PRISTINA -- Kosovo says it is lifting a 100 percent tariff on goods from neighboring Serbia, but Belgrade called it "fake news" and claims Pristina has actually increased punitive measures.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti told a news conference on March 31 that, starting on April 1, all goods imported from Serbia will need only documentation that "must comply with the constitution of the Republic of Kosovo and the applicable legislation."
He said the documentation matches Belgrade’s requirements for Kosovar goods going to Serbia. That could, however, require the words "Republic of Kosovo" on the documents, which would represent a de facto recognition of Kosovo's independence by Serbia.
Kurti also demanded "reciprocity" in all matters dealing with Serbia.
“We want equality because we feel discriminated against,” he said, while threatening to reinstate the import fees depending on Serbia's actions.
The imposition of the 100 percent tariff on Serbia stems from Pristina's demand that Belgrade recognize its sovereignty and end its 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.
The tariff, imposed in November 2018, has been divisive internally, leading to the collapse of Kurti’s government, and has angered Kosovo’s backers in the West, especially close allies the United States and the European Union.
Since taking power, Kurti has resisted removing the tariff and instead has suggested a partial lifting -- something rejected by Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, a rival of Kurti's.
In his March 31 news conference, Kurti said Serbia should lift all barriers, such as the banning of vehicles with Kosovar license plates and the blocking of foreign travelers coming from Kosovo, or face the return of the 100 percent tariff.
“This decision shall remain in force until June 15, and after that we will make a comprehensive assessment of how well this decision has progressed in terms of implementation,” Kurti said.
“Periodically, but at least once a month, this decision will be reviewed by collecting data from our customs officials in terms of how reciprocity is functioning.”
But Serbia did not accept the move of its bitter rival and former province.
"Kurti did not abolish fees. Don't get caught up in fake news," government spokesman Marko Djuric said.
The actions announced by Kurti, he said, was only a suspension of taxes and was conditional, "while introducing new punitive measures for our citizens and the economy, which he calls reciprocity."
"This does not de-escalate the situation and does not return to the situation before the introduction" of the taxes," Djuric added. "Pristina continues to play with this issue and...this decision is a play intended for the international community."
The U.S. government has opposed a partial or conditional lifting of the tariff and has demanded it be dropped entirely. In a statement last week, it linked the battle against the coronavirus with the tariffs.
“We believe the tariffs are harming the people of Kosovo by hindering regional cooperation against COVID-19 -- including by delaying the entry into Kosovo of needed supplies -- and hindering economic growth,” it said.
Meanwhile, Kurti also said that similar import fees will be lifted on goods from Bosnia-Herzegovina and that “there will be a complete removal of tariffs” from that neighboring country.
“We do not want to treat Bosnia-Herzegovina in the same manner as we do Serbia," Kurti said, although he called on the Bosnian leadership to lift the visa regime for Kosovar citizens. He added that Bosnia had also been a "victim" of Serbia.