Building an unshakeable bridge – Përparim KALO

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 2, 2021 13:44

Building an unshakeable bridge – Përparim KALO

TT: Honorable Judge Kalo. We were pleased to have you attend the conference organized by AIIS on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Albania. Given you have been involved in the area of international business, most probably you have had some experience in working with US corporations.

Thank you. As a matter of fact, the conference where H. E. Minister of European and Foreign Affairs and H.E. Ambassador Yuri Kim as keynote speakers highlighted the excellent relations that exist between Albania and the US inspired me to go back in time and revisit the impressions about American presence in Albania, meaning American people, friends, left in me during these 30 years.

I can mention a few facts that illustrate the great support US gave to legal institutions and business organizations during this period. USAID, NDI, AAEF, AADF, etc. had a long-term vision when launching projects of technical assistance. The idea was to help Albanians gradually take leadership and ownership while improving the legal and judicial institutions, land sector, legal and physical infrastructure, environment, business climate, combatting organized crime, including money laundering, corruption and the like..

TT: We would be interested to know some specific projects you mention

The first US business flag in Albania, if I remember correctly, was the one carried by Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). They came to Albania in 1991 for offshore oil exploration. At that time no petroleum law was in place as to provide sufficient comfort to a company of that size and name. The fact that a company like Oxy chose Albania as a spot for doing business was maybe driven by the feeling that Albanians had already demonstrated their stance towards America as the big ally, our “savior”, however, the interest was materialized in a commercial contract, endorsed by the then well-known minister Genc Ruli and later on ratified in 1993, through a retroactive mechanism, when a new Hydrocarbons Law was enacted by the first pluralistic Parliament.

Another important fact is the conclusion of a Cooperation Agreement between Albania and US, which encouraged American agencies funded by the US Government to come and assist Albania in various sectors. It marks the first bilateral agreement between Albania and the US and was signed in June 1992 by Ambassador Ryerson and then minister of Foreign Economy Artan Hoxha.

Immediately after that agreement we witnessed a wave of US legal and technical experts working closely with legal institutions like the Ministry of Justice, newly re-established Supreme Court etc. They came through a program called CEELI, supported by American Bar Association. They helped training, drafting manuals, regulations, offering books, etc. I had the privilege working closely with some of them when I was in the Ministry of Justice

Also the Tirana International School was a good step in the right direction as it offered quality education not only to children of US expats but also for Albanians, on bases of admission criteria.

Another important development was the later the signing in 1995 of the Bilateral Investment Treaty between US and Albania, which was enforced in 1998.

As we know, other agreements were signed just recently to give to economic and business relations another jump.

TT: When did you visit the US for the first time?

My first visit to the US was in 1993, where I flew to New Orleans to attend an IBA conference. I was working in the sole Insurance company and the company supported my participation in that activity for training purposes. The US lawyer Cathleen Imholz, an old friend who works in Albania for almost 30 years, was also a great support in establishing my first contacts in New York and Washington D.C. In the conference I saw that many participants (among 3-4 thousand lawyers from across the world) showed particular interest in Albania, as my name was in the list of participants. Their curiousness developed further in considering business cases here and here we are, many names like Microsoft, Philip Morris, Lockheed Martin, Cisco Systems, Oracle, MSD/Schering-Plough, Abt. Associates, ABI, Bechtel, 3M, Apple, Google, KFC, etc. keep working on various important sectors and projects.  

TT: Was there any interest by US businesses to invest in Albania, as the country was opening and trying to strengthen institutions?

An important development in this direction was the establishment of the Albanian-American Enterprise Fund (AAEF) a private investment fund established by the United States government under the SEED Act of 1989, to assist Albania in its transition to a market economy. AAEF was very active from the very beginning and identified several sectors and enterprises that needed capital and modern management to improve performance and profitability. AAEF invested in major projects like Tirana International Airport, SIGAL, TEG, etc. They founded the American Bank of Albania in 1998, to become a leading bank and sell successfully.

TT: What about aid?

US has offered assistance to Albania on several reforms, but I remember that following the war in Kosovo so many US Agencies and NGOs provided extensive and significant aid to Kosovo and Kosovans through legal entities in Albania. World Learning, Peace Corps, ORT, CRS, International Rescue Committee, Creative Associates, Assist Impact, and many others.

TT: What is the contribution of the US in the development of legislation in Albania?

Actually, Albania has committed to doing the legislative reform as to fit in the EU family and therefore many projects have been considering Acquis Communautaire. However, through the years US has provided fantastic assistance via ABA/CEELI, USAID, NDI, AADF, Chemonics, etc. In other words, laws like those on money laundering prevention, secured transactions, land reform and other

TT: How well has the business climate here encouraged and attracted US corporations to consider Albania as a business destination?

Of course, any corporation in the world or even an entrepreneur would normally check well in advance the legal regime and would make a pros/cons analysis before moving to another country. Albania offered opportunities, but however the business world needs to know the status of land and the legal framework for contracts and judicial system to provide sufficient guarantee that contracts are enforced. As such, those two aspects have been always part of a preliminary Due Diligence. In the case of US corporations, an important factor to give additional comfort was the information taken from corporations that already have work experience here, especially AAEF, American Bank of Albania and AmCham, have been three sources of reliable information. AmCham soon became a strong organization that was able to represent members and the business community at large and provide support and protection from arbitrary laws or practices of government agencies, especially from tax administration disproportional approaches.

TT: What are the most important projects that US companies have been able to develop in Albania?

Many. They have been always innovative. I can mention Opportunity International (later transformed as NOA, under a new ownership). They came as a micro finance institution, and soon became leader in the sector with thousands of small entrepreneurs as clients, who could not have easy access to financing in the banking sector. The motor way Milot-Morinё by Bechtel is another landmark project and so is the Air Traffic Management by Lockheed Martin, which enabled the National Air Traffic Agency to increase significantly the revenue from the flights crossing Albania’s air space. American Bank of Albania, American Bank of Investments, AAF and AADF investments in airport infrastructure, urban, insurance, retail, information technology, oil, energy, etc. are also great projects that have created massive employment.

TT: How do you see the US-Albania business developments in the future?

The solid, unshakeable bridge built by both Albanian and the US in the last 30 years is a good sign that the relations with keep forging and our partnership flourishing. 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 2, 2021 13:44