3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Albania’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems have improved in recent years, but there are still many serious challenges. Endemic corruption, uneven enforcement of legislation, cumbersome bureaucracy, and a lack of transparency all hinder the business community.
Albanian legislation includes rules on disclosure requirements, formation, maintenance, and alteration of firms’ capitalization structures, mergers and divisions, takeover bids, shareholders’ rights, and corporate governance principles. The Competition Authority (http://caa.gov.al ) is an independent agency tasked with ensuring fair and efficient competition in the market.
The Law on Accounting and Financial Statements includes reporting provisions related to international financial reporting standards (IFRS) for large companies, and national financial reporting standards for small and medium enterprises. Albania meets minimum standards on fiscal transparency, and debt obligations are published by the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Albania’s budgets are publicly available, substantially complete, and reliable.
The rulemaking process in Albania meets the minimum requirements of transparency. Ministries and regulatory agencies develop forward regulatory plans that include changes or proposals intended to be adopted within a set timeframe. The law on notification and public consultation requires the GoA to publish draft laws and regulations for public consultation or notification and set clear timeframes for these processes. Such draft laws and regulations are published at the following page: http://www.konsultimipublik.gov.al/ . The business community frequently complains that final versions of laws and regulations fail to address their comments and concerns and that comment periods are not always respected.
Business groups have raised concerns about unfair competition and monopolies, rating the issue as one of the most concerning items damaging the business climate.
All laws, by-laws, regulations, decisions by the Council of Ministers (the government), decrees, and any other regulatory acts are published at the National Publication Center at the following site: https://qbz.gov.al/.
Independent agencies and bodies, including but not limited to, the Energy Regulatory Entity (ERE), Agency for Electronic and Postal Communication (AKEP), Financial Supervising Authority (FSA), Competition Authority (CA), National Agency of Natural Resources (NARN), and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), oversee transparency and competition in specific sectors.
International Regulatory Considerations
Albania acceded to the WTO in 2000 and the country notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.
Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in 2006; the EU agreed to open accession talks on March 25, 2020. Albania was granted EU candidate status in 2014; it has long been involved in the gradual process of legislation approximation with the EU acquis. This process is expected to accelerate with the opening of accession negotiations.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Albanian legal system is a civil law system. The Albanian constitution provides for the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial branches, thereby supporting the independence of the judiciary. The Civil Procedure Code, enacted in 1996, governs civil procedures in Albania. The civil court system consists of district courts, appellate courts, and the High Court (the supreme court), which currently lacks quorum. The district courts are organized in specialized sections according to the subject of the claim, including civil, family, and commercial disputes.
The administrative courts of first instance, the Administrative Court of Appeal, and the Administrative College of the High Court adjudicate administrative disputes. The Constitutional Court, which currently lacks quorum, reviews whether laws or subsidiary legislation comply with the Constitution and, in limited cases, protects and enforces the constitutional rights of citizens and legal entities.
Parties may appeal the judgment of the first-instance courts within 15 days of a decision, while appellate court judgments must be appealed to the High Court within 30 days. A lawsuit against an administrative action is submitted to the administrative court within 45 days from notification and the law stipulates short procedural timeframes, enabling faster adjudication of administrative disputes.
Investors in Albania are entitled to judicial protection of legal rights related to their investments. Foreign investors have the right to submit disputes to an Albanian court. In addition, parties to a dispute may agree to arbitration. Many foreign investors complain that endemic judicial corruption and inefficient court procedures undermine judicial protection in Albania and seek international arbitration to resolve disputes. It is beneficial to U.S. investors to include binding international arbitration clauses in any agreements with Albanian counterparts. Albania is a signatory to the New York Arbitration Convention and foreign arbitration awards are typically recognized by Albania. However, the government initially refused to recognize an injunction from a foreign arbitration court in one high-profile case in 2016. The Albanian Civil Procedure Code outlines provisions regarding domestic and international commercial arbitration.
