ECONOMY

Greek firms get keener on Albania

The stabilization of the political situation in Albania in the last two years, projected growth rates of 5-7 percent for 2003-2004, the modernization of the banking system and efforts to battle corruption and lack of transparency in the auctioning of public projects have improved prospects for the activities of Greek companies in the neighboring country. Already, about 220 of them have set up subsidiaries in Albania, with investment totaling about $300 million. The Greek government provides incentives for the implementation of investment schemes in Albania under Law 2601/98; 85 such schemes have already been subsidized to a total of about 8 million euros, creating more than 8,000 jobs. Other favorable factors are the country’s gradual harmonization of legislation with the EU, low labor costs, the proximity to Greece, the widespread use of the Greek language, abundant water resources and the relative lack of products and services. About 30 percent of Albanian imports, amounting to $362 million, come from Greece, putting the country in 14th place in terms of the volume of Greek products it absorbs. The most important Greek investments have been made by firms in the sectors of banking, construction, textiles, tobacco, fuels, clothing and footwear, foodstuffs and telecoms. National and Alpha banks have set up four branches each and Commercial Bank one. Piraeus Bank has acquired Tirana Bank, which has 11 branches. Greece granted $71.4 million in development aid to Albania between 1997 and 2000 and plans to grant $50 million more in the next four years. Several Greek construction firms are already active in the country, within the framework of the $500 million program of public projects under way or in the pipeline; they include Sarantopoulos, Gener and Meton, while Titan Cement has obtained a license to build a local plant. The setting-up of retail distribution networks presents great difficulties, given the serious deficiencies in the country’s telecommunications networks. Fixed-line connections number only about 300,000, with a further 800,000 for mobile telephony, providing fertile ground for Greek telecoms firms. In 2000, CosmOTE acquired Albanian Mobile Communications for $85 million, while Vodafone-Panafon and its UK-based parent company have set up Vodafone Albania. Greek petroleum companies with a presence in Albania are Hellenic Petroleum, with its subsidiary Global, Mamidakis Oil and Avin Albania.