PRISTINA -- Kosovo has imposed a 100 percent tax on products from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in a move the government said is aimed at defending the country’s “vital interest" following Belgrade's "aggressive campaign” against the young republic on the international stage.
The Kosovar government announced the new tariffs on November 21, two weeks after it decided to slap a 10 percent tax on goods from the two neighboring states, drawing angry reactions from Belgrade and Sarajevo and calls from the European Union to revoke the measures.
The move also comes a day after Interpol, the international police agency, rejected Kosovo's membership for a third time due to what Pristina claimed was campaigning by Serbia.
Relations between Pristina and Belgrade have been tense since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Although more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo, Serbia -- and Bosnia -- do not. Both Kosovo and Serbia have been told they must resolve their differences in order to make progress toward EU membership.
However, EU-sponsored normalization talks between the two countries' leaders have been stop-and-go in recent months.
“Serbia is continuing its aggressive campaign against Kosovo in the int’l stage. It is also undermining the normalisation process. To defend our vital interest, Government of Kosovo has decided today to increase the customs tariff to 100%,” Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj tweeted on November 21.
“Further measures to be announced soon!” he added, without elaborating.
Endrit Shala, Kosovo’s minister of trade and industry, said the new tariffs will “empower local producers” and strengthen the national economy.
Officials said the new tariffs come into effect immediately and do not apply to international brands produced in the two neighboring countries.
On November 20, Interpol's general assembly voted not to approve membership for Kosovo, the result of what the U.S. Embassy in Pristina said was "a campaign, led by Serbia, to pressure countries to oppose Kosovo’s bid."
"That was a very aggressive stand from Serbia," Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj told a news conference.
"It is 20 years since the war, 10 years from independence, and Serbia has not shown the good will to normalize ties," he added.
Serbian Trade Minister Rasim Ljajic said Kosovo's move came as a result of its failure to get a seat at Interpol and warned that it will lead to "huge consequences."
Bosnian Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Minister Mirko Sarovic called the tariffs “the biggest blow to the regional free-trade zone."
Reports said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called a meeting of Serbia's National Security Council, Serbia's top body dealing with the military and police, to address the matter.
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on Kosovo to revoke the decision, saying that it was a "clear violation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and of the spirit of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the European Union and Kosovo."
CEFTA, which comprises Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Moldova, aims at stimulating its members’ economic development and EU path.
On November 6, Pristina imposed tariffs of 10 percent on products from Serbia and Bosnia in a move it said was in retaliation for the two countries' lack of recognition toward the young republic.
At the time, Hoxhaj cited Serbia's “savage campaign" against the international recognition of Kosovo and “threats from Serbia against innocent citizens of Kosovo just because their sons and daughters have joined the Kosovo Security Force (KSF).”
In October, Kosovo's lawmakers gave preliminary approval to legislation expanding the size and competencies of the lightly armed KSF in a session that was boycotted by ethnic Serb representatives, who complained it would lead to the creation of a Kosovar army in violation of UN resolutions.
Speaking about the 10 percent tariffs, Vucic said Serbia would not resume the dialogue with Kosovo when it removed the tariffs.
Official data showed that Kosovo imported some 400 million euros ($456 million) in products a year from Serbia and about 81 million euros ($92 million) in goods from Bosnia.
Imports from the two countries had decreased by 50 percent since the previous tax came into force, according to Kosovo's Trade and Industry Ministry.