Albania does not have a specific commercial code but has a series of relevant commercial laws, including the Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies Law, Bankruptcy Law, Public Private Partnership and Concession Law, Competition Law, Foreign Investment Law, Environmental Law, Law on Corporate and Municipal Bonds, Transport Law, Maritime Code, Secured Transactions Law, Employment Law, Taxation Procedures Law, Banking Law, Insurance and Reinsurance Law, Concessions Law, Mining Law, Energy Law, Water Resources Law, Waste Management Law, Excise Law, Oil and Gas Law, Gambling Law, Telecommunications Law, and Value-Added Law.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Law on Foreign Investments seeks to create a hospitable legal climate for foreign investors and stipulates the following:
- No prior government authorization is needed for an initial investment;
- Foreign investments may not be expropriated or nationalized directly or indirectly, except for designated special cases, in the interest of public use and as defined by law;
- Foreign investors enjoy the right to expatriate all funds and contributions in kind from their investments; and
- Foreign investors receive most favored nation treatment according to international agreements and Albanian law.
There are limited exceptions to this liberal investment regime, most of which apply to the purchase of real estate. Agricultural land cannot be purchased by foreigners and foreign entities but may be leased for up to 99 years. Investors can buy agricultural land if registered as a commercial entity in Albania. Commercial property may be purchased, but only if the proposed investment is worth three times the price of the land. There are no restrictions on the purchase of private residential property.
To boost investments in strategic sectors, the government approved a new law on strategic investments in May 2015. Under the new law, a “strategic investment” may benefit from either “assisted procedure” or “special procedure” assistance from the government to help navigate the permitting and regulatory process. To date, no major foreign investors have taken advantage of the law. Several projects proposed by domestic companies or consortiums of local and foreign partners have been designated as strategic investments, mostly in the tourism sector.
Major laws pertaining to foreign investments include:
- Law on Strategic Investments: Defines procedures and rules to be observed by government authorities when reviewing, approving, and supporting strategic domestic and foreign investments in Albania;
- Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships, amended in 2019;
- Law on Foreigners, amended in February 2020;
- Law on the Foreign Investments, amended by the Law;
- Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies: Outlines general rules and regulations on the merger of commercial companies;
- Law on Cross-Border Mergers: Determines rules on mergers when one of the companies involved in the process is a foreign company
- Law on Protection of Competition: Stipulates provisions for the protection of competition, and the concentration of commercial companies; and
- Law on Collective Investment Undertakings: Regulates conditions and criteria for the establishment, constitution, and operation of collective investment undertakings and of management companies.
Authorities responsible for mergers, change of control, and transfer of shares include the Albanian Competition Authority (ACA: http://www.caa.gov.al/laws/list/category/1/page/1 ), which monitors the implementation of the competition law and approves mergers and acquisitions when required by the law; and the Albanian Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA: http://www.amf.gov.al/ligje.asp ), which regulates and supervises the securities market and approves the transfer of shares and change of control of companies operating in this sector.
Albania’s tax system does not distinguish between foreign and domestic investors. Informality in the economy, which may be as large as 40 percent of the total economy, presents challenges for tax administration.
Visa requirements to obtain residence or work permits are straightforward and do not pose an undue burden on potential investors. The government amended the Law on Foreigners in February 2020. The amendments remove restrictions on foreign employees and streamline the visa and work permit processes for foreigners and foreign workers by introducing online visa application process, simplifying and accelerating the working permit process, and providing the same access to the labor market for citizens of Western Balkan countries as the United States, EU, and Schengen-country citizens have.
The Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies sets guidelines on the activities of companies and the legal structure under which they may operate. The government adopted the law in 2008 to conform Albanian legislation to the EU’s Acquis Communitaire. The most common type of organization for foreign investors is a limited liability company.
The Law on Public Private Partnerships and Concessions establishes the framework for promoting and facilitating the implementation of privately financed concessionary projects. According to the law, concession projects may be identified by central or local governments or through third party unsolicited proposals. To limit opportunities for corruption, the 2019 amendments prohibited unsolicited bids, beginning in July 2019, on all sectors except for works or services in ports, airports, generation and distribution of electricity, energy for heating, and production and distribution of natural gas. In addition, the 2019 amendments removed the zero to 10 percent bonus points for unsolicited proposals, which gave companies submitting unsolicited bids a competitive advantage over other contenders. Instead, if the party submitting the unsolicited proposal does not win the bid, it will be compensated by the winning company for the cost of the feasibility study, which in no case shall exceed 1 percent of the total cost of the project.
