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Kosovo offers to ease tariff on neighboring Serbia's goods

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo's new prime minister said Thursday his government will partially lift a 100% tariff imposed on Serbian goods, in a goodwill move aimed to help restart suspended talks with Serbia on normalizing relations.

Albin Kurti said the measure would come into effect from March 15 and would only apply to imported raw materials from neighboring Serbia. In exchange Kurti asked Serbia to stop efforts to get countries that have recognized Kosovo as an independent state to revoke their recognition. He also called on Belgrade to lift constraints on products and services from Kosovo.

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.

Kurti said that if it gets a positive response from Serbia, Kosovo will abolish the 100% tariff for all Serbian goods as of April 1. “This first step by us is a sign of good will and I expect the same from Belgrade," he said at a news conference.

The 100% tariff on Serbian and Bosnian goods was imposed in November 2018 to counter Serbia's hampering Kosovo’s efforts to join international organisations. At the time, the government in Pristina said it would only be scrapped if Belgrade recognized Kosovo.

The move led to suspension of European Union-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo on normalizing their ties that had started in 2011. Serbia says the dialogue will resume when Kosovo scraps the tariff that has cost Belgrade some 400 million euros ($440) a year.

Kurti said Thursday he wanted the U.S. and the EU, which have pressed his government to lift the tariff and resume dialogue with Serbia, to serve as guarantors for implementing the new deal. Kurti also asked the EU to decide on visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens before the May summit of EU leaders in Zagreb, Croatia.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania

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