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News 27 Nov 15

Tirana and Skopje Agree ‘Veggie War’ Deal

Albania and Macedonia take steps to resolve fresh produce 'trade war' after Tirana raises the issue at a regional free trade meeting.

Fatjona Mejdini, Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Tirana, Skopje

Tirana and Skopje have reached an agreement aimed at ending an ongoing dispute over lengthy phytosanitary checks on Albanian fresh produce at the Macedonian border, following intense diplomatic negotiations over the past two days.

The Albanian Ministry of the Economy confirmed that Macedonia has agreed to store trucks transporting fresh produce in depots until phytosanitary checks have been completed, reducing the risk the contents could rot before reaching buyers.

CEFTA meeting on Thursday in Moldova | Photo: Facebook

In a written statement issued Thursday evening, Tirana said the deal was reached after Albania’s Deputy Economy Minister Ervin Mete pressed Macedonia to take urgent action on the issue during the Central European Free Trade Agreement, CEFTA, conference held in Moldova this week.

"The Macedonian Economy Minister, Bekim Neziri, told the Albanian minister that this decision had been taken and that it would be formally written down as an official decision at the next government meeting," the Albanian statement said.

Albanian trucks transporting fresh produce have been prevented from crossing into Macedonia on several occasions during the past few months while Macedonia carried out phytosanitary checks.

Trucks laden with rapidly rotting fresh cucumbers and other produce have been kept waiting at the border for 30 hours and longer, Albanian exporters claim, potentially costing the fragile Albanian economy thousands of euros.

"Macedonia has a valuable place in terms of foreign trade for Albania. One day of export with Macedonia is calculated to be worth 135,000 euros and this is a big loss for the country when keeping in mind that the blockage lasts several days and is continuously repeated," Nikollaq Neranxi, head of the Albanian Association for the Protection of Traders and Market, told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

Referring to the figures from the Albanian Institute of Statistics, INSTAT, Neranxi underlined that during the first nine months of this year exports to Macedonia accounted for 2.7 per cent of Albania’s total exports, worth 36.5 million euros.

Both countries have signed the Central European Free Trade Agreement, CEFTA, which stipulates there should be no unreasonable barriers, or tariffs, to free trade among signatory states.

The latest incident provoked sharp criticism in Albania with Tirana threatening to block Macedonian imports in retaliation for what it described as a “trade war”.

“These are covert tactics used by the Macedonian government to protect its own market… If the blocking [of imports] continues, we are going to block Macedonian exports to Albania in return," Economics Minister Arben Ahmetaj said in a written statement released to the media on Tuesday.

Agriculture Minister Edmond Panariti said Macedonia’s concerns about produce standards and phytosanitary checks “did not stand” during an appearance on the Top TV Channel show earlier this month.

“These tactics on Macedonia’s part are just to avoid free trade competition. This is trade war," he said.

While welcoming the government’s decision to escalate the issue to CEFTA, Neranxi said the move was long overdue.

“Finally the time has arrived to have this fair approach in the relationships with our neighbour that have been abused in a lot of cases with our products. What the minister is doing now should have been done years ago by his predecessors,” he said.

Naim Vrenezi, a spokesperson for Macedonia’s economy ministry, insisted Skopje is “sticking by” CEFTA. The agriculture ministry said it was trying to speed up phytosanitary inspections and that trucks were kept in warehouses rather than left stranded at the borders.

“Usually all checks are done within 30 hours. There might be some inspections that last longer, but you know, like any country, we have to protect our consumers. Recently, for example, we have had two trucks in which we discovered cucumbers with high concentration of pesticides,” said agriculture ministry spokesperson Sonja Trajkovska.










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