Kosovo Spurns EU, U.S. Calls To Lift Heavy Tax On Serbian Imports

Kosovo Spurns EU, U.S. Calls To Lift Heavy Tax On Serbian Imports

Kosovo Spurns EU, U.S. Calls To Lift Heavy Tax On Serbian Imports

The FINANCIAL --Kosovo has spurned calls from the United States and European Union to eliminate a new 100 percent tariff on Serbian imports, saying the levy will stay until Serbia recognizes Kosovo's sovereignty and reaches a normalization agreement with its neighbor.

Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said on November 29 that his government imposed the tariff to send a "message" to Serbia that it must not only accept the former republic's declaration of independence but it must stop blocking Pristina's efforts to join the United Nations, Interpol, and other international organizations, according to RFE/RL.

"Some people may think this decision will only last a few days, but they shouldn't assume that. It can stay in place for a very long time," Haradinaj said, "for as long as it takes for Serbia to recognize Kosovo, for us to get a comprehensive agreement that contains everything -- recognition, UN membership, agreement on debts, pensions, and missing persons, and the removal of tariffs."

Haradinaj said Kosovo is "serious" about keeping the tariff in place until Serbia negotiates "a final package, a final agreement for mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia."

Washington has called on Kosovo to lift the tariff, saying it is blocking efforts by both Pristina and Belgrade to normalize relations and join the EU, while the EU has warned that the customs tax violates the Central European Free Trade agreement.

"This is a measure that does not help to build good neighborly relations and needs to be revoked," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told Kosovo President Hashim Thaci during a phone call on November 28.

But Haradinaj rejected those overtures, saying the tax will stay in force for as long as it takes until Kosovo stops being "denied a place at the table."

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008 in a move recognized by more than 110 nations but not recognized by Belgrade, which has worked with its ally Russia to block Kosovo from joining the UN and an array of international organizations.

Still, the two Balkan neighbors have been engaged in EU-sponsored talks aimed at normalizing relations and resolving their differences. The EU has made clear that such normalization is needed for either nation to succeed in their bids to join the Western bloc.

Angry Reactions

Kosovo instituted the 100 percent tariff on Serbian and Bosnian imports on November 21 in retaliation for what it said were Belgrade's efforts to undermine it on the international stage.

The move drew angry reactions from Belgrade and Sarajevo, and also prompted the mayors of four predominantly ethnic Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo to resign.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on November 29 urged ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to keep up their peaceful protests against the tariff, which he said "destroys regional stability and peace" and has "horrible economic consequences."

Serbia is Kosovo's top trade partner in the Balkans, with Serbian imports -- mostly food products -- topping more than 400 million euros a year. Still, the tariffs have as yet to trigger any significant food shortages or price surges.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert on November 28 criticized both Serbia's campaign to keep Kosovo out of Interpol and Pristina's subsequent decision to impose the tariffs, and said both sides should "avoid escalation."

The U.S. State Department has also urged the two neighbors to stop feuding, saying that "normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia is the only way to clear the path to both countries' future integration into the Western community of nations."

With reporting by AP, RFE/RL's Balkan Service, and AFP