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Kosovo announces removal of tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods

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By Matthew Holroyd with AP
Kosovo's interim Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
Kosovo's interim Prime Minister Albin Kurti.   -   Copyright  Visar Kryeziu/AP
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Kosovo has lifted its 100% tariff on goods from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, says interim Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Kurti announced goods from neighbouring Serbia would need to be certified for quality, in a similar way to Kosovo supplies which are shipped to Serbia.

Kurti also demanded "reciprocity" in all matters with Serbia and said that similar import fees will also be lifted on goods from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, hailed Kosovo's move as “an important decision.”

But Serbia has labelled the announcement as "fake news" and claims that Pristina has instead increased punitive measures.

Marko Djuric, head of Serbia’s office for Kosovo, stated on Facebook that Kurti "did not abolish fees" and his actions were only a conditional suspension of taxes.

Kosovo has stated that the decision to lift tariffs would remain in force until June 15, and they would then "make a comprehensive assessment" on the decision.

"This does not de-escalate the situation and does not return to the situation before the introduction of the taxes", Djuric said.

He also added that "non-existent barriers for [the] movement of people and goods are being introduced."

New regulations mean that Serbian goods must comply with Kosovo's constitution and legislation.

This would however require Serbia to acknowledge documentation listed under the "Republic of Kosovo".

"Pristina continues to play with this issue and ... this decision is a play intended for the international community," says Djuric.

"This is a time when even deep and essential differences with Pristina should be set aside".

Саопштење за јавност директора Канцеларије за Косово и Метохију Марка Ђурића: ⠀⠀ Курти није укинуо таксе. Не наседајте...

Publiée par Марко Ђурић sur Mardi 31 mars 2020

What has the reaction been from the EU and US?

On Monday, Kurti also urged Serbia to lift its restrictions on Kosovar license plates and foreign travellers.

Kurti later stated on Facebook that the citizens of Kosovo deserve to be treated without prejudice and there is "no legitimate and legal reason" why they should face restrictions from Serbia.

"Our decision affirms equal cross reports, respect for universal rights and creates the climate of justice between societies."

Borrell tweeted that he was happy with the latest decision, adding that "regional cooperation is key as is maintaining the flow of goods, in particular in times of crisis".

But the US embassy in Kosovo have stated that the new measures - that Serbian goods must comply with Kosovo's constitution and legislation - will "create more problems".

"The United States has been clear that Kosovo should drop all tariffs and not create new barriers" because these policies hurt the people of Kosovo and strangle Kosovo’s own economy."

"We remain opposed to the latest move to implement reciprocal measures on the movement of goods from Serbia."

Serbia has refused to accept Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008.

Kosovo had imposed import taxes in November 2018, accusing Serbia of blocking them from joining international organisations.

Links between the two countries have improved in recent months, with flights and road links restored. Earlier in March this year, Kosovo also partially lifted the tariff on raw materials imported from Serbia.

Speaking to Euronews in February, Albin Kurti said he wanted to have "a proper dialogue" with Serbia.

"By dealing with the past, I believe that we can create good conditions for peace and stability in the region".

Kurti's newly elected coalition government was recently removed in a vote of no-confidence over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.