Good evening. It is wonderful to be here with Ela Ruci from Bechtel, and the AmCham Board to have the opportunity to address the AmCham members as part of the annual General Assembly meeting.
It is a historic year to be addressing you today, thirty years – almost to the day – since Albania and the United States restored diplomatic relations. This only happened because of the will of the Albanian and American people to build a new, enduring partnership after being kept apart by force. And over these thirty years it is incredible to see how close our two countries have become. The economic and business connection is a remarkable aspect of these restored ties. At the end of the day, these are the ties that affect our citizens and lead to a more prosperous future for the next generation.
The U.S. Embassy has three priorities in Albania: democracy, defense, and business. We’ve long focused on democracy and defense, and we have good momentum in these areas. I’m pleased to be leading a push to elevate our business relations to the same level. The United States is the largest economy in the world and it is clear that much can be gained in Albania from a closer connection: better jobs; advanced skills; a growing economy; access to more products at lower prices; and more opportunities for Albanian youth right here in Albania.
Nearly one year ago today, we signed a bilateral Memorandum of Economic Cooperation, showcasing the U.S. commitment for an even stronger economic relationship. And we have seen results – tangible results you can touch and walk around. A couple weeks ago, I visited the Skavica hydropower plant project with Bechtel, which I am thrilled is represented here today. The project in Vlora with Excelerate Energy and ExxonMobil is another strong example and, if successful, will be the largest foreign direct investment in Albania ever by an American company. Beyond those large-scale projects you can see the increasing relationship in trade numbers with imports and exports already exceeding all of 2020 through the end of August. You can also see it through more and more U.S. brands expanding to the Albanian market.
There is more to be done though, and we urge the Albanian government to prioritize improving the business climate to really unlock the potential we all know is here. Justice reform must be seen through so courts are clean, property rights must be addressed once and for all, as soon as possible, and fair competition must be paramount so that all investors big or small, Albanian or foreign, play by the same fair and transparent rules. The government should take seriously the recently released AmCham Investment Agenda and view it as a roadmap on how to improve the business climate. A better business climate will create a better, stronger Albania.
We have come a long way over the past thirty years but when we see what we’ve accomplished so far, I’m confident that, with hard work, the future is bright.