Croatia backtracks on import fees, avoids Balkan trade war

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia revoked on Thursday a decision to drastically raise import fees for fruit and vegetables, avoiding a looming trade war with its Balkan neighbors.

Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro, all non-European Union states, had issued an ultimatum to the EU-member Croatia to reconsider the decision to raise fees for border sanitary inspections from 12 euros per truck to 270 euros. The neighbors had threatened to retaliate by blocking Croatia's exports.

Croatia's Agriculture Ministry said Thursday it agreed with neighboring countries to "fully normalize controls on the borders." It said the inspection fee will be dropped back down to 12 euros, but added it will further "analyze" possible future taxes "to protect the consumers" and Croatia's market.

The ministry said it expects a meeting to be held with the four countries' officials to discuss EU fruit and vegetable import standards.

Croatian officials have said the measure was last week imposed on 168 non-EU countries to improve the quality of imports, and wasn't meant to hurt the regional neighbors' economies — although the four are the main exporters of fruit and vegetables to Croatia.

Economists say Croatia's measure was intended to protect its agricultural producers from cheaper imports. But, they say, the measure could have backfired if it led to a retaliatory blockade of Croatian exports to the four countries.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Croatia's decision "is the only just solution."

"The reduction of the prices to the previous level will contribute to the relaxation of relations between the countries in the region," Brnabic said. "The past few days have shown that all problems can be solved by a dialogue."

The region was at war in the 1990s during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslav federation.

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