1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The GoA understands that private sector development and increased levels of foreign investment are critical to supporting sustainable economic development. Albania maintains a liberal foreign investment regime designed to attract FDI. The Law on Foreign Investment outlines specific protections for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, except in the areas of domestic and international air passenger transport and television broadcasting. Albanian legislation does not distinguish between domestic and foreign investments.
The Law on Strategic Investments approved in 2015 offers incentives and fast-track administrative procedures, depending on the size of the investment and number of jobs created, to both foreign and domestic investors who apply before December 31, 2021.
The Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA) is the entity responsible for promoting foreign investments in Albania. Potential U.S. investors in Albania should contact AIDA to learn more about services AIDA offers to foreign investors ( http://aida.gov.al/ ). The Law on Strategic Investments stipulates that AIDA, as the Secretariat of the Strategic Investment Council, serves as a one-stop-shop for foreign investors, from filing the application form to granting the status of strategic investment/investor. Despite supporting legislation, only a few foreign investors have benefited from the “Strategic Investor” status.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign and domestic investors have equal rights of ownership of local companies, based on the principle of “national treatment.” There are only a few exemptions regarding ownership restrictions:
- Domestic and international air passenger transport: foreign interest in airline companies is limited to 49 percent ownership by investors outside the Common European Aviation Zone, for both domestic and international air transportation.
- Audio and audio-visual broadcasting: An entity, foreign or domestic, that has a national audio or audio-visual broadcasting license cannot hold more than 20 percent of shares in another audio or audio-visual broadcasting company. Additional restrictions apply to the regional or local audio and audio-visual licenses.
- Agriculture: No foreign individual or foreign incorporated company may purchase agricultural land, though land may be leased for up to 99 years.
Albania currently lacks an investment-review mechanism for inbound FDI. However, in 2017, the government introduced a new provision in the Petroleum Law, which allows the government to reject a petroleum-sharing agreement or the sale of shares in a petroleum-sharing agreement to any prospective investor due to national security concerns. Albanian law permits private ownership and establishment of enterprises and property. Foreign investors do not require additional permission or authorization beyond that required of domestic investors. 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. Foreigners can acquire concession rights on natural resources and resources of the common interest, as defined by the Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships.
Foreign and domestic investors have numerous options available for organizing business operations in Albania. The 2008 Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies and Law Establishing the National Registration Center (NRC) allow for the following legal types of business entities to be established through the NRC: sole proprietorship; unlimited partnership; limited partnership; limited liability company; joint stock company; branches and representative offices; and joint ventures.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Trade Organization (WTO) completed a Trade Policy Review of Albania in May 2016 ( https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp437_e.htm ). In November 2017, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) completed the first Investment Policy Review of South-East European (SEE) countries, including Albania ( http://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=1884 ).
The National Business Center (NBC) serves as a one-stop shop for business registration. All required procedures and documents are published online ( http://www.qkb.gov.al/information-on-procedure/business-registration/ ). Registration may be done in person or online via the e-Albania portal. Many companies choose to complete the registration process in person, as the online portal requires an authentication process and electronic signature and is only available in the Albanian language. When a business registers in the NBC it is also automatically registered with the Tax Office, Labor Inspectorate, Customs, and the respective municipality. According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, it takes 4.5 days and five procedures to register a business in Albania.
Albania neither promotes nor incentivizes outward investment, nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
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, distortion of competition, 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. However, business groups have raised concerns about unfair competition and monopolies, rating the issue as one of the most concerning items damaging the business climate.
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.
In August 2020, Albania approved the law for the establishment of the register of the Ultimate Beneficiary Owners. The law aims to ensure transparency on the ultimate beneficiary owners, who directly and indirectly own more than 25% of shares, voting rights, or ownership interests in all entities registered to do business in Albania, and was adopted following the recommendations of MONEYVAL.
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 sets 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 frequently not respected.
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 and the country is awaiting to hold the first Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), which would mark the official opening of accession talks. Albania 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). 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, reviews cases related to the constitutionality of legislation and, in limited instances, 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
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 broad information for foreign investors.
Major laws pertaining to foreign investments include:
- Law on Foreign Investments
- 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 Foreigners
- Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships: Establishes the framework for promoting and facilitating the implementation of privately financed concessionary projects
- Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies: Outlines general guidelines on the activities of companies and the legal structure under which they may operate
- 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.
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.
- 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 have been designated as strategic investments, mostly in the tourism sector.
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.
Competition and Antitrust 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, banking and non-banking financial 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. Parties can appeal the decision of the CA to the Tirana First Instance Court within 30 days of receiving the notification. The appeal does not suspend the enforcement of the decision that authorize concentrations and the temporary measures.
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 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 in long-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 2018 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
Albania is a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). In addition, Albania ratified the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Geneva Convention).
