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This session was graced with the presence of a number of regional former Heads of State in the audience. The panel was composed of three former Ministers of Finance as well as those with experience in international financial institutions.

Mr. AbdulBasit Syed, International Ambassador, Croydon, U.K.

Moderator: Mr. AbdulBasit Syed, International Ambassador, Croydon, U.K.

Founder, World Humanitarian Drive, United Kingdom

AbdulBasit Syed was born in the Dravidian state of Tamilnadu, India. From the age of 16, he got involved in social welfare activities, from blood donation camps to relief campaigns during natural disasters such as tsunamis, floods and earthquakes. He is helping to setup a pharmaceutical unit in Myanmar to produce inexpensive generic medicines and recently started his own foundation “World Humanitarian Drive” (WHD) in the UK to promote peace within communities. He is on the Executive Board for Tamil Peravai, which supports education scholarships and humanitarian efforts in India. Abdul Basit Syed is the current officially appointed “International Ambassador of Croydon, U.K.” to promote Trade, Culture, Peace and Harmony. to promote values of Peace, Education, Harmony and Trade. He is on the senior Board of Management for various businesses and NGOs worldwide.

The Session Chair, Abdul Basit Syed, asked the rhetorical question: "What does a peace organisation have to do with trade? Promoting integration of economies opens ways for peace. The Balkan region is moving from war to peace through trade."

He continued, "This sends a strong message to the rest of the world that this region has achieved the maturity to cooperate and collaborate beyond borders. There is huge potential in this region with a European culture, a favourable tax regime and high skill level." He commented that investment and the rate of new business startups is not sufficient at the moment. "A safe, sustainable growth with a stable Government and inclusive economics are needed. Growth should benefit all of society. The economic strategy should advance structural reforms beyond borders. Peace between nations in the West Balkans is providing economic developments for all."

Prof. Arben Malaj

Speaker: Prof. Arben Malaj

Former Minister of Economy and Finance, Albania

Prof. Dr. Arben Malaj graduated in Finance at the University of Tirana, Albania. From 1997 to 1998, he served as Minister of Finance, from 2002 to 2003 as Minister of Economy and from 2004 to 2005 as Minister of Finance. From 2005 to 2006, he attended the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) as Senior Fellow at M-RCBG, focusing on research into Western Balkans European integration. Prof. Malaj is currently serving as the President of the Institute for Public Policy and Good Governance. Since 2016, he has been a Member of the Supervisory counsel of Bank of Albania. He is also teaching in different public and private universities.

Prof. Arben Malaj began by congratulating the Universal Peace Federation for choosing the land of Mother Theresa to convene this conference. She was famous for saying we may not be able to do big things, but we can do the small things every day. He also referred to Winston Churchill's quote that, “the Balkans creates more history than it can consume.”

European integration through negotiation and cooperation is a good model for former Communist nations. The present and the future inspire us to collaborate for a better future. It is intrinsically linked that ‘without peace there is no prosperity and without prosperity there is no peace’.  We must increase the range of opportunities for all our citizens throughout the Balkans for peace to be strong.

The multi-lateral successful collaboration can overcome the difficulties of the past and bring sustainable development. Robert Schuman saw that cooperation between European nations would bring the peace in Europe that had been so elusive and allow development. Where there can be trade wars, there also can be trade collaboration through which development can be facilitated.

Hon. Dr. Azra Hadziahmetovic

Speaker: Hon. Dr. Azra Hadziahmetovic

Member of Parliament, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Dr. Azra Hadziahmetovic was born in Foca, B&H, and obtained her Ph.D. in International Economics. Since 1979, she has worked at the University of Sarajevo, School of Economics and Business. she is now a full professor in the Department of Economic Theory and Policy and gives lectures in the field of macroeconomics, European Economy, Economic Diplomacy, Foreign Trade and World Economy. A former Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, she served several times as a member of parliament in B&H and in the Council of Europe. She also served as a Governor in World Bank and Alternate Governor in the IMF. She is a member of the Committee for Economic Science ANUBiH, the Academic Network of the WTO and the Global Development Network.

Hon. Azra Hadziahmetovic explained that In 1992, due to the conflict, 70% of houses, 60% of hospitals as well as infrastructure, were destroyed. In 1999 - 2008 the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe was agreed and implemented with the EU.

