Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in a press conference. Photo: BIRN

Haradinaj: Tariff with Serbia may remain ‘forever’

In a press conference on Tuesday, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said that imposition of the tariff on goods entering Kosovo through Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina may remain in place forever.

A meeting between Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, Speaker of the Assembly Kadri Veseli and US Ambassador Philip Kosnett on Tuesday left the debate over the removal of the 100 per cent tariff, which has been in place since December, unresolved.

In a press conference following the meeting, Haradinaj insisted that the decision to continue with the customs tax belongs with the Kosovo government

“This is another Kosovo that takes decisions, a sovereign state,” he said. “The tariff decision was taken on our own with no consultation, and this can remain [in place] forever.”

The pressure to suspend this decision from the United States has provoked debate over Kosovo-US relations in Kosovo’s political scene, as well as on the issue of who in the ruling coalition should take credit for imposing such sanctions.

The demands of the US concerning the withdrawal of the tariff have been backed up by Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, who criticized Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj for worsening relations with the US by insisting on the continuation of the tariff.

“Relations with the United States are more important than any electoral interests, and whatever threatens American investments in Kosovo surely doesn’t have the support of the people of Kosovo,” said Thaci on Monday at a press conference.

This mounting criticism and pressure to revoke the 100 per cent tariff increase has created possibilities for disagreement and tension between members of the PDK-AAK-Nisma ruling government coalition, commonly known as PAN.

MPs of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, did not specifically comment on President Thaci’s statements, but said that the decision on tariff should be made alongside the US and the European Union.

“Kadri Veseli has demanded and pledged that there will be coordination with partners, and the relationship with the United States of America, as our main partner, will not be shaken,” said PDK MP Zenun Pajaziti to BIRN on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Haradinaj’s party in the coalition, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, is quite firm in their support of  the tariff.

Ahmet Isufi, chief of AAK’s Parliamentary Group, said to BIRN that the tariff on Serbian goods should remain, and pointed out that it will not worsen US-Kosovo relations.  

“The tariff imposition is a decision brought by the Government as a result of Serbia’s destructive policy towards Kosovo and it is obvious that US-Kosovo relations will not worsen, rather, will be enhanced,” he said.

According to Isufi, in addition to the tariff imposed on the Serbian state, other measures should be imposed too.

“Serbian politicians lobby in order to secure withdrawals of Kosovo’s recognition, as well as to halt Kosovo’s accession into international mechanisms and organizations,” he said.

PDK taking credit for the initiation of the tariff on goods coming from Serbia exists only for the scoring of political points for the party, Isufi said.

“It is important that the decision derives from the Government, and that is the key issue, the rest is simply [PDK’s] political interests,” he continued.

On the other hand, the opposition party Vetevendosje said that the 100 per cent tariff should not be removed.

Vetevendosje MP Albulena Haxhiu told BIRN that President Thaci’s request to suspend the decision has nothing to do with US –Kosovo relations.

“Vetevendosje has demanded a fully economic, political and trade reciprocity with Serbia since 2006, so we consider that the Haradinaj government should, under no circumstances, withdraw itself from this decision,” she said. “I do not believe that a friend such as United States, having had constantly assisted the Republic of Kosovo, would worsen the relations with Kosovo because of the tariff.”

The future of the tariff

Experts now consider the future of the 100 per cent tariff as being in the hands of the Government, and its continuation depends on the development of the dialogue process with Serbia.

Political analyst Ramush Tahiri told BIRN that Haradinaj is being left alone to take the blame by those with whom he is co-governing.

“The president stated that the credit for the tariff should be given to PDK. Enver Hoxhaj proposed a 10 per cent tariff increase, while Kadri Veseli proposed a 100 per cent tariff increase,” he said. “However, they seem to be slowly pulling back from claiming credit for the tariff, and blaming Ramush Haradinaj only.”

Tahiri believes the tariff will be removed this week due to the dialogue process with Serbia.

“I believe that after the meeting which will take place today with the ambassador, the tariff will be removed having a common reasoning “to pave the way for dialogue” and to maintain good relations with the US,” he said.

In the meantime, Arton Demhasaj from Cohu, a Kosovo-based NGO that deals with anti-corruption issues, said that it is not up to Thaci to decide on the tariff withdrawal, or its continuation.

“President Thaci is not the one who has imposed the tariff, and at the same time, he should not make promises about removal of the tax, as it is not in his competence to do so, nor does the decision depend on him. The decision is taken by the Government, and that is what it depends on,” he added.

According to Demhasaj, the tariff could be suspended if Serbia would recognize Kosovo’s independence.

“If there is an international guarantee for Kosovo, especially a guarantee from the US and the EU that a comprehensive agreement with Serbia is reachable in a short time and followed by Kosovo’s recognition, then the tariff could be suspended provisionally. Otherwise, it should not be removed because the tariff is a kind of pressuring tool on Serbia,” said Demhasaj.

In November 2018, the Government of Kosovo initially imposed a 10 per cent tariff on good entering Kosovo from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few days later, this tariff was increased to 100 per cent.

According to Government officials, the executive decision was brought as a punitive measure against Serbian diplomacy that lobbied against Kosovo’s failed membership bid to join the international criminal police organization, Interpol, in November.

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22 January 2019 - 15:30

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