Kosovan PM sceptical about Western Balkans common market

Kosovan PM sceptical about Western Balkans common market
By bne IntelliNews March 22, 2017

There would be little advantage for Kosovo to join a common market with fellow Western Balkan countries, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa wrote on his Facebook page after EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn stressed the benefits of the idea at a recent conference. 

On March 16, Hahn presented the idea in an address to a regional summit in Sarajevo, claiming it would lead to the creation of 80,000 jobs in a region plagued by high unemployment, as well as helping Western Balkan countries integrate with the EU. 

"We propose a common market for the Western Balkans. Our ambition is to remove barriers and create a single space for economic development. It will also make clear a longer-term aim of integrating the Western Balkans Common Market into the EU’s internal market," the commissioner said.

The idea had previously been discussed, and has the support of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who said in 2016 that he dreamed of a customs union for all Balkan countries. 

However, Mustafa commented on Facebook that countries in the region do not reap equal benefits from joint trade adding: “We don't view this proposal with enthusiasm ... and we don't want past experiences under a new wrapper." Mustafa emphasised that Kosovo already considers itself part of a unique European market based on the Stabilisation Association Agreement.

There is already a free trade agreement in the Western Balkans, the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), which includes Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. In an interview with bne IntelliNews last May, Kosovo's Minister of Trade and Industry Hykmete Bajrami said that she believes Kosovo was at a disadvantage when it signed the agreement to join CEFTA in 2007.

On March 19, the Albanian union of production and service industries Konfindustria also pointed at the lack of effectiveness of CEFTA as an argument against Hahn’s idea, BIRN reported. The union said, “CEFTA can be considered a failed agreement and the removal of the customs tariffs has been replaced by 'non-tariff' hurdles that have strongly impeded free trade in the region." According to Konfindustria, a more important area where the EU has not acted yet, is giving Western Balkan countries a deadline for their integration into the EU.

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