There is no one-stop-shop that lists all legislation, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. However, foreign investors should visit the Albania Investment Development Agency webpage (www.aida.gov.al ), which offers information for foreign investors.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Albanian Competition Authority (http://www.caa.gov.al/?lng=en ) is the agency that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. The Law on Protection of Competition governs incoming foreign investment whether through mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, or green-field investments, irrespective of industry or sector. In the case of share transfers in insurance and banking industries, the Financial Supervisory Authority (http://amf.gov.al/ ) and the Bank of Albania (https://www.bankofalbania.org/ ) may require additional regulatory approvals. Transactions between parties outside Albania, including foreign-to-foreign transactions, are covered by the competition law, which states that its provisions apply to all activities, domestic or foreign, that directly or indirectly affect the Albanian market.
Expropriation and Compensation
The constitution guarantees the right of private property. According to Article 41, expropriation or limitation on the exercise of a property right can occur only if it serves the public interest and with fair compensation. During the post-communist period, expropriation has been limited to land for public interest, mainly infrastructure projects such as roads, energy infrastructure, water works, airports, and other facilities. Compensation has generally been reported as being below market value and owners have complained that the compensation process is corrupt, slow, and unfair. Civil courts are responsible for resolving such complaints.
Changes in government can also affect foreign investments. Following the 2013 elections and peaceful transition of power, the new government revoked or renegotiated numerous concession agreements, licenses, and contracts signed by the previous government with both domestic and international investors. This practice has occurred in other years as well.
There are many ongoing disputes regarding property confiscated during the communist regime. Identifying ownership is a longstanding problem in Albania that makes restitution for expropriated properties difficult. The restitution and compensation process started in 1993 but has been slow and marred by corruption. Many U.S. citizens of Albanian origin have been in engaged inlong-running restitution disputes. Court cases go on for years without a final decision, causing many to refer their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France. A significant number of applications are pending for consideration before the ECHR. Even after settlement in Strasbourg, enforcement remains slow.
To address the situation, the GoA approved new property compensation legislation in 2015 that aims to resolve pending claims for restitution and compensation. The 2018 law reduces the burden on the state budget by changing the cash compensation formula. The legislation presents three methods of compensation for confiscation claims: restitution; compensation of property with similarly valued land in a different location; or financial compensation. It also set a ten-year timeframe for completion of the process. In February 2020, the Albanian parliament approved a law “On the Finalization of the Transitory Process of Property Deeds in the Republic of Albania,” which aims to finalize land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018.
The GoA has generally not engaged in expropriation actions against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives. There have been limited cases in which the government has revoked licenses, specifically in the mining and energy sectors, based on contract violation claims.
The Law on Strategic Investments, approved in 2015, empowers the government to expropriate private property for the development of private projects deemed special strategic projects. Despite the provision that the government would act when parties fail to reach an agreement, the clause is a source of controversy because it entitles the government to expropriate private property in the interest of another private party. The expropriation procedures are consistent with the law on the expropriation, and the cost for expropriation would be incurred by the strategic investor. The provision has yet to be exercised.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
For an international arbitration award to be recognized locally, the claimant must bring the award before the Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court will not adjudicate the merits of the case and can strike down the award only for the reasons listed in Article V of the New York Convention.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Albania signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty with United States in 1995, and it entered into force in 1998. It has also ratified the New York Convention, ICSID Convention, and Geneva Convention. According to the Albanian Constitution, these conventions take precedence over domestic legislation. Foreign investors opt to include international arbitration clauses in their contracts with Albanian parties because the court system is not responsive, and the judiciary marked by endemic corruption.
For an international arbitration award to be recognized locally, the claimant must enforce the award before the Court of Appeals. The possibility of bringing an action before the local court to avoid arbitration proceedings is remote. According to provisions in the Albanian Code of Civil Procedure, if a party brings actions before local courts despite the parties’ agreement to arbitrate, the court would, upon motion of the other party, dismiss the case without entertaining its merits. The decision of the court to dismiss the case can be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has 30 days to consider the appeal.
The Albanian Code of Civil Procedure requires the courts to reach a judgment in a reasonable amount of time but does not provide a specific timeline for adjudicating commercial disputes. Reaching a final judgment in commercial litigation can take several years.
Over the past ten years, there have been three investment disputes between the GoA and U.S. companies, two of which resulted in international arbitration. Despite the GoA’s stated desire to attract and support foreign investors, U.S. investors in disputes with the GoA reported a lack of productive dialogue with government officials, who frequently displayed a reluctance to settle the disputes before they were escalated to the level of international arbitration, or before the international community exerted pressure on the government to resolve the issue. U.S. investors in Albania should strongly consider including binding arbitration clauses in any agreements with Albanian counterparts.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
An alternative to dispute settlement via the courts is private arbitration or mediation. Parties can engage in arbitration when they have agreed to such a provision in the original agreement, when there is a separate arbitration agreement, or by agreement at any time when a dispute arises.
