Good evening, everybody. Thank you very much, Enio (Jaço), and the entire board for your great leadership of the American Chamber of Commerce, not only over the past year, but over the entirety of your tenure on the leadership board. Thank you also to Cem (Cevik) and to Levent (Cengiz) for this beautiful hotel and Cem for your remarks. It is an absolute pleasure to welcome an international American brand like Marriott to the heart of Tirana.
It’s a great day. I think you all agree that U.S.-Albanian relations are at an all-time high. We are Allies in NATO and partners on the UN Security Council. Albania has emerged as a thriving – even if imperfect – democracy in the Western Balkans. As we know from our own experience, democracy can never be taken for granted; we must cherish and strengthen it, and we must never rest.
U.S.-Albanian cooperation on defense is also reaching new heights, especially since the historic Defender Europe 2021 exercise. That exercise – if you recall – brought in up to 6000 U.S. troops alone into Albania, and I think based on what American generals saw here, we see tremendous potential for expanding our defense relationship.
I’m also proud to say that of the three main pillars of our agenda – democracy, defense and business – business is also on the rise, with tremendous growth. We’re seeing, as Enio alluded, a huge increase in U.S. investment in Albania.
U.S. foreign direct investment reached a new high of $235 million in 2022, which is more than double what it was before the pandemic. Our bilateral trade has steadily increased, and in 2022, Albanian exports to the United States were three times what they were one year ago and almost four times what they were two years ago. The share of total exports going to the United States has doubled in the last year.
There is still so much untapped potential for trade and investment in Albania, but Albania needs to continue to improve its investment climate and continue to combat corruption to realize Albania’s full potential.
That’s where all of you – the American Chamber of Commerce – come in to make a difference. AmCham’s advocacy has undoubtedly improved Albania’s investment climate, as you press to standardize taxation policies and encourage continued anti-corruption reforms.
AmCham should continue to provide concrete recommendations and ideas on how to improve the business environment and promote a level and fair playing field for everyone. Not all of these recommendations get implemented all at once, but they do get implemented, and that depends on your persistence. I see a very powerful group here: $3 billion in total revenue, 40,000 employees. That gives you a voice, so decide what your priorities are and pursue them. Tell us what your priorities are, and we can help, but it’s up to you to lead.
The United States Government will continue to play our role. As you know, the United States has strongly supported justice reform in Albania. It’s not a moral issue, it’s a business issue. Reform of this scale is extraordinarily difficult and, frankly, it is painful, but progress is being made, and reform is now producing real results – results that will influence investment decisions. Albania will surely attract more trade and investment from the United States as the government continues to rationalize and streamline rules and procedures, resolve property claims, root out corruption from its business and justice sectors, and strengthen its partnership with the American business community.
If you ask for recommendations, you have to listen. Asking for recommendations should not be merely a political act – it has to produce results.
U.S. companies can play an important role in the economic development of Albania, generating jobs, helping to set international standards, and introducing best practices. The information technology sector offers an example on how even small companies can become important players, especially in the education of the next generation, boosting their expertise in an interconnected world with more opportunities, even as we see more threats. U.S. companies can play a key role in providing trusted and reliable alternatives so that Albania does not have to rely on untrusted vendors.
U.S. companies can also play an important role to help rebuild Albania’s cyber capabilities in response to the Iranian cyberattacks last year. There is no doubt that these were serious attacks, and there is also no doubt that they will continue. Even if not from Iran, we will continue to face these. Every country does and almost every company has faced these.
In short, we have challenges and opportunities, but even the challenges offer opportunities.
We are looking forward to working with AmCham to continue promoting a better business climate so that we can advance the economic partnership between the United States and Albania.
Now, I don’t know if you all know this or not, but I personally am a very competitive person. I like to win; I like for whatever we’re working on to be number one. Two weeks ago, I was hosting all the American ambassadors from around the region, and I was particularly pleased that we – Albania and the U.S.-Albanian partnership – we are number one in increasing trade and investment. We are number one in drawing U.S. investment, big investment projects, including Marriott, but also others related to energy, the ICT sector, as well as small and medium size business investments. I hope that we will continue to be number one, but you know better than I do that staying on top requires a lot of hard work. If you are willing to continue to work hard, and in fact work harder, my team and I at the U.S. Embassy will be right there to support that effort. So, let’s keep going, and let’s stay number one.
Thank you very much.