our country. In such a situation, we have to use at first the direct flight connection between Ljubljana and Tirana, and this can really be a good start to begin the cooperation in the field of tourism, which can be the easiest way to put in motion a higher cooperation in other fields of the economy.
- Given what you said on the excellent political atmosphere in the bilateral relations, which are, in your view, some of the untapped potentials of the economies of both countries that can be new opportunities for strengthening and diversifying the overall economic cooperation?
- There is a wide variety of possibilities, and, as I said, the first step is tourism. But it should be taken into consideration the fact that we have a really developed industry. We have a greatly developed food processing industry, then we have an extremely high developed Automotive Cluster of Slovenia. There is no German or Italian or French car without few parts from Slovenia. Then we are very strong in the environmental protection. There are really some companies which provide good opportunities and results. We are also strong in the energetic sector.
Having said the above, I see a lot of possibilities to increase the bilateral cooperation, but we have to start with small steps. For example, we are very developed in small and medium- sized enterprises. Today, I am accompanied by representatives of more than 20 companies having really strong interest to find possibilities of cooperation with Albania at all levels, to make trade or find ways and opportunities for investments in tourism, agriculture, food processing industry and all other parts of industry here in Albania.
- You mentioned that a reason of the contradiction between the excellent political ties and the low economic cooperation has to do with lack of knowledge by Slovenians of Albania which despite being close geographically seems to be far from their minds...
- My opinion is that we have to invest in mutually promoting both countries. We have to know more about Albania and I think that you also have to invest in promoting Slovenia. We are very travelled oriented nation. Our population is 2 million people, but we all travel abroad once per year. Because of many reasons, but on top of all due to such a fact, I insist on development of tourism. Concretely, our main country to spend holidays is Croatia today, but we have moved to Montenegro. And here there is really a great possibility for Albanian companies to get more Slovenians to visit Albania. Why? Because we are very good tourists, we spend a lot money abroad, and we would like to discover new countries again and again, new destinations in order to find something new.
As a matter of fact Albania is so similar to Slovenia. You have excellent and long coast, much longer than we in Slovenia, but you have also the mountains. In short, you have an excellent nature, and this is something which can be very attractive for Slovenian tourists. My suggestion is that we have to organize a meeting between the Slovenian tourist board and Albania's national tourist board to improve their cooperation and we will do that. I will propose this suggestion to Mr. (Arben) Ahmetaj. We in Slovenia will increase the promotion of Albania. For us it is also very important that Albanians know more on Slovenia.
- Speaking in concrete terms, you greeted a short time ago the opening of 'Albania-Slovenian Business Forum' in the presence of representatives of businesses of both countries. Which was your main message to them, and how much both governments are keen on supporting their cooperation?
- My message is to upgrade the excellent political relations accompanying them with better economic cooperation at all levels. Direct exchange investment policy and services exchanges are crucial. But it is necessary to increase once again the promotion. It is necessary to arrange the environment for better cooperation. According to our point of view, it is very important to continue with all measures to connect and establish access to the European Union. It is known that Slovenia fully supports Albania's accession to the European Union. We are also part of the so called Berlin Process at all levels. I met your ministers in three or four meetings in Vienna, Paris and lastly this year in Trieste. We had also bilateral meetings with Albanian delegation last year in Slovenia. I think that now we have the possibility and opportunity to start with better economic cooperation.
Of course, politics should work harder for creating conditions for better cooperation. The main task is on companies' side, and this is the reason that I am accompanied today by a very strong and important business delegation consisting of Slovenian companies from all branches. They have interest to make trade, invest or they will like to find some other ways to establish cooperation with Albanian companies.
- Slovenia has been an unwavering supporter of Albania in its European integration process. Being an EU member with a rich experience in its accession drive, how can Slovenia back Albania with regard to the fulfillment of the economic standards required to join the club?
- We are ready to work with you to improve all the levels of the business environment here in Albania. We have experienced very hard pressure from the European Union in the past. And I think now we have been successful in that aspect. So we have knowledge with regard to this, which means that we can exchange it with your country on many levels like in justice, use of EU funds, fight against bureaucratic obstacles. We have some experience to create a better tax environment. I heard some excellent proposals from your side today, and this is about the zero taxation for investments in tourism. We are ready to deal with you, to share with you all experience and knowledge about this aspect of the EU accession process.
- You mentioned, Your Excellency, the 'Berlin Process' launched in 2014 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. How does Slovenia consider this project, its perspective for bearing concrete fruits not only in the economic field of the six WB countries, but also as a contribution to peace and stability in the region?
- The first step to have stability and peace in this area, that is in the Western Balkans, in the future, we have to start with better economic cooperation. The first condition is to improve the infrastructure through investments. We have to make motorways connections. I hope that we will get very soon better possibility to travel from Slovenia to Albania through the projected corridors. But it is necessary to build the motorway connection from Nis-Pristina-Tirana or the Adriatic motorway through Montenegro.
On the other hand it would be better for the Albanian economy if you increase trade exchanges with all these countries. The economic cooperation is the best base for peace in the future. History is history, but we have to see the future, we have to support the future with the measures, but the most solid foundation for such an endeavor for the future is the economy, better trade exchanges without borders. For example, you can pass all the European Union countries without pass control. But here, in such a small area, you have to show the passport in every 100 kilometers. For the people it is so annoying although we can survive. But if you need to control the products in every 100 kilometers, this is the main obstacle for better cooperation. If you like to go to the European Union tomorrow, you will have the area without borders. Please prepare the economy today with more open borders to other countries in this area. And this has been the main topic in all the sessions in the Berlin Process.
- In conclusion, Your Excellency, in your country's point of view how might 'Brexit' affect the EU itself and Slovenia in particular?
- This not so much a difficult question to have to live without Britain as a member of the European Union in the future. As far as Slovenia is concerned, the EU is our major partner. I hope that the European Commission and Britain will find the best solution to finish this 'Brexit' and find ways how we will cooperate with Britain in the future. But Britain is not in top five countries for Slovenia's economic exchanges. Our top partner is Germany and we had 11.5 billion euros trade exchanges last year. Italy is in the second place with six billion euros, which is followed by Austria with 5.5 billion euros. Then come Croatia, France etc. As I said for Slovenia it is important cooperation with all countries because we are very, very hard export oriented country.