Albania does not have a separate law on domestic arbitration. In 2017, Albania repealed all domestic arbitration provisions of the Civil Procedure Code, leaving the country without provisions to govern domestic arbitration. However, parties may engage in domestic arbitration because the Code of Civil Procedure guarantees the enforcement of domestic arbitral awards. Mediation is also available for resolving all civil, commercial, and family disputes and is regulated by the law On Dispute Resolution through Mediation. Arbitral awards are final and enforceable and can be appealed only in cases foreseen in the Code of Civil Procedure. Mediation is final and enforceable in the same way.
The provisions for international arbitration procedures and the recognition and enforcement of foreign awards are stipulated in the Albanian Code of Civil Procedure. Albania does not have a separate law on international arbitration. Although the arbitration chapter of the Code of Civil Procedure stipulates only the rules for domestic arbitration, the country is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention and therefore recognizes the validity of written arbitration agreements and arbitral awards in a contracting state.
Albania maintains adequate bankruptcy legislation, though corrupt and inefficient bankruptcy court proceedings make it difficult for companies to reorganize or discharge debts through bankruptcy.
A law on bankruptcy that entered into force in May 2017 aimed to close loopholes in the insolvency regime, decrease unnecessary market exit procedures, reduce fraud, and ease collateral recovery procedures. The Bankruptcy Law governs the reorganization or liquidation of insolvent businesses. It sets out non-discriminatory and mandatory rules for the repayment of the obligations by a debtor in a bankruptcy procedure. The law establishes statutory time limits for insolvency procedures, professional qualifications for insolvency administrators, and an Agency of Insolvency Supervision to regulate the profession of insolvency administrators.
Debtors and creditors can initiate a bankruptcy procedure and can file for either liquidation or reorganization. Bankruptcy proceedings may be invoked when the debtor is unable to pay the obligations at the maturity date or the value of its liabilities exceeds the value of the assets.
According to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings suspends the enforcement of claims by all creditors against the debtor subject to bankruptcy. Creditors of all categories must submit their claims to the bankruptcy administrator. The Bankruptcy Law provides specific treatment for different categories, including secured creditors, preferred creditors, unsecured creditors, and final creditors whose claims would be paid after all other creditors were satisfied. The claims of the secured creditors are to be satisfied by the assets of the debtor, which secure such claims under security agreements. The claims of the unsecured creditors are to be paid out of the bankruptcy estate, excluding the assets used for payment of the secured creditors, following the priority ranking as outlined in the Albanian Civil Code.
Pursuant to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, creditors have the right to establish a creditors committee. The creditors committee is appointed by the Commercial Section Courts before the first meeting of the creditor assembly. The creditors committee represents the secured creditors, preferred creditors, and the unsecured creditors. The committee has the right (a) to support and supervise the activities of the insolvency administrator; (b) to request and receive information about the insolvency proceedings; c) to inspect the books and records; and d) to order an examination of the revenues and cash balances.
If the creditors and administrator agree that reorganization is the company’s best option, the bankruptcy administrator prepares a reorganization plan and submits it to the court for authorizing implementation.
According to the insolvency procedures, only creditors whose rights are affected by the proposed reorganization plan enjoy the right to vote, and the dissenting creditors in reorganization receive at least as much as what they would have obtained in a liquidation. Creditors are divided into classes for the purposes of voting on the reorganization plan and each class votes separately. Creditors of the same class are treated equally.
The insolvency framework allows for the continuation of contracts supplying essential goods and services to the debtor, the rejection by the debtor of overly burdensome contracts, the avoidance of preferential or undervalued transactions, and the possibility of the debtor obtaining credit after commencement of insolvency proceedings. No priority is assigned to post-commencement over secured creditors. Post-commencement credit is assigned over ordinary unsecured creditors.
The creditor has the right to object to decisions accepting or rejecting creditors’ claims and to request information from the insolvency representative. The selection and appointment of insolvency representative does not require the approval of the creditor. In addition, the sale of substantial assets of the debtor does not required the approval of the creditor.
According to the law on bankruptcy, foreign creditors have the same rights as domestic creditors with respect to the commencement of, and participation in, a bankruptcy proceeding. The claim is valued as of the date the insolvency proceeding is opened. Claims expressed in foreign currency are converted into Albanian currency according to the official exchange rate applicable to the place of payment at the time of the opening of the proceeding.
