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article imageKosovo imposes 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods

By Ismet HAJDARI (AFP)     Nov 21, 2018 in World

Kosovo imposed a 100 percent tariff on Serbian imports Wednesday, after it blamed Belgrade for sabotaging its bid to join the international police organisation Interpol.

The massive tariff increase is a response to the "aggressiveness of Serbia against Kosovo by all means", Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj told reporters after the measure was approved in government.

The new tariffs also apply to Bosnian imports but exclude international brands.

The retaliation comes after Kosovo's application to join Interpol was rejected on Tuesday, a blow to its efforts to boost global recognition of its statehood.

Kosovo is a former province of Serbia that officially seceded in 2008 after a guerilla war, though Belgrade does not accept the split and has tried to block it from international organisations.

Kosovo's foreign ministry blamed the failed Interpol bid on Belgrade's "abusive" lobbying inside the international police organisation.

On Twitter, Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj wrote that in addition to the new tariff, "further measures" would be announced soon in response to Serbia's "aggressive campaign against Kosovo".

The tariff hike drew sharp rebuke from the EU and Belgrade, where Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said it amounted to "an absolute ban of trade" between Serbia and Kosovo.

Speaking in a public television address, Vucic added that it could lead to "conflict and destabilisation of the region".

He called on Kosovo to "please withdraw the decision so we can sit down and talk," adding that Belgrade would not issue any countermeasures.

- 'Clear violation' -

Tensions had already been running high between the neighbours, who are under pressure from Brussels to normalise relations if they want to progress towards EU membership.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini swiftly condemned Kosovo's tariff move, saying it was "a clear violation" of a regional free trade agreement.

"The Kosovo government has to immediately revoke these decisions," Mogherini said in a statement.

Serbia is Kosovo's biggest trade partner in the region, with its exports totalling more than 400 million euros ($454 million) annually.

Sanije Jusufi, an economic reporter for the Koha Ditore daily newspaper, said the new tariff was a "political" move that would likely hit ordinary Kosovars.

"There will be a rise in prices in Kosovo, and when prices grow the biggest burden will weigh on consumers," he said.

Earlier this month Kosovo introduced an initial 10 percent tariff on Serbian imports.

That measure has already cut the flow of Serbian exports by half, according to Kosovo Customs.

Kosovo says it is recognised as a sovereign state by about 115 countries, although it is barred from joining the UN because of vetoes from Serbia's allies, Russia and China.

Belgrade claims it has managed to convince a dozen nations to revoke their decision, which Pristina disputes.

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