What is the best way to deliver loads from Ukraine? There are ways, despite the obstacles
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Borders have been and continue to be a major problem for the Ukrainian transport and logistics sector. At present, trucks wait 10-15 days in electronic queues at the border to be cleared. To make matters worse, Polish protesters are blocking roads to border crossings. This means that the solidarity corridors no longer work properly.
To get the inside track on the situation, we spoke to Volodymyr Balin, Vice President of AsMAP, the Association of International Road Carriers in Ukraine.
Which corridors are currently the most promising for Ukrainian agricultural products?
The most promising exports are via Moldova and Romania. The border between Ukraine and Moldova has many crossings through which trucks can move freely. But these directions are not without barriers. Moldova is a small country that shapes its own transport flows and the carrier is instructed which checkpoint to go to.
On the Romanian side, a vehicle may be found to be overloaded by, for example, 600 kilograms, which is subject to a fine. So far, this issue has not been resolved. We are working to solve it together with Moldovan customs and the International Road Transport Union.
Are Baltic ports attractive for Ukrainian exports?
Polish ports are congested. The port of Klaipeda (in Lithuania – ed.) is not overloaded with Russian cargo, so it needs transit flows from other countries, including Ukraine. The Lithuanian economy would benefit from grain transshipment in Klaipeda. All carriers – Polish, who keep complaining about the lack of work, Lithuanian and ours – are ready to be part of the new transit route.
But produce has to be transported to Klaipeda somehow. The distance is huge. Everyone is interested in how much the transport of one tonne will cost. This route would be more attractive if trucks could use a green corridor, as they currently do towards Moldova and Romania.
This green corridor would bring down costs. Negotiations with Polish politicians are ongoing.
What if goods were delivered by rail instead of road?
Not only Ukraine, but also Poland, Romania and Slovakia have limited rail capacity. They are not designed for this volume of loads. On top of this, shipping to the Baltic States is unprofitable. The track gauge here is the same as in Ukraine. On the way to the port, the wheels would have to be changed twice (going to Lithuania via Poland, where the gauge is different – ed.).
How can this problem be solved?
Our colleagues from the Lithuanian carriers’ association Linava also believe that the border is the biggest problem. They came up with an interesting solution, namely allowing vehicles with a total weight of more than 50 tonnes to use the green corridor from Ukraine to the Baltic States.
This means a tractor with two or even three semi-trailers instead of one. Such vehicles are already on the road in northern Europe. But not yet here. We need to check whether such trucks can use Polish and Lithuanian roads. In Ukraine, we will have to load grain close to the border because we have many bridges.
If all the necessary aspects are taken into account, trucks would be an excellent alternative to rail. We are currently waiting for a decision from the Ministry of Agricultural Policy. For this project to get off the ground, the political will of all three countries is needed.
In Ukraine, 50-tonne trucks are not an option. Even 40-tonne ones are banned from local roads…
Indeed, vehicles with a GVW exceeding 24 tonnes are not allowed on local roads, but the inspectorate never penalised overloading. And now, all of a sudden, they have decided to address overloaded trucks. To my mind, this is not a good time to tighten regulations.
Such actions by the Transport Inspectorate destabilise the Ukrainian economy. A political decision needs to be made: no truck checks on roads used for the international transport of agricultural products whose final destination is a port. To address the legal side of this issue, we contacted the Ministry of Agricultural Policy. We are waiting for a decision.
Poland is also “tightening the screw”…
In August, Poland adopted a new act on business travel of foreign drivers, according to which Ukrainian carriers must inform the competent authority that their drivers will be in the country for a certain period of time. The act applies to transport to/from Poland and to/from third countries. It has nothing to do with transit traffic. The application is signed not with a Ukrainian electronic signature but with a Polish one, which is incorrect.
We are subsidising the Polish system during the war. We are facing huge fines: failure to fill in the form means a fine of PLN 6,000-8,000, if drivers do not have a printout of the business travel certificate with signature and stamp, which have long since been invalidated in Ukraine, they have to pay the same fine and the vehicle may be impounded. In our opinion, this act is aimed at gaining a competitive advantage for Polish carriers over Ukrainian carriers. Even without the return of the permits, we could lose the Polish market.
For the Lithuanians, the Ukrainian carriers are also competitors, but they do not put up such obstacles?
In Lithuania, as in other EU Member States, there are no restrictions for carriers from Ukraine or other non-EU countries. For example, when France and Germany introduced the Mobility Package, which included foreign drivers, there were no sanctions and reporting was required every six months.
Ukraine ranks fourth after Turkey in terms of the number of TIR Carnets, and the Convention has been adopted in 78 countries. By the way, we are working hard to turn the TIR Carnet into an electronic format. Despite the war, the customs authorities and we as AsMAP have maintained the TIR system and I hope it will continue to operate and grow.
