Sixteen individuals from the Republic of Kosovo traveled to the U.S. earlier this summer to participate in a Trade Enhancement and Education Mission, commonly known as a Trade Mission.
The ten day event was orchestrated by the American Chamber Kosovo (AmCham Kosovo) in cooperation with the TradeRoots division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Also involved in the Trade Mission was the U.S. Embassy in Pristina and USAID/Kosovo Private Enterprise Programme (KPEP). The travelers included representatives from the business community, government and independent agencies in Kosovo who came to the U.S. with the goal of participating in business to business networking and best practices education.
The Trade Mission allowed individuals from Kosovo, which is a landlocked country located on the Balkan Peninsula, to meet with counterparts as well as possible partners and investors to discuss opportunities for U.S. companies in Kosovo.
According to Kelly Smith, Manager of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s TradeRoots Division, the Kosovo contingent attended the US Chamber’s annual Small Business Summit, which hosts over 500 U.S. small and medium-sized enterprises, in Washington, D.C.
While in the nation’s capital, the group also met with officials at the Department of State, Department of Commerce, and the Albanian American Chamber of Commerce. The group then traveled to Chicago to attend the National Restaurant Show and meet with local business leaders including the local Chamber of Commerce.
“Through organizing this Trade Mission, AmCham was able to raise the profile of Kosovo as a good investment spot within the business community in the United States,” explained Zana Haxha, Communications Manager for AmCham. “Apart from directly presenting investment opportunities to different targets, the participants were also able to make direct contacts with different companies.”
The country of Kosovo is young, having declared their independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. According to the U.S. State Department, as of July 2010, 69 countries had recognized Kosovo’s independence, including 22 of 27 EU member states, all of its neighbors (except Serbia), and other states from the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
On July 22, 2010 the International Court of Justice ruled that the country’s declaration of independence did not violate international law.
Kosovo's citizens, who are the poorest in Europe, have seen Kosovo’s socially-owned enterprises become private with the help of international assistance.
According to the U.S. State Department, Kosovo has been laying the foundations of a market-oriented economy for the last ten years but is still struggling as it seeks to develop viable and productive domestic industries. The country also has one of the lowest export/import rates in the region.
While the fledgling country is taking steps, like this Trade Mission, to stimulate the economy, they have a young and energetic population. According to Haxha, more than 55% of the population is 25 or younger.
“We believe that Kosovo has a prosperous future in terms of economic growth and foreign investments, even though, of course, there are some issues which need to be addressed by the appropriate authorities, and AmCham is always working on creating a more investor friendly business climate,” she explained.
Smith echoed this sentiment, saying, “The Kosovars are extremely open to Foreign Direct Investment and are very friendly towards Americans in general. Infrastructure is a major concern for many US companies looking to invest in Kosovo. The Kosovars are working hard to improve their airport/roadways, but they still have a long ways to go.”
That is where groups like AmCham can be of assistance. Having been fully operational since 2006, AmCham Kosovo is a business association officially accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to Haxha, through AmCham Kosovo member businesses, “cooperate to strengthen the country’s business climate and economic growth towards prosperity and Euro Atlantic integration, and an independent organization that influences the public agenda in Kosovo to promote economic opportunities and business interests.”
Next steps for the Trade Mission contingent include individual follow-up with contacts made in the U.S. and a possible visit to Kosovo later in the year for U.S. business representatives.
Smith and the TradeRoots Division generally host about three such delegations annually. The bulk of their work is concentrated on domestic grassroots education and the Chamber’s International Division handles additional delegations and trade missions. Though not the main focus of the Trade Roots mission, Smith enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Kosovar delegation and was impressed by, “The friendliness of the people. They are all so grateful, and for a country who recently experienced such extreme violence, it is truly unbelievable to witness their positive attitudes and willingness to please companies who want to learn more about their country…. this delegation trip to D.C. and Chicago is just the beginning.”