By Benet Koleka
TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian lawmakers backed a 2015 budget on Tuesday that projects economic growth at 3 percent and includes tax hikes to help cut the European Union candidate country's budget deficit and meet terms set out by its international lenders.
The Socialist government aims to cut the deficit to 4 percent of gross domestic product from an expected 6.6 percent in 2014 and reduce the national debt to 70.6 percent in 2015 from around 73 percent of GDP this year.
The plan was adopted as officials from the International Monetary Fund arrived in the Balkan country for talks on disbursing the third tranche of a 330.9 million euro ($412.2 million) three-year loan agreed in February.
An IMF review of the country's finances and economy in September was disrupted by the arrest of the central bank governor following a 713 million lek ($6.6 million) theft by a bank employee. The Washington-based fund and government were also at odds over reforms for Albania's debt-ridden electricity sector.
"This is a new fiscal package which, in the conditions facing our country, gives us the possibility to stimulate production and stimulate processing at home," Prime Minister Edi Rama told parliament on Monday as a marathon debate in the legislature went past midnight.
The 2015 budget includes higher taxes on diesel fuel, gasoline, tobacco and raises to 15 percent from 10 percent personal taxes, including levies on property sales, gambling, interest from deposits and intellectual property. The tax on wages remains unchanged.
The government hopes to reap an extra $160 million from the changes.
Business leaders have complained the tax hikes risk blunting Albania's competitive edge over other Balkan countries and may hurt investment and job creation.
The government said 15 other taxes would be cut or scrapped altogether, including an end to taxes on crude oil imports destined for domestic refining and a one-third reduction of the royalty tax for chrome miners to spur production of ferrochrome.
Albania's economy is expected to grow 2.1 percent in 2014.
The opposition Democratic Party, which is boycotting parliament amid a row with the government, criticis!ed the budget for being based on tax hikes for a second consecutive year.
(Editing by Matt Robinson, Catherine Evans and Alan Crosby)