Bosnia and Herzegovina intends to swiftly conclude negotiations on adaptation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) following Croatia's accession to the European Union (EU), Chairman of the country's Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdic said in Brussels on Friday.
"As regards adaptations to the SAA concerning the principle of traditional trade, I believe that today we made an important and very positive step which clearly defines and underscores Bosnia and Herzegovina's readiness to resolve this issue in accordance with the principle of traditional trade," Zvizdic said after the first meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Union.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only country that rejected the principle of free trade that is applied to all negotiations after enlargement when the EU concludes additional protocols on existing trade agreements with third countries. As the SAA between EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina is asymmetrical, that is, it gives preference to Bosnia and Herzegovina in trade with the EU, authorities in Sarajevo attempted to apply this to Croatia after it joined the Union, which led to considerable damage to Croatian exporters who, while Croatia was part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), were able to export free of custom tariffs to all countries parties to the free trade agreement. It is for this reason that the principle of traditional trade was introduced so countries joining the bloc would not suffer any damage due to their changed status.
Zvizdic announced that negotiations on this issue would commence next week and should be completed very quickly. "We wish to fulfil that commitment because we truly intend to submit our membership application soon, in a month or two at most, and launch that process which will lead to Bosnia and Herzegovina gaining candidate status for membership of the EU, which is our final objective," Zvizdic said, underscoring that in Bosnia and Herzegovina they are aware of all the efforts and reforms that need to be implemented and that they are resolute to do just that.
The SAA entered into force on 1 June 2015 and the first meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Union was held on Friday, which Zvizdic referred to as an "historic day" for Bosnia and Herzegovina in European integration.
A year ago the EU changed its approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was lagging behind other countries in the region concerning European integration. Before that, the EU insisted on the implementation of the Sejdic-Finci ruling, which was to have resolved the issue of equal representation of ethnic minorities who cannot be elected to the country's presidency or to the House of Peoples. That issue however, was quickly transformed into a "Croatian issue" as the current election law enables the Croatian representative to the presidency to be elected by members of another constitutive ethnic group in spite of the will of the Croatian people. A solution to this matter has not yet been found.
The implementation of the Sejdic-Finci ruling remains a condition for Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, it has been deferred for a later phase in the accession process and the focus has been shifted onto economic and social reforms.
Zvizdic said that over the past year Bosnia and Herzegovina had made good progress in implementing the economic reform agenda and that the results were visible - growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), growth in employment, reduction of the foreign trade deficit.
The EU's High Representative Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, commended Bosnia and Herzegovina for the progress made in 2015 on its path towards the European Union.
In a joint statement after the meeting Mogherini called on Bosnia and Herzegovina "to focus on the improvement of the socio-economic situation in order to make further progress in EU integration and avoid attention being diverted by a discussion on a possible holding of an entity-level referendum on State Judiciary."