The Albanian Criminal Code contains several criminal offenses in bankruptcy, including (i) whether the bankruptcy was provoked intentionally; (ii) concealment of bankruptcy status; (iii) concealment of assets after bankruptcy; and (iv) failure to comply with the obligations arising under bankruptcy proceeding.
According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Albania ranked 39th out of 190 countries in the insolvency index. A referenced analysis of resolving insolvency can be found at the following link: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/255991574747242507/Doing-Business-2020-Comparing-Business-Regulation-in-190-Economies-Economy-Profile-of-Albania
5. Protection of Property Rights
Individuals and investors face significant challenges with protection and enforcement of property rights. Despite recent improvements, procedures are cumbersome, and registrants have complained of corruption during the process. Over the last three decades, the GoA has drafted and passed much, though not all, of its property legislation in a piecemeal and uncoordinated way. According to the EU’s 2019 Progress Report, significant progress has yet to be made toward improving the legal framework for registration, expropriation, and compensation of property. Reform of the sector has yet to incorporate consolidation of property rights or the elimination of legal uncertainties. However, on February 12, 2020, the Albanian parliament approved the Law on the Finalization of the Transitory Process of Property Deeds in the Republic of Albania, which aims to finalize land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018.
The property registration system has improved thanks to international donor assistance, but the process has stalled as Albania still needs to complete the initial registration of property titles in the country. Approximately 10 percent of the properties are registered in digital form, almost entirely in Tirana, in urban and peripheral areas that experience a high turnover a lot of transactions. Another 80 percent of properties have been registered as part of the initial registration process but the plot records for these properties are still only in paper form and often in poor and outdated condition. The remaining 10 percent have still to be registered for the first time, which includes the southern coastal area. The poor state of the data is a risk for title security and a constraint to investment and an effective land market.
Albania has an estimated 440,000 illegal structures, built without permits, and illicit construction continues to be a major impediment to securing property titles. A process that aims to legalize or eliminate such structures started in 2008 but is still not complete. The situation has led to clashes between squatters and owners of allegedly illegal buildings and the Albanian State Police during the demolition of these structures to make way for public infrastructure projects.
To streamline the property management process, the GoA established in April 2019 the State Cadaster Agency (ASHK), which united several major agencies responsible for property registration, compensation, and legalization, including the Immovable Property Registration Office (IPRO), the Agency of Inventory and Transfer of Public Properties (AITPP), and the Agency for the Legalization and Urbanization of Informal Areas (ALUIZNI).
According to the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business Report,” Albania performed poorly in the property registration category, ranking 98th out of 190 countries. It took an average of 19 days and five procedures to register property, and the associated costs could reach 8.9 percent of the total property value. The civil court system manages property rights disputes, but verdicts can take years, authorities often fail to enforce court decisions, and corruption concerns persist within the judiciary.
Intellectual Property Rights
Albania is not included on the U. S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List. That said, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement and theft are common due to weak legal structures and poor enforcement. Counterfeit goods, while decreasing, are present in some local markets, including software, garments, machines, and cigarettes. Albanian law protects copyrights, patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications, but enforcement of these laws is wanting. Regulators are ineffective at collecting fines and prosecutors rarely press charges for IPR theft. U.S. companies should consult an experienced IPR attorney and avoid potential risks by establishing solid commercial relationships and drafting strong contracts. According to the International Property Right Index (IPRI) published by Property Right Alliance, Albania ranks 106th out of 129 countries evaluated. It ranked 79th in the subcategory of copyright piracy.
A revised 2016 IPR law aimed to strengthen enforcement and address shortcomings so as to harmonize domestic legislation with that of the EU. In 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to include harsher punishments of up to three years in prison for IPR infringement.
The main institutions responsible for IPR enforcement include the State Inspectorate for Market Surveillance (SIMS), the Albanian Copyright Office (ACO), the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA), the General Directorate of Patents and Trademarks (GDPT), the General Directorate for Customs, the Tax Inspectorate, the Prosecutor’s Office, the State Police, and the courts. In 2018, the National Council of Copyrights was established as a specialized body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the law and certifying the methodology for establishing the tariffs. Two other important bodies in the protection and administration of IPR are the agencies for the Collective Administration (AAK) and the Copyrights Department within the Ministry of Culture. Four different AAKs have merged in 2017 to provide service into a sole window for the administration of IPR.
