Kosovo to maintain tariffs till Serbia grants recognition, insists PM – EURACTIV.com

The Kosovar Prime Minister refuses to raise import tariffs from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia despite external and internal pressure to withdraw. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

Ramush Haradinaj is still certain – not even the youngest representative in a row of high-ranking world officials, the US Ambassador to Pristina Philip S. Kosnett, has managed to convince him to raise import tariffs from his two Balkan neighbors.

The tariffs not only hinder free trade in the region, but also carry political weight in the face of the extremely complex relationship between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

There has been speculation that after meeting Kosnett, Haradinaj would give in and lift the taxes that disrupt Kosovo’s relations with the US. At home, they could also lead to a government collapse.

Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi has also asked Haradinaj to comply with Washington’s request to raise tariffs, pointing out that the US was Kosovo’s main partner.

Immediately after the January 22 meeting, neither the US diplomat nor Haradinaj made any statements as to whether tariffs would remain in place.

After a government meeting on the same day, Haradinaj declared that the 100% tax on Serbian and Bosnian imports would remain in force until the “mutual recognition of Kosovo and Serbia”. Serbia has resolutely refused to recognize Kosovo, but needs to find a working bilateral agreement with Pristina in order to advance its own application for EU membership.

Haradinaj emphasized his readiness to listen to the proposals and demands of the US and the EU to lift the tax and also said that such a decision “cannot be made” at this time.

“We are aiming to lift the tax as proposed by our US allies, but we are linking this decision to reaching a comprehensive mutual recognition agreement with Serbia,” said Haradinaj.

In November 2018, Kosovo introduced taxes on Serbian and Bosnian products, initially 10% and soon after 100%.

Contrary to the provisions of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and the spirit of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, the tax was expected to be abolished quickly at the request of the international community.

Since the introduction of taxes, the Serbian economy has lost around 40 million euros a month. According to analysts from Macroeconomic Analyzes and Trends, Serbia’s GDP will be 0.5-0.7 percentage points lower in 2019 unless taxes on exports to Kosovo are canceled.

It is important for EU candidate Serbia to reach a comprehensive agreement with Kosovo, which it still regards as its province, although its independence is recognized by numerous countries, including 23 EU member states.

EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, Belgrade and Pristina are negotiating with the aim of untangling the Kosovo knot.

However, the dialogue stalled in mid-2018 because Kosovo failed to fulfill its obligations under the 2013 Brussels Agreement on the formation of the community of Serbian municipalities.

The dialogue was also not supported by the recent conversion of the Kosovar security forces into an army, and after import duties were put in place, Belgrade said there would be no resumption of talks until Pristina resigned.

The EU warns Serbia and Kosovo of tension

EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini warned Serbia and Kosovo on Tuesday (December 18) against putting aside the recent disputes amid the intense tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

The EU’s position on Pristina’s taxes on Serbian imports is “still clear” and the Union reaffirms the urgency to lift these measures while avoiding any steps and declarations incompatible with the general and strategic interests of the region said Maja, spokeswoman for the European Commission Kocijančič said Beta on January 19 in Brussels.

At the end of December, US President Donald Trump urged Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to reach an agreement on normalizing relations as soon as possible and then celebrate it together in the White House.

The EU described Trump’s letter as a sign of support and encouragement for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Vučić commented on Haradinaj’s latest customs declaration by saying that it was “bad news and a bad signal for the entire region”.

On January 23, Vučić was due to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, with Kosovo tariffs being one of the topics of discussion.

Thaçi is also in Davos this week, but whether he will officially meet with Vučić remains to be seen. Some opposition politicians in both Serbia and Kosovo say the two should meet independently and negotiate in secret.

(Edited by Sam Morgan / Zoran Radosavljevic)

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