Under the Albanian Constitution, ratified international agreements prevail over domestic legislation. The country has no specific domestic legislation providing for enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. Recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards are regulated by provisions stipulated in the Code of Civil Procedure.
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.
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. There is no legal precedent to date, of local courts refusing to recognize or enforce binding international arbitral awards.
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.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Albania signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty with United States in 1995, and it entered into force in 1998. Foreign investors opt to include international arbitration clauses in their contracts with Albanian parties because the court system is not responsive, and the judiciary is marked by endemic corruption.
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. In 2020, the GoA drafted a new law on arbitration that aims to regulate domestic and international arbitration. The draft is going through consultation process.
Parties may currently 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. 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 2017 law on bankruptcy 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
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 “Strategic 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 recent years, the high percentage of non-performing loans and the economic slowdown forced commercial banks to tighten lending standards. However, following a continuing decrease in non-performing loans (NPL) which at the end of 2020 reached 8.1 percent, lending increased by 6.5 percent year-over-year in 2020. The credit market is competitive, but interest rates in domestic currency can be high, ranging from 5 percent to 6.5 percent. Most mortgage and commercial loans are denominated in euros because rate differentials between local and foreign currency average 1.5 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 Bank of Albania, the country’s Central Bank, is responsible for the licensing and supervision of the banking sector in Albania. The banking sector is 100 percent privately owned and its total assets have steadily increased over the years reaching $15 billion mostly based on customers deposits. The banking sector has consolidated recently as the number of banks decreased from 16 in 2018 to 12 in 2020. As of December 2020, the Turkish owned National Commercial Bank (BKT) was the largest bank in the market with 26.4 percent market share, followed by Albanian Credins Bank with 15.5 percent, and Austrian Raiffeisen Bank third with 14.9 percent. The American Investment Bank is the only bank with U.S. shareholders and ranks sixth with 5.5% percent of the banking sector’s total assets.
The number of bank outlets has also decreased over the recent years also due to the consolidation. In December 2020, Albania had 416 bank outlets, down from 446 from 2019 and the peak of 552 in 2016. Capital adequacy, at 18.23 percent, remains above Basel requirements and indicates sufficient assets. At the end of 2020, the return on assets was just 1.2 percent. The share of NPLs continued to fall, reaching 8.1 percent at the end of the 2020, 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.
Many 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
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 47 percent in 2020. Foreign currency deposits, which to some extent reflect relatively high remittances, reached to 53.4 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. Faced with the unprecedented economic disruption following the COVID-19 pandemic, on July 1, 2020 Bank of Albania ordered banks to halt distribution of dividends and use dividends to cover potential losses and increase loans to the economy. The decision, initially in force till the end of 2020, was extended till the end of 2021.
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 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) keeps 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. Albania and the United States do not have a bilateral MLAT, but cooperation is possible through multilateral conventions.
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. There were no activities by the AIC in 2020.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are defined as legal entities that are entirely state-owned or state-controlled and operate as commercial companies in compliance with the Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies. SOEs operate mostly in the generation, distribution, and transmission of electricity, oil and gas, railways, postal services, ports, and water supply. There is no published list of SOEs.
The law does not discriminate between public and private companies operating in the same sector. The government requires SOEs to submit annual reports and undergo independent audits. SOEs are subject to the same tax levels and procedures and the same domestic accounting and international financial reporting standards as other commercial companies. The High State Audit audits SOE activities. SOEs are also subject to public procurement law.
Albania is yet to become party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) of the WTO but has obtained observer status and is negotiating full accession (see https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/gproc_e/memobs_e.htm ). Private companies can compete openly and under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products and services, and incentives.
SOE operation in Albania is regulated by the Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies, the Law on State Owned Enterprises, and the Law on the Transformation of State-Owned Enterprises into Commercial Companies. The Ministry of Economy and Finance and other relevant ministries, depending on the sector, represent the state as the owner of the SOEs. SOEs are not obligated by law to adhere to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines explicitly. However, basic principles of corporate governance are stipulated in the relevant laws and generally accord with OECD guidelines. The corporate governance structure of SOEs includes the supervisory board and the general director (administrator) in the case of joint stock companies. The supervisory board comprises three to nine members, who are not employed by the SOE. Two-thirds of board members are appointed by the representative of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and one-third by the line ministry, local government unit, or institution to which the company reports. The Supervisory Board is the highest decision-making authority and appoints and dismisses the administrator of the SOE through a two-thirds vote.
The privatization process in Albania is nearing conclusion, with just a few major privatizations remaining. Entities to be privatized include OSHEE, the state-run electricity distributor; 16 percent of ALBtelecom, the fixed-line telephone company; and state-owned oil company Albpetrol. O ther sectors might provide opportunities for privatization in the future.
The bidding process for privatizations is public, and relevant information is published by the Public Procurement Agency at www.app.gov.al . Foreign investors may participate in the privatization program. The Agency has not published timelines for future privatizations.