Agriculture Minister Under Fire for Import Restrictions

By 9 August 2017

Prime Minister Plenković says that the “trade war” with neighbouring countries must end this week.

Will Croatia's trade war with its neighbours due to import rules changes introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture stop soon? As things stand now, that seems very likely, according to sources from the government. Even Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić, who started the whole affair, says that the problem will be solved. Also, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković stated in an interview on Tuesday evening that he ordered Tolušić to find a solution by the end of this week, reports Jutarnji List on 9 August 2017.

This trade war has led to political upheaval in the government. Agriculture Minister Tolušić managed to avoid dismissal at the last moment. According to reports, Tolušić signed the new rules by himself, without informing anyone. The rules introduced stricter criteria for import controls of fruit and vegetables from non-EU member states, increasing inspection fees for neighbouring countries by 2200 percent. This has caused a fierce reaction and even an ultimatum from neighbouring countries, especially Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.

That the government does not support the minister was clearly demonstrated in recent days since no one defended Tolušić, even after ministers sent an open ultimatum to Croatia to withdraw the disputed rules.

Also, Tolušić was a target of fierce criticism by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, led by Luka Burilović who is close to HDZ. He immediately attacked the minister and demanded that the disputed rules must be changed.

His opinion is shared by the Croatian Employers' Association (HUP). “The decision to increase fees represents another in a series of unpredictable political decisions that result in creating an unfavourable business environment and in the long run lead to a reduction in the competitiveness of the economy. When making decisions that have an impact on the economy, and in this case on the whole region, it is necessary to be more careful and thoughtful. In order to assist local agricultural industry, there is a need to introduce more stimulating measures. We call for urgent dialogue,” said Davor Majetić, director of the HUP.

The European Union is also not happy with Tolušić’s move. "We call on all sides in the Western Balkans' trade dispute to act with restraint and make every effort to address this issue,” said the European Commission spokeswoman.

Tolušić will have to abandon his decision and in that way avoid resignation. “It is true that the Prime Minister was not happy. Nobody knew what sort of rules Tolušić was introducing. However, I do not think there will be a resignation,” said a source close to the Prime Minister.

It seems that Tolušić is ready to admit his mistake. “We are communicating with colleagues from neighbouring countries, and I believe we will solve the challenges ahead. When I have further details I will let you know,” said Tolušić.

Bosnian Minister of Foreign Trade Mirko Šarović stated that he had spoken with Tolušić several times and that they had made certain progress, although the final agreement had not yet been reached. “It is my impression that we have advanced and that the Croatian side will change the rules; that is of mutual interest,” said Šarović.

Serbian Minister of Agriculture Branislav Nedimović was less conciliatory. “No one will play with Serbia. All products originating from Croatia will be strictly controlled according to all international rules. They will not be released to the market until laboratory controls are completed. The temperatures in the region are very high, we need to be careful,” said the Serbian minister sarcastically.

Translated from Jutarnji List.