Following an initiative by the then Albanian ambassador to the United Nations, Albania and Kuwait began diplomatic relations in 1969. Despite Albania being a reclusive communist state during this period, Kuwait responded favorably to these initial overtures and soon the two countries began sharing viewpoints and supporting each other on international issues. “While a fully functioning diplomatic mission with a Chargé d’affaires was opened in Kuwait only in mid 2010, and Kuwait opened its embassy in our capital Tirana in 2011, the two countries have been enjoying fruitful bilateral relations for over four decades. Recently we celebrated the 45th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between Albania and Kuwait,’ said His Excellency Kujtim Morina at the start of an exclusive interview with The Times.
Over the years, diplomatic relations between Albania and Kuwait were further cemented through high-level visits by leaders of both countries. In 2007, the former Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al Sabah visited Albania and signed several bilateral agreements, including one between the Chamber of Commerce of the two countries. In 2011, the then Speaker of the National Assembly, H.E. Jassim Al-Kharafi paid a visit to Tirana at the head of a parliamentary delegation. Also, in a gesture of goodwill and as a further sign of growing friendship and solidarity between the two countries His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah allocated over USD 13 million to redevelop the main square in Tirana, ahead of the 100th anniversary celebrations of Albanian Independence.
Clarifying that reciprocal visits by dignitaries help build diplomatic ties and expand political links between the two nations, Ambassador Morina added, “There have been several visits by Albanian officials to Kuwait. In 2008, the Mayor of Tirana paid a courtesy visit to Kuwait at the invitation of the Kuwaiti government and our Prime Minister led a large trade delegation to this country. Last year the Albanian President, H.E. Bamir Topi visited Kuwait at the head of a delegation of business and political representatives. The presidential visit, which included meetings and discussions with top leadership in Kuwait, helped further consolidate and strengthen existing bilateral relations”
Providing an outline on his professional and diplomatic career, the envoy said: “Though I am not a career diplomat, for over ten years I was engaged in international relations with various global private and public organizations like CARE, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Leadership experience gained from these professional endeavors and the global exposure I gained while working with these organizations significantly increased my knowledge of international issues. It also made me realize the importance of diplomacy in peacefully resolving problems arising from frictional relationships between countries and it prepared me for a diplomatic career. “
“Five years ago I joined the diplomatic corps and since then have served in various departments of the Albanian Foreign Ministry, including in the European and North American Departments, as well as in the Department of Public Diplomacy. My first appointment as Ambassador to the State of Kuwait received approval from the Foreign Affairs Committee of our Parliament in 2012 and I arrived in Kuwait in March 2013. I presented my credentials to His Highness the Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on 3rd April and I am extremely grateful to the State of Kuwait and its authorities for affording me a warm welcome to this great country.”
Elaborating on improving existing commercial ties between the two countries, the diplomat added “There is considerable scope for enhancing bilateral trade between our two countries, be it in the public or private sector. Currently there are a handful of private Kuwaiti investments in Albania, including one by the Al-Kharafi Group which operates a chain of luxury hotels in Tirana and along the seacoast.” Since its transition from a communist to a free-market economy, Albania has become an open and fully liberalized market economy with stable macro-economic development. With over 85 percent of its economy privatized it is also one of the most lucrative investment destinations for global businesses.
“Investment opportunities exist across the country and in different sectors of the economy, including renewable energy, tourism, agro-business, services and infrastructure. A resilient economy that has consistently avoided recession and continues on a steady growth path is just one of the attractions that have made Albania an excellent investment destination. Its strategic location in Europe, its impending entry into the European Union, a flat rate of 10 percent for corporate and personal tax, and the ability to fully transfer investments and profits are other factors that appeal to entrepreneurs and multi-national companies. It is also worth mentioning that last year, twenty of the largest foreign businesses in Albania increased their profits by over 50 percent.”
“In addition, an educated and cost-competitive work force and, perhaps most importantly, the absolute ease and speed of setting up a business in Albania are other factors luring investors to Albania. For instance, with a single-window mechanism in place it is possible to register a new business in 24 hours for a fee of less than a dollar. Business licensing is similarly done through a fast and transparent process, again for less than a dollar. We look forward to investors and businesses from Kuwait examining the business climate in my country, “said the envoy. Albania also has a favorable political climate; it is perhaps the only country in Southeast Europe that has no internal minority issues, or border or other disputes with neighboring nations.
“We have a business legal framework that is in compliance with European Union legislation and investors in Albania can be assured their funds and properties will be fully protected. In my recent interactions with the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry we have concluded that it would be in the interests of both countries to further encourage bilateral business visits by trade delegations. This would give Kuwaiti businesses and investors an opportunity to assess the wealth of opportunities available in my country. This exchange of visits would also enable Albanian businesses to explore and evaluate the immense potential of Kuwait market for export of their goods and services,” added the ambassador.
Noting that on the government level, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has been a consistent and reliable partner in infrastructure investments in Albania, the diplomat added: “Beginning in 1995, when it funded a major irrigation rehabilitation project in Albania, to 2008 when it was involved in a transportation project that included building a bypass and multi-level exchange along the Durres-Morine Road, the Fund has been actively involved in providing low-coast loans and assistance to Albania. I recently held a very fruitful meeting with high-ranking officials of the Fund and we have agreed that Kuwait Fund would continue to support and assist in developing infrastructure projects across Albania.”
Tourism is another area that has immense scope for investments and development. With weather conditions that range from Mediterranean along its more than 450 km of Adriatic coastline, to Alpine in its snow-clad mountain areas, Albania has a high number of climatic regions relative to its land area. The country also shares with its Balkan neighbors large and deep tectonic lakes with unique flora and fauns, including several ‘living fossils’. It was designated the ‘Surprise Destination for 2013’ by leading travel publications and it garnered the top rank in the list of ‘Top ten countries to visit for 2011’ compiled by the renowned travel website, Lonely Planet.
“While presently there are only several hundred visitors from Kuwait to Albania, this could change considerably once we begin to roll out tourism awareness programs that will detail the wonderful vacation venues and sites of archaeological interest, as well as UNESCO declared Heritage sites existing across Albania. Something that might be of added interest to Kuwaitis looking for an attractive holiday package this summer is the fact that from 25 May to 25 September they, along with other GCC nationals, would not require a visa to visit and stay in Albania for up to three months.”
The ambassador who is here along with his wife and three daughters, aged 12, 8 and 2 said that his family has quickly adapted to their new home in Kuwait and were enjoying every moment of their experience in this new country. “I hope to enjoy an eventful and successful tenure in Kuwait and look forward to building bridges of friendship and cooperation in all fields between our two countries and its people,’ said the ambassador at the end of the interview.