‘Not Even Trump’ Can Jumpstart Serbia-Kosovo Talks, Vucic Says

(Bloomberg) -- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he won’t yield to international pressure to resume talks with Kosovo as long as the southern neighbor retains a punitive tax on Serb imports.

European Union-mediated negotiations between the two Balkan nations have stalled this year over issues such as redrawing borders, Kosovo’s creation of an army, Serbia’s refusal to recognize it as a state and the trade blockade that began in November. U.S. President Donald Trump sent letters recently to Vucic and to Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci, urging them to reach a deal.

“There’s no force in the world, not a man in the world who can make me talk about anything until the taxes are withdrawn. Not even Trump’s personal call,” Vucic told reporters on Saturday.

Both countries need to normalize ties to qualify for membership of the EU, the world’s biggest trading bloc. The 100 percent levy on imports from Serbia imposed by the government in Pristina has all but halted trade, a key source of supplies for the embattled Serb minority in Kosovo. The EU on Saturday reiterated its call to Kosovo to lift the barrier, whose scope was expanded on Friday to include international brands produced in Serbia.

The tax, imposed in response to Serbian lobbying against Kosovo’s membership in global organizations, “contradicts Kosovo’s past commitments towards regional integration,” according to the EU’s statement. Removing the tariff would be “the right decision to take in advancing Kosovo’s and its people European aspiration.”

Meanwhile, Serbia’s Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said the biggest former Yugoslav republic will boost its army budget next year by 35 percent to 95 billion dinars ($919 million) to “prepare against any possible risk, as there’s no shortage of that in the Balkans.” Vucic has warned that Serbia will respond if its ethnic kin in Kosovo come under attack.

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