Serbia calls on EC to pressure Pristina over import tariffs

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Source: Pixabay (ilustracija)

Serbia’s Trade Minister, Rasim Ljajic, called on Monday on the European Commission (EC) to use its influence to persuade Pristina to withdraw its decision to introduce 10 percent tariffs on goods imported to Kosovo from Serbia, adding this was a purely politically motivated move, with no economy-based reasoning, Beta news agency reported.

In an interview for the Serbian Pink TV channel, Ljajic said that the 10 percent tariffs violated the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), but that CEFTA “could not do anything about it,” while the European Union (EU) could since one of its ultimate goals is creating a single shared economic environment.

Pristina also imposed tariffs on imports from Bosnia and Herzegovina. All three, along with Albania, Macedonia, Moldova, and Montenegro, are members of CEFTA, a trade association set up to help post-communist countries in central and eastern Europe to harmonise their market regulations and trade agreements with western Europe, on their road towards joining the EU.

Kosovo’s decision to impose tariffs on imports from Serbia and Bosnia “makes that goal senseless,” Ljajic added, warning that “this is not just leading to instability, but could also serve as a trigger for others. If there is no pressure (on Pristina) to withdraw the measure, any other country could do the same, and in that case CEFTA would cease to exist.”

After a country joins the EU, its membership in CEFTA ends, and eight current EU member countries are former members of the CEFTA bloc or its predecessors.

Laljic said that for this reason, Serbia would not take part in the CEFTA meeting held on November 20-21 in Pristina. Croatian news agency Hina reported on Friday that Bosnia would also boycott the meeting.

“Since the foundation of CEFTA in 2006, not a single member country has put up such barriers to its partners,” Ljajic said.

Pristina had introduced 10 percent import tariffs for goods from Serbia and Bosnia earlier in November, in response to what Kosovo government said was Serbia’s “destructive behaviour”. Hina speculated

The next day, the EU said the decision was unexpected, and demanded an immediate explanation and rescinding of the move which was in clear violation of the CEFTA agreement.

Kosovo government said it would not revoke the decision, with Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj saying that the tariffs could be set even higher.

According to Hina, since November 6, when the tariffs came into force, Serbian and Bosnian exports to Kosovo has been halved.

Although the Pristina government did not explicitly explain the move, it is thought that the decision came in response to Belgrade’s diplomacy offensive to pressure countries into rescinding their recognition of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared 2008  independence from Serbia.

Asked to comment on the decision, Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister, Enver Hoxhaj, said last week that the decision was made “in order to prevent Belgrade from financing campaigns against Pristina,” and added that “decisions like these protect the interests of Kosovo, its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and above all, it protects its businesses.”

Meanwhile, Ljajic said Belgrade could not introduce any retaliating measures since Serbia’s imports from Kosovo is negligible.

Over the first ten months of 2018, Serbian exports to Kosovo were worth 360 million, mostly in processed food, cereals, and construction material. On the other hand, Kosovo exported 23 million worth of goods to Serbia – mostly fruits and vegetables, wine, and leather products.

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