By Lawrence Marzouk
Belgrade and Pristina have agreed to a wording for Kosovo customs stamp which will allow the former province to export to Serbia for the first time since it declared independence in February 2008.
A deal to unblock the impasse between Serbia and Kosovo over exports was struck at the sixth meeting of the EU-led negotations in Brussels on Friday.
Serbia has agreed to accept goods marked “Kosovo Customs”, while Pristina has given up on including state emblems, coats of arms, flags, or use of the word “republic”. Kosovo could interpret the label as referring to the customs of independent Kosovo, whereas Serbia could see it as a provincial customs label.
The last round of talks was called off in July when it became clear Kosovo and Serbia were not close to compromise over the issue of Kosovo customs stamps.
Since Kosovo delcared independence in 2008, Serbia has banned the import of products labelled “Republic of Kosovo”, saying Kosovo remains a province of Serbia.
Following the collapse of talks in July, Kosovo retaliated by introducing its own ban on Serbian products and launching a police operation to take control of the country’s two northern border posts, which have remained out of Pristina’s reach.
The talks, which started in March, have so far brokered three agreements on the civil registry, freedom of movement and mutual acceptance of university degrees.
A statement from the office of EU foreign police chief Catherine Ashton read: “In the area of free movement of goods, the parties agreed that customs stamps marked ‘Kosovo Customs’ will be accepted. This agreement will be confirmed to all CEFTA parties.
“As a result the mutual trade embargoes will be lifted. This is an important step in improving relations in the region and ensuring freedom of movement of goods in accordance with European values.”
CEFTA, the Central European Free Trade Agreement, regulates trade between central and eastern European countries, including the Balkans.
The parties followed up on discussions in previous meetings, including
telecommunications, energy and university diplomas. The parties also briefly discussed the issue of participation in regional forums, according to the statement.
A further meeting is expected in September.
Serbian negotiator Borko Stefanovic said he expects Kosovo to remove the embargo on Serbian goods within the next ten days.
Disputes remain, however, of the placing of Kosovo Customs officials at the two northern border points.
Stefanovic continues to argue that Serbia will not accept customs officials and that this issue must be discussed in the context of the future of Kosovo’s troubled north, while Edita Tahiri, who leads the Kosovo side, refuses to discuss the status of the north.