Balkan trade war averted as Croatia backs down over inspection fee hike

Balkan trade war averted as Croatia backs down over inspection fee hike
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest August 10, 2017

The Croatian agriculture ministry announced on August 10 that it has decided to repeal a decree increasing inspection fees for imports of fruits and vegetables from non-EU countries. The fees hike had angered Croatia's non-EU neighbours, threatening to create a regional trade war. 

At the beginning of the month, Croatia expanded the list of fruit and vegetables coming from third countries that will have to pass through phytosanitary checks at the border. Under the rules, taxes were 22 times higher for these products — up from HRK90 to HRK2,000 (€12 to €270). Zagreb claims this was the only way to protect Croatian farmers, since the same rules can’t be applied to imports from its fellow EU members.

The cancellation of the higher fees came the day after Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic asked Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolusic to find a solution by the end of the week to the dispute over Croatia's increased inspection fees. According to unnamed governmental sources quoted by, there have been unofficial talks about Tolusic’s dismissal. The minister reportedly signed the new rules imposing higher fees by himself, without informing anyone.

The Croatian agriculture ministry said in a statement that it has been agreed with neighbouring states that “border controls will be fully normalised as of Friday”. In addition, the ministry said, the cost of inspection fees will be analysed in order to ensure protection of both consumers and the competitive position of farmers in a way that will not interfere with trade.

“We also expect a meeting on the use of non EU approved agrochemicals in order to make agricultural producers from neighbouring countries better adapted to EU rules,” the ministry added.

Representatives of the governments of four Western Balkans states called for Croatia to abolish the new customs measures and align them with market standards. After their exporters were hit by the new fees, officials from Western Balkans countries met on August 7 to discuss their response to Croatia’s action. 

Ministers from Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia agreed that until the problem is resolved each country will implement its own measures in order to protect its own interests. The European Commission was invited to join in resolving the problem.