A politically-fuelled dispute between Russia and Poland affecting haulage licences has resulted in a total blockade on Polish truck movements into Russia through Belarus and is hitting automotive parts and finished vehicle shipments, causing costly delivery delays in both directions and leading many into shipment under fraudulent documentation.
The dispute began on the 9 December last year when the Russian Ministry stopped 75,000 third-country permits for freight movements into the country via Poland. But the situation was exacerbated following the release on January 12th of Russia’s International Aviation Committee report into last April’s crash at Smolensk airport in which 96 people were killed, including then Polish president Lech Kaczynski.Heated retaliation to the legitimate findings of the report from those bereaved by the crash, as well as widespread anger over Russia’s alleged involvement in the election victory of Alexander Lukashenko as president of Belarus in December, have escalated to tarnish recently-improved diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries. This has now scuppered first quarter contingency measures proposed to overcome the December halt on licence requests.
Poland had requested a 2.5x increase in the number of licences for transiting freight through Belarus to Moscow. Moscow responded that it would grant the licences, which should have gone into effect on January 14, as long as it was reciprocated with an equal number, something that Poland refused. Russia then cancelled all licence allocation and the two countries remain at an impasse.
As a consequence trailer rates have increased dramatically with figures quoted ranging between 30-40% according to industry insiders.
Polish car carrier Adampol, which has a subsidiary in Russia called Vectura, said the length of the dispute has hit the company’s turnover.
“We are losing thousands of euros every day because our main flows to Russia are going via our terminal in Malaszewicze, Poland,” said company spokesperson Barbara Koncewicz. However, she said that the company had managed to find emergency routes. “We believe we will deliver all cars to our Russian customers within the [next few] weeks; there will be a delay, but we will not stop going.”
While importers and distributors have lost income on sales, added Koncewicz, the Russian government has reportedly lost a significant amount of customs payment through lost imports and the Polish government, likewise, is losing significant revenue in taxes paid by the transport companies.
Russian operator Autotechnoimport (ATI) reported that costs have increased due to the extra mileage required to use other routes as well as the increase in lead times. “The approximate amount of increase is 30-35% of the costs,” said the company’s CEO Kirill Petrunkin. “I see this problem more as political issue, it occurred right after the crisis when results of investigations of plane crush were presented.”
According to Priority Freight’s director of CIS, Alexander Rogan, the problem is compounded by a market still recovering from the devastating impact on capacity by the recent economic crisis.
“If you work back from this, it is not just that the Polish park is out, you’ve also got a massive reduced fleet anyway because of the problems in 2008. Half of the transport companies in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Bulagaria and Romania went bust. So you just don’t have the capacity to pick up this slack. It is quite a serious problem.”
Of the three licences (or dozvol) issued for the transit of goods from the EU to Russia (which in terms of the new Customs Union now includes Belarus and Kazakhstan) the one issued under the terms of the bilateral agreement between Russia and Poland covers freight that is collected outside of Poland by Polish hauliers. It is this licence that is often misused for cross-border transit.
In contravention of the agreement certain of those hauliers are alleged to be rewriting the CMR (the UN-approved standardized document for cross-border transport of cargo by road) to show that the freight has been loaded in Poland even if it has come from other EU countries of origin. So automotive parts may be moved to Poland from France and Germany, for example, whereupon the CMR is changed and the goods are declared as being loaded in Poland.
According to one industry insider, the standoff between Poland and Russia now means this practice is being adopted by third party hauliers from across the EU. Blockaded hauliers are reputedly rewriting CMRs and producing their carnet TAR documents in their own respective countries. “They are now moving product that was in Poland – a percentage of which was going to be travelling into Russia fraudulently – out to other nations, and it too is all being moved fraudulently because none of it was loaded in Poland. It is all coming out of Poland but originated in France, Germany and the UK,” said the source.
At the same time parts moved into Poland with the correct licence are now having to go to Russia with an illegal licence meaning the majority of European carmakers are linked with the fraudulent movement of their goods.
Multimodal solutions, such as that offered by Priority Freight, using road and short sea routes between Antwerp and St Petersburg, offer a legitimate alternative but a solution to the standoff, which is hitting companies not flexible enough to adopt such multimodal solutions, depends on a successful hearing at the next meeting of the Poland-Russia Commission which is planned for the end of January.