At last, an agreement was reached on the transfer of phytosanitary and veterinary controls to the port of Klaipeda. Will this alleviate the situation at the border?
Moving phytosanitary and veterinary controls from the border checkpoint in Dorohusk to the port of Klaipeda will not solve the problem. A bottleneck is forming at the border. Vehicles are queuing for a fortnight at a time. Now they are not physically waiting at the border crossing – drivers are actually at home, but the vehicles are simply not moving.
Trucks are lined up, the trucking company pays the driver’s salary, makes depreciation deductions and all this is included in the freight rates. As far as the last six months are concerned, no decisions have been taken to build new or expand existing checkpoints, which is why we are facing this situation. Trucks are used as warehouses on wheels – they are loaded and wait for weeks with documents.
What is the solution to this problem?
Opening of new border checkpoints for loaded vehicles as existing ones are insufficient. A lot of work was done and funding was raised in 2022. No new border crossings opened this year. Even at checkpoints that only accept empty trucks, people have to wait in queues for up to 10 days. Without additional checkpoints, queues will continue to be a problem.
The well-known political events in Poland have finally come to an end and we hope that the situation will improve. There are not enough checkpoints not only at the Polish border, but also at all other borders. Another checkpoint is needed at the Slovak border in the Salomonovo area, at least temporarily. The Luzhanka checkpoint has been completely reconstructed and can now receive trucks.
Border checkpoints are also needed at the border with Romania. So far, there is no electronic queue there. The Romanian side promises to accept loaded vehicles, but its infrastructure is not yet ready. In addition, Orlovka was attacked twice by missiles and drones.
All checkpoints with a large number of vehicles are at risk. Both exporters and importers are suffering from their shortage. New checkpoints must be opened or expanded so that the economy can function properly and export and import operations can help replenish the Ukrainian budget.
Just a few months ago, less than a thousand trucks were waiting in the electronic queue…
In the second half of July and August, there were certainly no queues because there were no exports. Europe does not work in the last month of summer, and neither do carriers.
There is nothing to dispatch, so there are no queues. However, vehicles carrying Group 1-24 goods and registered in a separate queue still had to wait between 7 and 10 days. As a comparison, vehicles carrying Group 1-24 goods currently have to wait in the queue for 17 days.
The long queues are partly the fault of the carriers themselves, who stand in reserve and do not allow trucks to reach the checkpoint in time. I also don’t understand why vehicles abroad are queued up. We have raised this issue. The Ministry of Infrastructure has promised to resolve it in the near future.
Vehicles running late are not the only problem. Drivers complain that some trucks are skipping the queues. Is someone helping them?
When there is a queue, carriers feel like skipping it, and some officials are keen to help them do so. When the Ukrainian State Transport Security Service was stationed at the border, there were fewer complaints about workarounds. Now, according to drivers, vehicles continue skipping the queues.
This problem can be easily solved: we need to see how many vehicles were in the queue and how many skipped it. Regarding the replacement of empty trucks with loaded ones, the Transport Safety Authority has indicated that if an empty truck enters the electronic queue and only then does a customs declaration appear, it will automatically be removed from the queue.
Does it really work? I hope so. The Ministry of Infrastructure has installed cameras in Jagodno. There is a simpler option, namely when a truck approaches the border, all you have to do is check that the vehicle is indeed empty.
There was no shortage of drivers at the start of the war, as many men had returned from abroad. Is there a shortage of workers in the transport sector now?
True, there was even a surplus of truck drivers at the beginning of the war. Now the situation has deteriorated significantly: many drivers are mobilised, some go abroad and do not return. Some carriers have half of their truck fleet stagnant because they have no drivers.
This is now a very serious problem for road transport companies and for the Ukrainian economy as a whole. Unfortunately, this problem cannot be solved by raising wages alone. Frankly, queues at the border have a direct impact on the motivation of our drivers to make international journeys.
In addition, border guards may refuse a young driver to leave the country because he belongs to a risk group. It is easier to work in Europe as the pay is higher and there are no borders.
The end of the war will only exacerbate the problem…
After the war, Ukraine will need manpower to rebuild the country. Many people who went abroad to escape the war will not return. We are currently examining the opportunities to attract foreigners to our companies, including transport companies.
But, for one thing, we still don’t have the legal framework to attract them. For another, our economic conditions are worse than in Europe. As of today, we need to look not only for drivers, but also for other transport and logistics professionals.
There is already a shortage of logistics specialists in Ukraine. But the difference between a logistics professional and a driver is that the former can work and assist the vehicles even from abroad, while the latter has to be in the cab of the vehicle.