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news 01 Dec 17

Kosovo Businesses Doubtful About Planned Free Trade Zone

After Kosovo's Foreign Minister urged Serbia to help set up a free trade zone in the divided town of Mitrovica, local businesses say they question the likely benefits.

Die Morina, Filip Rudic
BIRN
Pristina, Belgrade
Fair in Pristina | Photo: Kosovo Chamber of Commerce 

Declaring the northern Serb-run half of the town of Mitrovica as a free trade zone might help the reconciliation of ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo and stimulate the local economy at the same time, business leaders told BIRN, following Kosovo Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli's invitation to his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic to consider the idea.

“Dacic, come, let us declare north Mitrovica a free trade zone, because only by creating jobs can we reduce the influence of politics,” Voice of America in Serbian quoted Pacolli as saying during a conference in Washington.

Kujtim Gjevori, who leads a sugar company in Kosovo, told BIRN if there was a “fair” will, it might help the process of reconciliation between the communities.

“Healthy and equal business cooperation can affect the process of reconciliation of the two parties,” Gjevori said, adding, however, that he was “skeptical if something like that is possible.

“I don’t believe the Serbian side would use such a thing for reconciliation, but for political points, or for keeping control of that part [North Mitrovica],” he continued.

Lirijon Kadriu, who runs KIVO, a successful company in the town of Kacanik which produces packaging for Europe, said the reconciliation process needs much more than just business cooperation.

“A successful economics and better social welfare could influence the process of reconciliation but it can’t be confined to business only,” Kadriu said.

“All the conditions concerning an improvement to social welfare and a successful economy can affect relaxation of relations and the removal of politics,” he added.

On the other side, while the politicians toy with the idea of a free trade zone, the chamber of commerce from the north of Kosovo says that it is more interested in the fact that it has not received much-needed payments from Serbia for months.

“We haven’t received any salaries in nine months,” said Branimir Mihajlovic, an associate of the Chamber of Commerce of Kosovo and Metohija, based in Mitrovica, which functions parallel to the Chamber of Commerce of Kosovo, located in Pristina.

Mihajlovic said he could not say whether declaring a free trade zone would benefit businesses and improve local relations, as his Chamber of Commerce was currently “on strike” and preparing to address the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo over the payment issue.

“We have prepared a letter to [the director of the Office for Kosovo, Marko] Djuric and President Aleksandar Vucic,” he added.

According to Mihajlovic, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce has started bypassing his association and started cooperating with the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce directly, arranging joint activities.

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