Croatian cigarettes "new EU requirement for Serbia"

Unless Serbia approves cigarette imports from Croatia under lower tariffs by year's end, this will be included in the framework for membership negotiations.

Source: Tanjug

The framework is currently being drafted, Tanjug noted as it quoted a source from the European Union.

This refers to the annual quota of 1,625 tons of cigarettes from the Tobacco Factory Rovinj, on which a customs tax of only 15 percent was levied under the CEFTA agreement, which is nearly four times lower that the customs duty on cigarettes from other European states (57 percent).

Serbia's argument that, by exiting the CEFTA and acceding to the EU, Croatia lost the right to export privileges, and thus cigarettes from Rovinj should be taxed according to the same rate that is valid for other member states, has not been met with approval in Brussels, Tanjug learnt from a senior EU official who preferred to remain anonymous.

Croatia now calls for including the request for keeping the existing, lower customs tax rates in the negotiating platform, for which it has the support of the European Commission, and the Council, the source claims.

The drawing up of the negotiating framework is well under way in Brussels. Once it is finished, the framework will dictate the pace and content of entry talks when they formally open, which is expected at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014.

It is almost certain that the request put forward by the United Kingdom and Germany for closely linking the talks to the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština will be added to the negotiating framework, and the dispute with Croatia now threatens to further aggravate Serbia's position, Tanjug learned at the EU headquarters.

Serbia still has a chance to accept the Croatian request, but time is ticking, Tanjug's source says, adding that, otherwise, Serbia's customs dispute with Croatia will grow into a dispute with the EU.

Croatia is now a fully-fledged member, and we are obliged to back it, the official explains.

As Tanjug learned, a very negative assessment of the Serbian stand on this issue has been included in the annual progress report which the European Commission will officially present on Wednesday, October 16.

The source says that the authorities in Belgrade were warned about this problem long time ago, and that EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule requested on several occasions that the quotas that have been valid so far remain in place, but that Serbia keeps insisting that the customs tax rate be increased.

During talks with Croatia that were held in Brussels earlier in the year, Serbia tried to ensure that, in exchange for the same low customs duties for Croatian cigarettes, it gets higher quotas for sugar exports to the EU, but that was not accepted, Tanjug reported.

The source in the EU says that it is a custom that the country joining the EU keeps the privileges which it had under an agreement with third countries before the accession and Serbia should have taken that into account before even entering the dispute with Croatia.

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