EU welcomes Kosovo cut to Serbia tariffs, US says not enough

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Kosovo's decision to partially lift a 100% tariff on Serbian goods was hailed Friday by the European Union but not supported by the United States, which wants the tariff dropped completely.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Thursday said the measure would come into effect from March 15 and would only apply to raw materials imported from neighboring Serbia.

In exchange, Kurti asked Serbia to stop hindering Kosovo's efforts to be recognized as an independent state. He also called on Serbia to lift constraints on products and services from Kosovo.

If Serbia complies, he said, Kosovo will abolish its 100% tariff on all Serbian goods.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who is the special presidential envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations and was recently nominated acting national intelligence director, said that Kurti’s move was a "half measure.”

“Our position is quite clear: the tariffs must be completely dropped. Mr. Kurti is making a serious mistake - and that was made clear to (Kosovo) President (Hashim) Thaci at the While House today,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

The EU welcomed Kurti’s move “as a first step.”

“This step could have a positive effect on restoring regional trade and offer an opening for the resumption of the Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina facilitated by the European Union,” a statement from the EU said.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic described Kurti’s move as a trick, timed ahead of his scheduled trip to Washington and other international meetings in the coming weeks.

“The American envoy Grenell is completely right and what we see here is another attempted scam,” said Vucic. He did not mention anything about Serbia ending its campaign against international recognition of Kosovo.

The 100% tariff on Serbian and Bosnian goods was imposed in November 2018 to counter Serbia's efforts to block Kosovo from joining international organisations.

The move led to the suspension of EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo on normalizing ties that had started in 2011.

Kosovo was formerly a part of Serbia and won independence after a 1999 NATO bombing campaign that ended a bloody Serb crackdown on an armed uprising by members of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. Serbia refuses to accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.

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Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade.