EU warns again BiH against preferential treatment of domestic bidders, urges for SAA compliance to be restored
Representatives of the European Commission and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) met via video conference on April 22, 2021 to discuss the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement and the harmonization of BiH legislation with the acquis communautaire in the field of trade, industry, customs and taxation.
“At the meeting, the parties discussed developments in these areas and exchanged detailed statistics on trade. The Commission called on Bosnia and Herzegovina to strongly accelerate efforts to strengthen institutional and administrative capacity, coordination and legal frameworks in all related areas, and recalled the importance of national sectoral strategies,” the EU Delegation to BiH said in a press release.
On the field of trade, the EU stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on trade around the world. Exports from BiH to the EU during 2020 fell by 7.3%, while imports from the EU dropped by 12.2%. The EU remains Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first trading partner, making up for 65.1% of total trade. The EU emphasized that the regime of autonomous trade measures for the export of certain types of fruits, vegetables and wine from the Western Balkans to the EU was extended for a period of 5 years until the end of 2025, which proved to be valuable assistance to BiH exporters. In this context, the EU reminded BiH of the importance of complying with SAA trade provisions, in order to continue to reap the benefits of improved access to the EU market. The Union called for the finalization and adoption of excise laws and regulations in line with the EU acquis, in order to ensure the same conditions for importers and local producers, including small breweries. The EU also encouraged BiH to intensify and conclude open bilateral negotiations with a view to completing its accession to the World Trade Organization.
Regarding the free movement of goods, the EU noted BiH’s initial steps in developing a national quality infrastructure strategy and expects to review the final draft. The EU welcomed the appointment of members of the Metrology Council.
On taxation, the EU welcomed the ratification of the OECD-Council of Europe Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (MAC), and encouraged BiH to adopt new VAT and excise laws to further align with the EU acquis. In the area of customs, the EU called on BiH to adhere to the planned schedule for the implementation of the next phase of the New Computerized Transit System (NCTS). It encouraged BiH to implement e-signatures throughout the country and ensure the interoperability of different e-signatures across the country. BiH was called upon to adopt a new law on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions with one country-wide supervisory authority, in line with the EU acquis.
The EU stressed the need for a coherent national approach to industry and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) policy planning and implementation, in order to inter alia strengthen economic resilience in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU particularly encouraged the finalization and adoption of strategic guidelines for harmonizing support for SMEs and entrepreneurship. The EU recalled that faster and well-coordinated structural reforms are essential to speed up recovery after the pandemic. Activities to put state-owned enterprises on an equal footing with other industrial enterprises, in order to increase growth potential, were also discussed. Strong commitment and constructive engagement are expected from all Western Balkan partners six (WB6), including BiH, for a common regional market, a catalyst for deeper regional economic integration and a step towards the EU single market. In the area of public procurement, the EU called on BiH to immediately abolish the practice of preferential treatment of domestic bidders and establish compliance with the SAA in this field. Finally, the EU stressed the need to implement the measures envisaged by the Economic Reform Program, as well as the Policy Guidelines based on the Economic and Financial Dialogue.
The meeting was co-chaired by Brankica Pandurevic, Assistant Minister for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at the BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, and Ingrid Jenezova, Permanent Secretary of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.