Kosovo lifts all tariffs on Serbian imports

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 1, 2020 17:19

Kosovo lifts all tariffs on Serbian imports

TIRANA, April 1 - Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti lifted all tariffs on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday, while introducing reciprocity measures toward Serbia.

"This decision remains in force until June 15, during which we will make a comprehensive assessment of the progress of this decision," Kurti said during an interview on KTV, adding that "with Bosnia and Herzegovina we lift the 100 percent tariff without any additional [conditions]."

Kurti pointed out that “since the entry of CEFTA into force, Serbia has imposed a number of trade and non-tariff barriers on the Republic of Kosovo, including political barriers in transit. Thus, Serbia has damaged exporters and importers and caused a high deficit for our country. ”

Temporary Serbian plates for cars upon entering the country, restriction of movement for Kosovo citizens and strict control for exports transiting through Serbia into the EU, are only some of the barriers which Kosovo faces with Serbia.

"The Central European Free Trade Agreement of 2007 (CEFTA), among others, has the primary aim of eliminating trade barriers and facilitating the movement of goods under transit and the cross-border movement of goods and services between the territories of the countries. The Transport Community Treaty signed by the European Union, Serbia and Kosovo along with other Western Balkan countries also stipulates that the parties implement the European Union legislation on road transport, ” Kurti stressed.

The 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods were imposed in November 2018 by the government of Ramush Haradinaj, after Belgrade's agressive approach towards the independence of Kosovo.

This led to the suspension of talks on normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia due to Belgrade's refusal to sit at the negotiating table until tariffs were lifted.

Former Prime Minister Haradinaj resisted international pressure to remove the tariffs until July 2019 when he resigned to appear later before a Hague-based court investigating alleged crimes committed during and immediately after the 1998-99 Kosovo War. The collapse of his government was a result of internal clashes over tariffs as well.

Kosovo's new government headed by Albin Kurti, was subject to international pressure as well, after Kurti proposed a gradual lift of tariffs while introducing reciprocity measures towards Serbia. The US administration and President Trump’s envoy Richard Grenell put pressure on Kurti for weeks to unconditionally lift the tariff on Serbian goods, but the Prime Minister continued to follow through with his plan to gradually lift the tariff if Serbia ended the campaign against Kosovo’s independence. This was not received well by the U.S. or the LDK, which accused Kurti of putting Kosovo's relationship with the US on the line.

Clashes between the coalition partners deteriorated when Kurti dismissed the Minister of Internal Affairs, Agim Veliu two weeks ago due to disagreements over whether or not to declare a state of emergency in Kosovo.

Consequently, the vote of no-confidence which led to the collapse of the government, was later initiated by LDK leader Isa Mustafa, who claimed that Kurti was taking one-sided decisions without considering the coalition agreement.

During the motion, Kurti announced that the reason behind the revolt against the current government, has not been to drop the tariffs, but not to impose reciprocity measures with Serbia. He further expressed that "there is already a deal. The president [Thaci] has actually confirmed this to me in his meeting with him. I met him for two hours, and he said to me: 'Prime Minister, lift the tax, [let us] go to the White House and get rid of Serbia." However, Kurti said that he would never be part of such a deal.

Kosovo's government was voted down by 82 votes, while 32 voted against and one abstained, out of a total of 120 parliamentary seats. Among those who voted against the motion was Vjosa Osmani, the deputy head of LDK as well as the Speaker of the Parliament.

EU and U.S. reactions

The EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell was the first high foreign official to react to Kurti’s decision on Tuesday. He considered Kurti's decision important, adding that "Regional cooperation is key as is maintaining flow of goods, in particular in times of crisis."

On the other hand, the U.S. remained opposed to Kurti's decision to lift all tarriffs on improts from Serbia.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy to Kosovo wrote that "the United States has been clear that Kosovo should drop all tariffs and not create new barriers because these policies hurt the people of Kosovo and strangle Kosovo’s own economy. We remain opposed to the latest move to implement reciprocal measures on the movement of goods from Serbia. These measures create more problems at a time when the U.S. believes the airline, railway and motor agreements agreed upon by both sides, when implemented, will increase economic development and create the conditions needed for a successful dialogue."

Kurti's decision comes at a time when Kosovo is facing the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, one victim and 112 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the country.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 1, 2020 17:19