*as prepared for delivery
I want to thank Ilir, Enio, Minister Denaj and, indeed, all of the AmCham members who are joining us online today, for the opportunity to participate and share some thoughts with you today. I have to say, this is not how I imagined I would first address the full membership of AmCham, but we are living in unusual times.
Despite the circumstances, 2020 marks an important milestone for the organization, marking twenty years since its founding in Albania. In my many years with the State Department, I have seen around the world how AmChams help create opportunities for America and our friends. AmCham at its best represents the voice of the business community speaking as one to help foster a business environment that will maximize bilateral trade and investment between the United States and the host country, and create jobs, opportunities, and economic growth for both countries.
That is what brings us all together here today as well.
As you may know, my three priorities for the US-Albania relationship are Democracy, Defense, and Business. I’ve heard I’m the first American ambassador to emphasize business, and I must admit this makes me proud.
Increasing business opportunities between Albanians and Americans is one of my most important goals as U.S. Ambassador to Albania. I know everyone here shares that goal, too, and you all have an important role to play.
On October 3, during the visit of Keith Krach Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, the United States and Albania signed a historic memorandum of economic cooperation between our countries, which I believe is a significant achievement in elevating our economic relations to match our already extraordinarily deep political relations. The initial step was very promising, with U.S. firm Bechtel signing an agreement for the construction of the Skavica hydropower plant, the largest contract ever awarded to a sole U.S. firm. I hope this marks a beginning of a longer list of American firms coming to Albania.
But, we cannot be content with just a first step. We must have forward momentum by a committed, engaged, and energetic AmCham, building on the successes of the last twenty years and driving into the next decade with an ambitious agenda. When you see opportunities to increase trade between our countries, seize it! Whether that is distributing U.S. products in Albania, exporting Albanian products to the United States, marketing to U.S. tourists, looking into franchise opportunities, fostering future innovation with American technology, every bit of it helps strengthen the connection between our countries further.
Since arriving, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges the business community and foreign investors face; we all know that rule of law needs to strengthen and improve its integrity in order for meaningful foreign direct investment to arrive. There is incredible opportunity and potential here to grow the economy. It is not hard to “sell” Albania if done right; Albania has incredible access to the world through its port and strategic position as an entry point to Europe. The cost of labor is accessible to business models, the population is young and resourceful. Albanians have some of the best language skills of anyone, anywhere in the world; Albanians are determined, hardworking, and welcoming.
It is fertile ground for success and growth, and we must work together to seize the opportunities now for Albania’s betterment, and to provide more opportunities for the talented Albanian youth. I thank those of you who are committed to working every day for this improvement, serving on the board of AmCham, assisting within the committees, sponsoring events, and being active members of the organization. There is hard work to be done for sure, but the business community through AmCham must work to influence policy makers to help improve the business climate.
Through this shared focus, I am confident the next twenty years of AmCham will be its best yet.