Meeting of the Government of Kosovo. Photo: Government of Kosovo

Serbia conditions Brussels dialogue with the withdrawal of tariffs

While the customs tax increase imposed by the Kosovo government to imported Serbian products continues, Serbia threatens to halt the EU-mediated dialogue for normalization of relations.

According to Serbian deputy prime minister Rasim Lajic, Serbia will not commit to the dialogue for normalization of relations in Brussels with Kosovo until the Kosovo government withdraws its 10 per cent increase of custom tariffs for all products imported from Serbia.

Lajic said that Kosovo is not only failing to respect the agreements reached through the Brussels dialogue that commenced in 2011, but that it is introducing further barriers to free trade.

“Such actions have put in question the whole dialogue and the process of normalization between Serbs and Albanians,” said Lajic to Serbian news agency Novosti.

The decision by the Kosovo government to impose customs tariffs was introduced on November 6 by Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.

The tariffs were said to be a retaliatory measure in reaction to Serbia’s “negative behavior” towards Kosovo statehood. According to Haradinaj, the government’s decision came after reports that numerous minor states allegedly withdrew their recognition of Kosovo as a result of Serbia’s continued international campaign against the sovereignty of Kosovo.

Haradinaj added that Serbia’s involvement in the recent withdrawal of Serb members of the Kosovo Security Force was also a justification for the imposition of increased tariffs on the imported products.  

The imposition of tariffs against Bosnia and Herzegovina is also based on the hostile stance of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the sovereignty of Kosovo, Kosovo’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Endrit Shala, told BIRN. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only country in the Western Balkans aspiring to join the EU that applies a visa regime to Kosovo citizens, and that does not recognize official Kosovo identification documents.

For Serb authorities, the move to increase the customs tariffs is a move that puts the relations between the neighbors in jeopardy.

The dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has produced numerous agreements regarding telecommunication, free movement of people, mutual recognition of university diplomas and Kosovo license plates. The failure to implement the agreements has been a frequent source of criticism used by both countries involved in the process of dialogue.

The European Union also asked Kosovo authorities for further explanation about the tariff  increase for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, considering it a “clear violation” of Central European Free Trade Agreement, CEFTA.

Serbia remains one of Kosovo’s biggest economic partners, according to the Agency of Kosovo of Statistics. During 2017, Serbia peaked the list of countries importing products at 14.8 percent of total imports to Kosovo, while neighboring countries such as Albania or Macedonia’s exports to Kosovo amounting to around 5 per cent.

Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce confirmed that exports to Kosovo have fallen 50 per cent since the tax increase was introduced.

The last meeting between Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was held in Brussels on November 8, part of a new round of negotiations in the final phase of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.  

The date of the upcoming meeting for the final phase of the dialogue for normalization of relations is not yet known, and with the tariffs against Serbia still in place, it is not clear when negotiations for the final agreement will continue in Brussels.

19/11/2018 - 15:24

19 November 2018 - 15:24

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