The SIMS, established in 2016, is responsible for inspecting, controlling, and enforcing copyright and other related rights. Despite some improvements, actual law enforcement on copyrights continues to be problematic and copyright violations are persistent. The number of copyright violation cases brought to court remains low.
While official figures are not available, Customs does report the quantity of counterfeit goods destroyed annually. In cases of seizures, the rights holder has the burden of proof and so must first inspect the goods to determine if they are infringing. The rights holder is also responsible for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods. Cigarettes were the most common product seized by Customsin 2019.
The GDPT is responsible for registering and administering patents, commercial trademarks and service marks, industrial designs, and geographical indications. The 2008 law on industrial property was amended in 2014 to more closely align with that of the EU . In 2019, the GDPT received 1,157 applications for national trademarks, 2,664 applications for the international extension of trademark registration according to the Madrid system, and 913 applications for patents.
Albania is party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Law Treaty, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, and is a member of the European Patent Organization. The government became party to the London Agreement on the implementation of Article 65 of the European Convention for Patents in 2013. In 2018, Parliament approved the Law 34/2018 on Albania’s adherence to the Vienna Agreement for the International Classification of the Figurative Elements of Marks. In June 2019, Albania joined the Geneva Act of WIPO’s Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications.
For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/
Resources for Rights Holders
Contact at Embassy Tirana on IP issues:
Phone: + 355 (0) 4229 3115
American Chamber of Commerce
Address: Rr. Deshmoret e shkurtit, Sky Tower, kati 11 Ap 3 Tirana, Albania
Phone: +355 (0) 4225 9779
Fax: +355 (0) 4223 5350
List of local lawyers: http://tirana.usembassy.gov/list_of_attorneys.html
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The government has adopted policies to promote the free flow of financial resources and foreign investment in Albania. The Law on “Foreign Investments” is based on the principles of equal treatment, non-discrimination, and protection of foreign investments. Foreign investors have the right to expatriate all funds and contributions of their investment. In accordance with IMF Article VIII, the government and Central Bank do not impose any restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions. Despite Albania’s shallow foreign exchange market, banks enjoy enough liquidity to support sizeable positions. Portfolio investments continue to be a challenge because they remain limited mostly to company shares, government bonds, and real estate.
In the recent years, the high percentage of non-performing loans and the economic slowdown forced commercial banks to tighten lending standards. However, following a decrease in non-performing loans (NPL) in 2018 the, lending increased by 7 percent year-over-year in 2019. The credit market is competitive, but interest rates in domestic currency can be high, ranging from 6 percent to 7 percent. Most mortgage and commercial loans are denominated in euros because rate differentials between local and foreign currency average 2.5 percent. Commercial banks operating in Albania have improved the quality and quantity of services they provide, including a large variety of credit instruments, traditional lines of credit, and bank drafts etc.
Money and Banking System
In the absence of an effective stock market, the country’s banking sector is the main channel for business financing. The sector is sound, profitable, and well capitalized. The high rate of non-performing loans (NPL)s had been a concern for several years but has declined recently. The Bank of Albania’s legal measures to address the problem have generated positive results. The banking sector is 100 percent fully privatized. It has undergone consolidation over the last couple of years, as the number of banks decreased from 16 in 2018 to 12 in 2020. As of December 2019, the Turkish -owned National Commercial Bank remained the largest bank in the market, with 27 percent of the market share, followed by Austrian Raiffeisen Bank, with 15 percent, and Albanian Credins Bank, with 14.8 percent. The American Investment Bank is the only bank with U.S. shareholders, and it ranks seventh with 5.2 %percent of the banking sector’s total assets, which in 2019 reached $13.5 billion.
Albania’s banking sector weathered the financial crisis better than many of its neighbors, due largely to a limited exposure to international capital markets and lack of a domestic housing bubble. In December 2019, Albania had 446 bank outlets, down from 474 a year ago and the peak of 552 in 2016. Capital adequacy, at 18.3 percent, remains above Basel requirements and indicates sufficient assets. At the end of 2019, the return on assets was 1.5 percent. The number of NPLs continued to fall, reaching 8.4 percent at the end of the 2019, down from 11.1 percent in 2018, and significantly below the 2014 level when NPLs peaked at 25 percent. As part of its strategy to stimulate business activity, the Bank of Albania has adopted a plan to ease monetary policy by continuing to persistently keep low interest rates. The most recent reduction was in March 2020, when the interest rate was reduced to the historic low of 0.5 percent, down from a rate of 1 percent in place since June 2018.
