EBRD votes to give Kosovo membership

PRISTINA Fri Nov 16, 2012 7:08pm GMT

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PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo will become a member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the bank said on Friday, almost five years after the country declared independence from Serbia.

Kosovo, which became a World Bank and IMF member in 2009, is recognised by more than 90 countries but is not a United Nations member. Russia and Serbia have vowed to never recognise it.

The EBRD said the resolution agreeing Kosovo's membership as a recipient country was approved by the Board of Governors on Friday.

The new country will become the 66th member of the bank after it completes all internal procedures before December 17.

"The EBRD will be delighted to be able to address Kosovo's needs," said the EBRD president Suma Chakrabarti, in a press statement.

"The Bank will work to develop the private sector as well as investing in infrastructure improvements and will help to strengthen the economy more generally. This will benefit all people living in Kosovo."

While its economy is growing, the Balkan country of 1.7 million people is struggling to catch up with the rest of the former Yugoslavia and neighbouring Albania in terms of development and integration with the European Union after decades of neglect, a 1998-99 war and years of limbo as a ward of the United Nations.

Kosovo struggles to persuade foreign companies to invest. They cite crime, corruption and ethnic tensions as the main obstacles.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said almost 30 EBRD member countries have not recognised Kosovo and it had taken a lengthy lobbying effort to gather two thirds of the votes.

EBRD membership was an "excellent news" for a country where almost half the population is unemployed, he added.

The government has ordered the creation of an agency "to ensure that businesses and investment projects in Kosovo have accurate and clear information about financing from the EBRD," Thaci said in a press statement. "We must be able to use this instrument and our membership to create news jobs."

Kosovo hopes for economic growth of 4.5 percent next year but the IMF has predicted little more than 3 percent. This depends heavily on remittances from Kosovars living in western Europe and investing mainly in real estate.

The government needs a credit rating before it can start seeking any loans, although it can boast the lowest public debt in the region, at less than 6 percent of its GDP.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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