Belgrade, 6 June 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Kosovo’s new government on Saturday scrapped all trade barriers against Serbia, just three days after coming to power, opening the door to the restart of EU-brokered normalization talks with Belgrade.
Trade sanctions have been in place in some form since November 2018, when then-prime minister Ramush Haradinaj imposed them in retaliation for Serbia’s “de-recognition” campaign against Kosovo.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as in independent country.
New Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti stressed that the decision was temporary and could be reversed if Serbia refuses to end the campaign that aims to reduce the number of countries that recognize Kosovo as a state.
“We expect Serbia to end the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo,” he told a news conference, adding that Kosovo also expected its partners, the European Union and the United States, to put pressure on Belgrade.
Serbia has long said it would not negotiate with Kosovo, a breakaway province it still claims as its own, as long as the sanctions were in place.
Kosovo’s EU and US allies have compelled the government in Pristina to lift the sanctions, but both Haradinaj and his successor, Albin Kurti, refused to budge.
Kurti reluctantly and conditionally lifted the original 100-per cent import tax on Serbian goods in April, but by then he was serving at the head of a weak caretaker government.
Kurti’s government had collapsed in late March when his political partners from the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) turned on him, in part over Kurti’s opposition to granting trade concessions.
Last Sunday, with his replacement imminent, Kurti took a parting shot at Serbia in the trade dispute. While not reinstating the tax, Pristina authorities demanded that Serbian shipping documents contain “Republic of Kosovo” as the destination.
Backed by the new majority in the parliament, Hoti, a leading LDK official, replaced Kurti on Wednesday.
Among the non-tarif trade obstacles to fall on Saturday was the country of destination label, which has been a key demand of Serbia.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign country and has, ever since it declared independence in 2008, actively campaigned among countries that recognized it to withdraw the move.
Belgrade and Pristina agreed in 2011 to sit down under EU mediation and negotiate normalization of everyday life. The talks produced several agreements, but little of it has been implemented.
The process became fully stuck over the last few years and Brussels had been unable to restart it, spurring to US to become more involved since late 2019.