New York, 28 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano has urged U.S. investors to consider Albania for future investments. Nano made the appeal this past week in New York at a conference held in conjunction with the U.S. Commerce Department. The appeal comes as Albania has largely failed to attract large-scale foreign investment -- some seven years after the collapse of the pyramid investment schemes.
Nano was hoping to dispel awful memories of the collapse of the fraudulent investment schemes in 1996 and 1997 that unleashed riots throughout the country.
He told the conference -- sponsored by the Albanian Economy Ministry -- that conditions had greatly improved. "Albania does not offer unpleasant surprises [any more] for the investor," he said. "The Albanian legislation on foreign investment is very liberal. There are no restrictions [on] participation of foreign capital or for repatriation of profits. Albania offers comparative advantages in labor force compared to the other countries of the former [communist] bloc of Eastern Europe."
This positive theme was picked up by other participants. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce William H. Lash said U.S. companies have already invested in Albania and that he is optimistic. "We've asked the hard questions on the future of the economy, the future of privatization, and we got answers back that we are comfortable with," Lash said. "This is a country that I know American investment is very welcome there. The prime minister has already mentioned that, great success in investment by General Electric, Lockheed Martin, by the Albanian Enterprise Fund, by Western Union, UPS. You see the country taking steps.... The opportunities are there."
Kalman Mizsei, the UN assistant secretary-general and director for Europe and the CIS at the UN Development Program, said two factors were at work in Albania to encourage foreign investment. One, he said, is the high level of entrepreneurial spirit among the population. The other is the large overseas Albanian diaspora.
Mizsei emphasized the importance of foreign investment for countries from Central Europe that joined the European Union in May. "Foreign direct investment has been absolutely crucial for the success of the current new European Union member states. This engine of economic integration is something that no country can miss. It brings in corporate-governance ideas and practices that then spread in the whole economy. We badly need this type of energy," Mizsei said.
Promoters, such as those at the conference, say Albania offers considerable natural resources, including oil, gas, minerals, and hydroelectric potential. Property and labor costs are low, and the workforce is young.
But Albania remains among Europe's very poorest countries. The infrastructure is under-developed, and corruption and crime are widespread. Nano said his government has recognized the problems and is working to make the country an attractive investment destination.
"We believe that now all the necessary conditions are in place for the U.S. financial, manufacturing, and trade capital to be invested in Albanian market as well. That's why I invite the American capital to aggressively participate in this privatization. My government and I remain fully committed and guarantee you transparent, efficient, and standard procedures," he said.
Nano said one of the brightest lights was in tourism. The country's coastline on the Adriatic is relatively under-developed compared with neighboring Greece, Croatia, and Italy.