Most of the banks operating in Albania are subsidiaries of foreign banks. Only three banks have an ownership structure whose majority shareholders are Albanian. However, the share of total assets of the banks with majority Albanian shareholders has increased because of the sector’s ongoing consolidation. There are no restrictions for foreigners who wish to establish a bank account. They are not required to prove residency status. However, U.S. citizens must complete a form allowing for the disclosure of their banking data to the IRS as required under the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Central Bank of Albania (BoA) formulates, adopts, and implements foreign exchange policies and maintains a supervisory role in foreign exchange activities in accordance with the Law on the Bank of Albania No. 8269 and the Banking Law No. 9662. Foreign exchange is regulated by the 2009 Regulation on Foreign Exchange Activities no. 70 (FX Regulation).
BoA maintains a free -float exchange rate regime for the domestic currency, the Lek. Albanian authorities do not engage in currency arbitrage, nor do they view it as an efficient instrument to achieve competitive advantage. BoA does not intervene to manipulate the exchange rate unless required to control domestic inflation, in accordance with the Bank’s official mandate of inflation targeting.
Foreign exchange is readily available at banks and exchange bureaus. Preliminary notification is necessary if the currency exchange is several million dollars or more – the law does not specify an amount but provides factors for determining the threshold for large exchanges – as the exchange market in Albania is shallow. A 2018 campaign launched by the BoA to reduce the domestic use of the euro to improve the effectiveness of domestic economic policies has produced tangible results. The share of foreign currency loans in total loans fell from 60 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2019. Foreign currency deposits, which to some extent reflect relatively high remittances, rose to 54.6 percent of total deposits.
The Banking Law does not impose restrictions on the purchase, sale, holding, or transfer of monetary foreign exchange. However, local law authorizes the BoA to temporarily restrict the purchase, sale, holding, or transfer of foreign exchange to preserve the foreign exchange rate or official reserves. In practice, BoA rarely employs such measures. The last episode was in 2009, when the Bank temporarily tightened supervision rules over liquidity transfers by domestic correspondent banks to foreign banks due to insufficient liquidity in international financial markets. It also asked banks to halt distribution of dividends and use dividends to increase shareholders’ capital, instead. BoA lifted these restrictions in 2010.
The Law on Foreign Investment guarantees the right to transfer and repatriate funds associated with an investment in Albania into a freely usable currency at a market-clearing rate. Only licensed entities (banks) may conduct foreign exchange transfers and waiting periods depend on office procedures adopted by the banks. Both Albanian and foreign citizens entering or leaving the country must declare assets in excess of 1,000,000 lek (USD 9,000) in hard currency and/or precious items. Failure to declare such assets is considered a criminal act, punishable by confiscation of the assets and possible imprisonment.
Although the Foreign Exchange (FX) Regulation provides that residents and non-residents may transfer capital within and into Albania without restriction, capital transfers out of Albania are subject to certain documentation requirements. Persons must submit a request indicating the reasons for the capital transfer, a certificate of registration from the National Registration Center, and the address to which the capital will be transferred. Such persons must also submit a declaration on the source of the funds to be transferred. In January 2015, The FX Regulation was amended and the requirement to present the documentation showing the preliminary payment of taxes related to the transaction was removed.
Albania is a member of the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. In February 2020, Albania was included in the category of jurisdictions under increased monitoring, also referred to as the Grey List. Albania had previously been on this list and was taken off in 2015. The 2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) placed Albania in the “Major Money Laundering Jurisdictions” category following its inclusion for the first time in 2017. The category implies that financial institutions of the country engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Parliament approved a law in October 2019 to establish the Albanian Investment Corporation (AIC). The law entered in force in January 2020. The AIC would develop, manage, and administer state-owned property and assets, invest across all sectors by mobilizing state owned and private domestic and foreign capital, and promote economic and social development by investing in line with government-approved development policies.
The GoA plans to transfer state-owned assets, including state-owned land, to the AIC and provide initial capital to launch the corporation. The IMF Staff Concluding Statement of November 26, 2019, warned that the law would allow the government to direct individual investment decisions, which could make the AIC an off-budget spending tool that risks eroding fiscal discipline and circumventing public investment management processes.