PRISTINA — The government of Kosovo has approved the decision to partially lift a politically divisive import tariff on goods from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, at least on a temporary basis.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti wrote on Facebook on March 20 that the 100 percent tariff on raw materials from the two countries will be lifted, although import duties on other products will remain in place for now.
“In a vote of 10 in favor and two abstentions, it was decided to remove the 100 percent tariffs on imports of raw materials from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Kurti wrote.
He said the borders between Serbia and Kosovo will be open for import of raw materials as of the early morning of March 21. But he said if Belgrade did not respect Kosovo’s act of goodwill, then beginning on April 1, Kosovo would reciprocate in kind — first in trade and then in political terms.
The imposition of the tariffs had raised objections from the Kosovar opposition and even within Kurti’s ruling coalition government. The United States and European Union had also demanded that the punitive fees be lifted in full.
Kurti had originally set out a plan that would ease other tariffs, contingent on Serbia ending its campaign to have Kosovo’s independence revoked. But he said that no agreement could be reached within the Kosovo government, leading him to scrap the wider plan.
The tariffs, imposed on Serbia in November 2018, came in response to Belgrade’s diplomatic campaign to encourage some of the 110-plus countries that have recognized Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008 to reverse their position.
Since taking power, Kurti has resisted removing the tariff and instead has suggested a partial lifting — something rejected by President Hashim Thaci as well as the United States, Kosovo’s most important ally.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. special envoy to Kosovo and Serbia, on February 27 wrote on Twitter that the partial lifting was not enough, calling it a “half-measure.”
On March 10, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee called on Kosovo to annul the tariffs or face a withdrawal of U.S. troops who have helped guarantee the small Balkan state’s sovereignty.
A partner in Kosovo’s ruling coalition, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), has also pressed for a full lifting of the tariffs and has formally filed a no-confidence motion in parliament against the government, potentially engulfing the country in a political crisis even as it battles along with the rest of the world to curtail the coronavirus pandemic.