Macedonian truckers block border with Kosovo over trade spat

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 10, 2013 8:55 AM

By Kole Casule

BLACE, Macedonia (Reuters) - Macedonian truck drivers blocked the main border crossing with Kosovo on Tuesday in a deepening trade row between the Balkan neighbors that is hurting Macedonian producers in one of their biggest markets.

The blockade followed a decision by Kosovo on Monday to ban the import of all Macedonian goods. Macedonia last year exported products worth $392 million to Kosovo, mainly cement, medicine, oil, steel, beverages, fruit and vegetables.

The trade dispute started in July when Macedonia imposed a measure to limit the import of wheat and flour from all members of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), including Kosovo, in an effort to protect domestic production.

Kosovo responded by banning imports of Macedonian food, beverages and cigarette products, and introduced a blanket ban on Macedonia goods at midnight on Sunday after Skopje introduced a levy on Kosovo citizens entering Macedonia.

Overnight, several trucks blocked the road leading to the main border crossing at Blace.

"We are stopping every car, but people can pass on foot," said Biljana Muratovska, the head of Macedonia's association of truck drivers, Makamtrans.

"We are waiting for an answer from the Kosovo and Macedonian governments," Muratovska added. "They should know we cannot live without each other."

The prime ministers of Macedonia and Kosovo, Nikola Gruevski and Hashim Thaci, discussed the dispute by phone on Sunday evening but failed to find a solution.

The Macedonian government was to hold a session on Tuesday, with the trade row likely on the agenda. Macedonia imported around $29 million worth of goods from Kosovo last year.

Though there was no obvious political backdrop to the row, relations between Macedonia and Kosovo have been far from simple since Kosovo's 1998-99 war helped trigger a spillover insurgency in Macedonia in 2001.

Albanians are the overwhelming majority in Kosovo, and form a large minority - more than 25 percent - in Macedonia.

(Writing and additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Heavens)