Assembly of Kosovo. Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

Kosovo Assembly debates tariff plans

MPs debated Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s plans to remove part of the 100 per cent customs tariff on goods entering Kosovo from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina at an extraordinary session of the Kosovo Assembly on Monday.

An extraordinary session of the Kosovo Assembly was held on Monday to discuss Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s announced plans to partially remove the 100 per cent customs tariff on goods entering Kosovo from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The session was held after 41 signatures from opposition MPs were submitted to the Assembly Presidency following Kurti’s announcement that the tariff will be lifted for raw materials on 15 March, and completely removed for 90 days starting from 1 April, if Serbia made a public pledge to halt its ‘derecognition campaign.’

The proposals have received mixed reactions, dividing both domestic political parties and Kosovo’s international allies. US Special Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell described the plan as a “half measure” which did not have US support, while the EU’s External Action Service welcomed the announcement in a statement released on Friday

Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, whose government imposed the tariffs in November 2018, condemned the removal of the tariffs on Thursday, claiming it would lead to “Kosovo’s economic recapture by Serbia.”

Haradinaj’s brother and head of the parliamentary group for the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, Daut Haradinaj, opened the extraordinary session by asking Kurti not to remove the tariff, claiming that the prime minister had surrendered his principles.

Haradinaj stated that opening up trade with Serbia today would put Kosovo in danger tomorrow. “Today, we have 100 reasons to oppose abolishing the 100 percent tax,” Haradinaj stated. “I invite you to be unified today in the face of Serbia. To prove how determined we are.” 

The head of Vetevendosje’s parliamentary group Rexhep Selimi spoke next, stating that the tariffs did not prevent Serbia from continuing a campaign seeking the derecognition of Kosovo. “Citizens of the country expect us to act and this is what the Kurti government is doing,” he said.

Selimi questioned what the opposition was hoping to achieve during the extraordinary session, with opposition parties holding “contradictory” positions on the tariff and AAK seeking its continuation, as well as the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, calling for its complete withdrawal. 

“The question is inevitably what the opposition is demanding: maintaining or abolishing the 100 per cent tariff,” Selimi said. 

PDK MP Bedri Hamza stated that the imposition of the tariffs were justified in the face of Serbian aggression, citing Serbia’s campaigns to hamper Kosovo’s attempts to join UNESCO and INTERPOL. However, Hamza added that the country’s highest priority was the preservation of relations with the US and EU member states, both of whom have pushed for the withdrawal of the tariff.

“I believe a secure future lies in full strategic partnership and coordination with the US and the EU,” Hamza said. “The great commitment of the US and the Trump administration obliges us to act in accordance with geopolitical interests.”

Representatives of Kurti’s governing partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, have also objected to the plans, seeking for a complete removal of the tariff. LDK leader Isa Mustafa tweeted on Sunday that “LDK, its MPs and members of the Government will support the immediate lifting of the tariffs without any reservation, with full confidence and conviction.”

At Monday’s extraordinary session, Arben Gashi of LDK described the tariff as an “inadequate political tool” for achieving Kosovo’s diplomatic goals. “Kosovo’s politics and diplomacy have failed to justify the 100 per cent tariff,” he stated.

Gashi added that international pressure from Kosovo’s allies has increased significantly regarding the dialogue with Serbia and reaching a final agreement. The LDK MP stated the party would work with Kosovo’s allies, particularly the US, providing a comprehensive list of political and economic issues to be tackled in an attempt to improve the country’s standing in the dialogue with Serbia.

“With the tariff removed, if the dialogue does not meet expectations and if Serbia’s policy does not change, reciprocal measures will be decided according to a concerted plan between the coalition partners and the political spectrum in Kosovo,” he said.

Kurti announced on Thursday that reciprocal economic measures would be applied from 1 April if no pledge to end Serbia’s derecognition campaign had been made. At the extraordinary session on Monday he added that his party had campaigned during the October elections on the principle of reciprocity, which now must be applied.

02/03/2020 - 13:35

02 March 2020 - 13:35

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