The European Commission has warned Bosnia and Herzegovina over recent measures to curb imports of meat and dairy products from neighbouring Croatia.
Bosnia adopted the measures in apparent retaliation against losing its main export market for dairy and meat products when Croatia joined the European Union last month. Bosnian agricultural products cannot be certified for export to the EU because of a quarrel between Bosnia’s constituent parts about which level of government should be in charge of the certification.
Mirko Šarović, Bosnia’s trade minister, defended the import restrictions last week (1 August), saying that Bosnia’s consumers deserved the same standards as those in the EU.
Bosnia banned meat and dairy products from some 50 Croatian companies in July saying that they had failed to meet EU food-safety standards.
The affected companies are subject to transitional arrangements set down in Croatia’s treaty of accession and have until 2015 to meet EU requirements in full. During that time, they are allowed to market their products in Croatia and in non-EU countries but not in other member states of the Union. The Commission says that these companies continue to meet all of Croatia’s domestic food-safety standards and that these are higher than the standards that apply in Bosnia.
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Bosnia also introduced tariffs on certain agricultural products, arguing that a protocol to its bilateral pre-accession trade agreement with the EU needs to be re-negotiated to take account of Croatia having joined.
The Commission views this as a technical exercise in which the quotas Bosnia can set for imports from the EU will be raised by the quotas Bosnia had set for Croatia under a separate trade regime; Bosnia, by contrast, is seeking a full re-negotiation of duties and concessions, saying that its economy had suffered because of cheap goods imported from the EU.
“The European Commission regrets the continuous stalemate in the negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina on the bilateral trade regime after the accession of Croatia to the EU,” one of the statements, dated 2 August, said. It warned that a re-negotiation of the fundamentals would have a negative impact on trade between the two sides. The statement also said that the Commission “regrets the current attitude of Bosnia and Herzegovina” and that is was “not in line with the spirit of bilateral free trade”.
An EU official said that the measures imposed by Bosnia deprived Bosnian consumers of cheap foodstuffs, in effect punishing them for the authorities’ failure properly to prepare for Croatia’s accession. “We are very concerned that the people who are paying for this are the Bosnia-Herzegovina citizens,” the official said. “This is Bosnia’s fault. [The authorities] are protecting the owners of the big agri-food companies, some of whom happen to be ministers and politicians.”
Bosnia’s government is “testing our patience”, the EU official said.
The official was sceptical that the dispute could be resolved at the technical level. Štefan Füle, the European commissioner for enlargement and neighbourhood policy, has invited the leaders of Bosnia’s main parties and the prime ministers of the central government and of the two entities for talks on the dispute in Brussels on 1 October.
Bosnia signed a pre-accession Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in June 2008 but the country’s EU integration process has barely moved since then.