Annulment of Kosovo tariffs on Serbian, Bosnian imports causes new dispute

Prime minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti gestures during an extraordinary press conference in Pristina on 26 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/VALDRIN XHEMAJ]

The outgoing Kosovo Premier Albin Kurti has said that the Kosovo government has decided to annul tariffs on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo, Marko Đurić, says that this is fake news and urged the public not to fall for it.

“The premier of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Priština (Kurti) has announced, to be completely specific, only a time-limited suspension of the taxes, and a conditional one at that, while at the same time introducing new punitive measures for our citizens and the economy, which he calls reciprocity,” said Đurić.

Serbia does not recognise the independence of its former province, but the normalisation of ties is a prerequisite for both if they want to advance their prospects of joining the EU. A number of countries, including five EU member states and Russia, do not recognise Kosovo either.

Kosovo partly lifted the tariffs on 15 March and Kurti said at the time that tariffs on all goods would be removed on 1 April, for a period of 90 days, if Serbia stops its campaign asking countries to overturn their recognition of Kosovo.

Đurić went on to say that Priština continued to “toy” with the issue of tariffs and with the economic prospects of Kosovo’s society, adding that the decision was a show meant for a portion of the international community.

He also said that the decision “does not de-escalate” the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo and did not bring the situation back to where it was before the “anti-civilization taxes” were imposed. Instead, he said, new barriers to trade and the movement of people and goods were being introduced “in a perfidious way.”

Kurti told an extraordinary press conference on 31 March that the decision on lifting the tariffs, imposed in November 2018, had come into force at midnight and would be in effect until 15 June, when the results of the decision’s implementation would be reviewed.

Kurti’s government was toppled by a no-confidence vote last Wednesday (25 March), less than two months after coming to power, plunging the unstable democracy into political uncertainty. However, the country cannot hold snap elections because of the spread of the coronavirus.

With the EU’s mediation, EU candidate country Serbia and potential candidate Kosovo are negotiating a comprehensive agreement that would resolve their multi-annual dispute and allow for progress on the road to the EU.

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Josep Borrell has welcomed Priština’s decision to completely abolish the tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Happy to see the decision on the full lifting of tariffs by Kosovo caretaker government for goods coming from Serbia and BiH. This is an important decision. Regional cooperation is key as is maintaining the flow of goods, in particular in times of COVID19 crisis,” Borrell tweeted on 1 April.

As for the reciprocal measures, Kurti pointed out the need for phytosanitary and veterinary documentation in trade between Kosovo and Serbia to be in line with the constitutional and legal regulations in Kosovo.

“Reciprocal, i.e. measures of mutual relations, are an institute of relations between sovereign states that is recognized by the fundamental principles of international law,” said Kurti, citing the specific international documents and principles regulating that.

Kurti underscored that since CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Agreement) came into force, Serbia has established a number of non-tariff barriers for Kosovo, such as transit, technical and political barriers, thereby causing considerable damage to Kosovo exporters and importers and creating a large trade deficit in relations between the two countries.

According to Serbian officials’ estimates, Serbia has lost €1 million on average per day due to the tariffs, and Kosovo has also suffered losses as its economy depends on trade and the procurement of raw materials from Serbia.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]

 

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