By Peter Tase
Rapid national economic growth and integration in the European Union are among the top priorities in the current strategy of Albanian Government. Albania’s aspirations in international trade would be incomplete if Turkish markets and investors are not part of this process and strategy.
Turkey has historically maintained excellent political relations with Albania and is constantly striving to reach new heights to strengthen commercial ties with Tirana. Albania, thanks to its sustainable economic development course, has been successful in increasing the presence of foreign direct investments in the country and in not affected by the financial crises reining over Europe in the last three years. Coincidentally, the Republic of Turkey, just like Albania, has successfully managed to avoid the negative consequences caused by some EU member states.
To raise the level of cooperation between both countries, Albania and Turkey must begin to revitalize and rekindle their bilateral trade relations, in order to maximize the benefits from their excellent political relations. Albania can learn much from Turkey, not only from its agricultural sector and innovation in technology, but also in adapting cutting edge technology and engineering innovation applied in the current construction of hydroelectric dams such as in the current Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) in Turkey.
This development project is located in one of the regions that havs great potential for generating renewable energy through hydroelectric dams. According to Prof. Kamil Kaygusuz, a research scholar focused on Turkey’s renewable energy resources and infrastructure, it is estimated that this country has the potential to produce 433 GW which is equal to 1.2% of the world’s total hydroelectric power production.
For its part, Albania is emerging as a regional player in the production of hydroelectric energy, however the current technology used in some of the largest operational dams does not guarantee their full efficiency and carry a level of uncertainty regarding their operational status in the future. Adopting Turkey’s technological advancements research and development skills, and the use of modern equipment in its hydroelectric dams, would be very lucrative in the long run for Albania’s plans to effectively administer its dams that are currently operational, improve the infrastructure of its energy sector as well as help secure its future towards becoming a leading nation in producing renewable energy.
Another important area where Turkey can serve as a role model for Albania and help improve its national image is the agricultural sector. In 2010, Turkey was the first country in the world in the production of figs, reaching over 254,838 metric tons (MT) and exporting over 13,700 MT. Albania has a great potential in exporting its fruit and vegetable production, unfortunately the lack of food packaging infrastructure and the absence of added value to its agricultural products makes this sector suffer and unable to introduce its products in the EU markers. Albania can find a great strategic partner in Turkey and Ankara’s industrial and economic model can serve as genuine start for Tirana’s aspirations to embrace the developed world.
The economy of Turkey has expanded in 2002-2008 due to a constant growth of its products; it has made significant improvements in its legislation and the socio-economic development platform, while being guided by the EU. Turkey is the second largest trading partner of Albania, with investments that reach over 1 billion euros.
In 2007, the Republic of Turkey was the world’s largest producer of hazelnut, apricots and pomegranates; the second largest producer of watermelons and cucumbers; the third largest producer of eggplants, tomatoes and pistachios; the fourth largest producer of onions and olives; the sixth largest producer of tobacco and the tenth largest producer of lemons. In the last ten years, the agricultural output and exports from Ankara of such commodities has been growing at an admirable rate.
On the other hand, Albania, even though it uses over 40.5 percent of its land for agricultural purposes, finds it almost impossible for its products to penetrate the international markets due to poor marketing of products, underdeveloped irrigation and drainage systems, low technological level, weak organization of farmers and insignificant level of development of the food processing industry.
In general terms, in Albania there is a very low interest for investments in agricultural activities. There remains an arduous task for the upcoming Albanian government to place this country on the map again, for its well-known agricultural products. For Edi Rama, the newly elected Prime Minister, it will be impossible to address these concerns alone; the successful experience of Turkey and its government could serve as an example and provide a new beginning for Albania’s agricultural sector and enlighten the strategic vision for Edi Rama, who was Tirana’s artful mayor and will become Albania’s Prime Minister in September.
The governments of Albania and Turkey have had extensive and successful high-level meetings. The official visits of the President of Albania H.E. Bamir Topi in October 2011 and Prime Minister H.E. Sali Berisha in April 2012 and June 2012 to Turkey as well as the visit of the Turkish Parliament Speaker H.E. Cemil Çiçek to Albania in May 2012 have been the recent highlights of these bilateral relations. In October 18, 2012, Albanian Foreign Minister H.E. Edmond Panariti visited Ankara and was a keynote speaker in the International Conference: “From Balkan Wars to Balkan Peace” organized by the Center for Strategic Research in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. In February 19, 2013, Josefina Topalli, Speaker of Albanian Parliament conducted an official visit to Turkey invited by her colleague, H.E. Cemil Çiçek.
The governments of Albania and Turkey share similar democratic values and are staunch advocates for a peaceful Balkans region and will continue to further strengthen such a strategic bilateral partnership. The considerable number of Turkish citizens with Albanian origin living in Turkey and Albanians, who have decided to live in Turkey for various reasons, as well as the growth in number of Turkish community in Albania, are some of the features that highly contribute to foster such a genuine bilateral partnership. On the other hand, cooperation in the armed forces and national defense constitutes a strong dimension in Turkish-Albanian bilateral relations.