In 2006-7 most of the West Balkan nations joined the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). With trade liberalisation there has been increased stability. There are economics of scale developing. This is necessary for EU integration and EU membership.

The Free trade agreement was an important part of accession to the EU. Lord Peter Mandelson (the EU Trade Commissioner at the time) agreed that CEFTA will not only offer real economic benefits, but also send a signal that integration in the region is possible and open the way for accession to the EU.

More ambitious targets have naturally developed, as well as more important trading partners. Western Balkan regional economies have not fulfilled their potential in exports to the EU yet, but are making effort to catch up.

CEFTA has had a very good benefit to the region, but the regulations of the EU and other regional Governments take a lot of businesses time. A higher export led and FDI driven growth is part of the strategy of 2020, but the nations of the West Balkans are falling behind.

Mrs. Jolanda Trebicka

Speaker: Mrs. Jolanda Trebicka

Project Coordinator, Municipalities for Europe - EU Project, Albania

Mrs. Jolanda Trebicka is an expert on governance and public sector reforms. She has 20 years of professional experience in the area of economic and institutional development and has been working for 13 years for the Government of Albania. From 2000-2006, she was employed by the World Bank as a Public Sector Management Specialist. Since mid- 2006, Jolanda has worked in all countries of the Western Balkans and various Central Asian countries on different technical assistance programs financed by the E.U., UNDP, DFID, IMF and WB. As an external expert on SIGMA/OECD, Jolanda has been assisting different countries, such as Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Georgia, Ukraine and Egypt, in their process of improving central policy development systems. Currently, Jolanda is the Team Leader of the EU financed technical assistance project “Municipalities for Europe”, a project that is assisting the municipalities of Albania to achieve better governance in the European integration processes at the local level.

Mrs. Jolanda Trebicka started by expressing that the business community is demand driven and pushes the government to make changes in its policies to allow business to thrive. The lack of opportunities pushes people to engage in illicit activities to support themselves where there are no jobs. A terrible example is that some joined ISIS because of a lack of money. They knew they would be paid if they joined.

There are two reports on the Albanian economy for the years 2012 – 2019. There was progress during these years. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) grew by 80%. New enterprises started and progressed. However, intra-regional trade had 0% growth over this period! This is of great concern because of the need for regional integration. Why are we at a zero level of growth and still at 9.6 % cooperation instead of 14.3% (the target for this year, 2019).

How much does the Government dialogue with business? She found through surveys that business does not believe Government is listening to their concerns. Business can break barriers to trade, but only Government has the role to remove them through negotiation and legislation.

Hon. Dr. Haki Shatri

Speaker: Hon. Dr. Haki Shatri

former Minister of Finance, Republic of Kosovo

Hon. Haki Shatri was born in Tomoc, Istog, Kosovo. He graduated from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Pristina and completed his postgraduate studies at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Zagreb in Croatia. After obtaining his Ph.D. from the European University of Tirana, he conducted research at the Riinvest Institute, the oldest “think tank” in Kosovo operating since 1995. Dr. Shatri was a Member of the Assembly of Kosovo for Five years and Minister of Economy and Finance in the Government of Kosovo from 2004 to 2007. He is currently serving as an Advisor to the Prime Minister of Kosovo.

Hon. Haki Shatri explained that from 1989, Kosovo was under the administration of the United Nations. This was the time rebuilding started. Ten years later there was a transition to becoming a nation. Free market principles are embedded in the Kosovan constitution, however, we still have too many people under the poverty line.

Free market liberalisation has been implemented in stages with the support of the EU and advice promoting regional integration, especially during 2016 – 2021. There is a strong pathway of reforms to be implemented. 

Public budget debt is approximately 1bn euros, which is about 70% of GDP. This is close to the border where it could become a problem. 25% of Kosovans live abroad and support their families at home through remittances. Remittances from the diaspora in 2017 were just under 800 million Euros. FDI is at a comparably low level. We need to make it easier to invest.

We are a good case to attract foreign capital if you consider that tax on profits is between 0% - 10%. On the other hand, the non-liberalisation of visas by the EU is a big problem. It is an obstacle to trade.