November 07, 2018 By RFE/RL’s Balkan Service
PRISTINA — Kosovo has imposed a 10 percent tax on products imported from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in a move it said was in retaliation for the two countries’ lack of recognition and „savage“ policies toward the young republic.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj told reporters on November 6 that „for the first time in our new history,“ Kosovo has slapped tariffs on all products made in Serbia or Bosnia, although international brands produced in the two countries will be exempted.
The heated words and tariff moves appear to be a setback in attempts by Pristina and Belgrade to normalize relations, which have been tense since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Although more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo, Serbia does not.
Both countries have been told they must resolve their differences in order to make progress toward European Union membership. However, EU-sponsored normalization talks between the two countries’ leaders have been stop-and-go in recent months.
European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic called on the Kosovo government to revoke the new measures, saying they undermine regional cooperation and are in „clear violation“ of the country’s obligations under the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA).
The new tariffs prompted anger in Serbia.
„The provisional institutions of Kosovo have turned to classic protectionism with this move,“ Serbian Trade Minister Rasim Ljajic told the Serbian news agency Tanjug.
„Provisional institutions“ is a term used by Serbian officials when discussing Kosovo, a former Serbian republic which declared independence in 2008 in a move not recognized by Belgrade.
Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj said the tariffs were „a response to Serbia’s savage campaign“ against the international recognition of Kosovo, and he urged Kosovars not to buy Serbian products.
Haradinaj, meanwhile, said the action was taken because of Serbia’s „illegal obstructionism [and] because there are threats from Serbia against innocent citizens of Kosovo just because their sons and daughters have joined the Kosovo Security Force [KSF].“
In October, Kosovo’s lawmakers gave preliminary approval to legislation expanding the size and competencies of the lightly armed KSF in a session that was boycotted by ethnic Serb representatives, who complained it would lead to the creation of a Kosovar army in violation of UN resolutions.
Meanwhile, Endrit Shala, Kosovo’s minister of trade and industry, told Balkan Insight that Bosnia — which also does not recognize Kosovo — was hit with the tariffs because it was blocking goods from Kosovo from entering the country.
„Bosnia’s approach to Kosovo is the same [as Serbia’s],“ Shala said.
„They put up barriers for Kosovo products…they do not even recognize our documents,“ Shala said.
Official data shows that Kosovo imports some 400 million euros in products a year from Serbia, and about 81 million euros in goods from Bosnia.