BiH, zastave, bosna.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Jennifer Boyer, used under CC BY

Representatives of the European Commission and the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo on Tuesday opened negotiations on the adjustment of the interim trade agreement between Bosnia and the bloc so that it can be applied on Croatia as a full member of the bloc.

It was clear already at the start of the talks that these negotiations would be "tough" and lengthy.

"It is impossible to tell how long the negotiations will last," the head of Bosnia's team of negotiators, Hamdo Tinjak, told the press. He added that Bosnia's negotiating position had been clearly defined by the decisions of the country's Council of Ministers and that it boils down to the need for a gradual adjustment of the interim agreement so as to protect national farming and food production.

The authorities in Bosnia fear that customs-free imports of these products, primarily from Croatia, would jeopardise Bosnia's farmers as they to not have incentives like those in Croatia so their products would automatically become more expensive than those imported.

Bosnian Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Minister Mirko Sarovic said on Monday that Bosnia would insist on the EU market to open up to customs-free imports from Bosnia for products such as sugar, wine, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Representatives of the Bosnian Serb entity, who are part of Bosnia's negotiating team walked out of the talks at the very beginning of the Sarajevo meeting.

The Republika Srpska government said in a statement that the EU demands regarding customs-free trade relations with Bosnia "are extremely unfavourable" therefore unacceptable.

Members of the European Commission delegation did not want to comment on the opening of the negotiations, saying that this was not the practice during ongoing negotiations.

The interim trade agreement between Bosnia and the EU is part of Bosnia's Stabilisation and Association Agreement signed in 2008. Given that five years after the signing Croatia joined the EU, it became automatically entitled to customs-free export of its commodities to Bosnia, like all other EU members.

For two and a half years, Bosnia's authorities had been rejecting the negotiations on the adjustment, but the European Commission made Bosnia's progress on the path to its EU membership conditional on the solution to this issue.

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