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Dear Prime Minister, dear Ministers,
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure to attend my first agricultural event in Albania - this was the Agricultural Fair on Mother Theresa square.
A great event, displaying the wealth of Albania's agricultural production and showing what can be achieved when your favourable climate meets the hard work of Albanian farmers!
I was asked by journalists when the IPARD programme would start. I replied: hopefully I will tell you the good news soon.
That day has arrived: I am proud to announce that Albania can start the implementation of the IPARD programme.
Here is the official letter from the European Commission which I am pleased to hand over to the Prime Minister.
This is a major achievement and excellent news for the future of agricultural production in Albania: the IPARD II funds have budget of 71 million EUR coming from EU and 23 million EUR coming from the Government of Albania – making altogether 94 million EUR of funding available for investments in the development of rural areas.
The IPARD entrustment was a long process requiring the efforts of many people in Tirana and in Brussels. I particularly wish to congratulate the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency and the Ministry of Finance for their commitment, and of course the EU Commission's Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development.
With great success comes great responsibility and the real work starts now! Today is not the occasion to go into technical details. But I want to underline one thing and address farmers, agribusinesses and agricultural companies directly: I strongly encourage you to be very pro-active and to seize the opportunities opened with the IPARD II funds.
If you have ideas or dreams for your activity, now is the time to take your chance! If you want to improve, innovate and enlarge your farm, or set up an agri-processing, or diversify your agricultural activities – this opportunity is unique.
IPARD II will substantially enhance Albania's agricultural sector competitiveness, and its productivity, but it will also: Improve living conditions in rural areas, create new jobs especially for young people and women, and improve cooperation among enterprises and farms.
Two figures come to my mind: agriculture counts for almost 50% of employment, but about 20% of the Albanian GDP. This shows the importance of the sector, but also that it needs to become more competitive, especially by conquering European and global markets.
Albanian products will inspire confidence and trust when consumers are better informed. The products will be marketed when they meet EU requirements in terms of safety, quality and environmental standards. IPARD II will be instrumental in this transformation.
To conclude, I would like again to encourage farmers and agribusinesses to use this opportunity and to apply. The importance of today's announcement cannot be understated.
The European Commission as well as the EU Delegation in Tirana will be by your side to help you make the utmost of the available funding.
The EU is proud to support Albania in the economic development of its agricultural sector.