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TIRANA (Albania), April 19 (SeeNews) – The World Bank said its board of director has approved a $90 million (79.9 million euro) project to support the countries of the Western Balkans in lowering trade costs and increasing transport efficiency.
This is the first phase of a $140 million project to finance the design, development, and implementation of initiatives to improve transparency and integrity, lower transaction costs, enhance inter-agency coordination, and reduce the time it takes to trade across borders, the World Bank said in a statement late on Thursday.
“Delays at crossings in the Western Balkans are five times longer than in many EU countries and trucks spend some 26 million hours at crossings in the region each year - that’s nearly 3,000 years,” World Bank regional director for the Western Balkans, Linda Van Gelder, said.
The first phase of the project will provide financing for Serbia ($40 million), North Macedonia ($30 million), and Albania ($20 million), the global lender noted, adding that it is projected to reduce annual export and import costs by more than 10%.
According to the World Bank, the project aims to increase regional trade by reducing non-tariff measures, time needed to clear goods, and overall costs to trade.
“The Western Balkans trade and transport facilitation project will help facilitate the movement of goods across the region by introducing a national single window (NSW) system, linking key agencies to reduce import and export times through digitalized customs, improving infrastructure at border crossings, and installing critical technology such as intelligent transport systems (ITS) and vessel traffic management and information systems (VTMIS),” the World Bank said.
Although exports from the Western Balkans can enter the European Union (EU) without tariffs, only 10-20% of firms in the region are exporters. Compliance with procedures - including inspections and customs - and time spent at the borders and crossing points dampens efficiency, increases costs, and hinders trade.
“In Albania, for example, 87% of Albanian firms sell entirely to the local market, 10% export to the EU, and only 3% sell to the rest of the Western Balkans,” the World Bank said.
Further environmental benefits from the project include less use of paper through digitalization, increased energy efficiency in new and remodeled buildings, and the introduction of early-warning systems to monitor climate change risks and anticipate trade disruptions on the road network.
($ = 0.88815 euro)