Kosovo ends trade row with Serbia after EU pressure in move towards bloc membership

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The move by the new Kosovan government could also mean Serbia is one step closer to joining the EU as the deal on mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia is also a pre-condition for Belgrade to join the Brussels club. After just three days in office, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said his country had acted in accordance with demands from the US and the EU. 

He said: “We are ready to immediately sit at the dialogue table. 

“Now we expect the same thing from the Serb side.”

Mr Hoti said he expected Serbia to stop its campaign against Kosovar independence, which is focused on convincing various countries to withdraw recognition of Kosovo and block its membership of international organisations.

EU-sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina came to a halt in November 2018 when Kosovo introduced a 100 percent tax on goods produced in Serbia.

The government of Mr Hoti’s predecessor, Albin Kurti, removed the tax, but introduced other restrictions on trade, a move that angered the EU and US – the most vocal international backers of Kosovar independence.

Reacting to the government’s decision, Mr Kurti said the move was in “Serbia’s service.”

The US, Kosovo’s biggest supporter both politically and financially, said it would unfreeze around $50 million in economic aid that had been blocked due to Pristina’s refusal to lift the tariffs.

The aid will come via the Millennium Challenge Corporation or MCC, a U.S. government foreign assistance agency.

Kosovo, where Albanians account for 90 percent of the population, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO bombed Serbia to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians in Kosovo during a two-year counter-insurgency.

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Serbia, together with its traditional ally Russia, has been blocking Kosovo’s membership of international organisations, including the United Nations.

Kosovo’s independence is recognised by more than 110 countries, but not by several nations including Russia, China and Serbia, which still considers it part of its territory.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told Belgrade Prva TV on Saturday: “Whatever agreement we reach it is not going to be favourable for us but we are going to try and find the least unfavourable solution.”

Serbia joining the EU has been on the agenda since 2011.

The nation officially applied for EU membership on 22 December 2009 and negotiations are ongoing. 

The negotiations between the EU and Serbia are expected to be complete by the end of 2023, allowing it to join the Union by 2025.

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