By Fatos Bytyci
PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s prime minister said on Thursday the government will partially remove the 100 percent tariffs on goods produced in Serbia, bowing to demands from the United States and European Union, which mediate talks between Belgrade and Pristina on normalising ties.
In November 2018 Kosovo introduced the tariffs after Serbia blocked its former breakaway province’s membership in international organizations including Interpol and UNESCO. The tariffs were also introduced for goods produced in Bosnia, whose Serb-run half is blocking recognition of Kosovo.
Following the introduction of tariffs Belgrade stepped out from an EU-mediated dialogue with Pristina, saying it would continue only once the tariffs were removed.
The EU and U.S., both of which still have peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, kept pressure on Kosovo’s new government to remove taxes to continue the dialogue that would enable Kosovo to become a member of the United Nations.
“From March 15th we will remove the tariffs on raw materials that are imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Hercegovina,” Prime Minister Albin Kurti said in an extraordinary press conference
“This is a sign of good will and readiness to resolve trade, economic and political issues between Kosovo and Serbia.”
Kurti said that if Serbia stops its campaign asking countries to recall recognition of Kosovo, tariffs on all goods would be removed on April 1 for a period of 90 days.
In 2017, Serbia’s exports to Kosovo totalled 450 million euros ($515 million) and Bosnia’s 80 million euros.
Serbia lost control in Kosovo following the 1999 NATO bombing against Yugoslavia to halt killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians during a two-year insurgency.
Backed by the United States and most of the European Union countries, Kosovo declared independence in 2008.
Belgrade, which in its constitution considers Kosovo to be part of Serbia, with its ally Russia has been blocking Kosovo’s membership in international organizations including the United Nations.
There was no one available in the Serbian government to comment on Kurti’s announcement.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)