Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Freight Forwarding Community Warned of the Concerns When Belarus is Involved

Bans and Sanctions Will Raise Costs and Damage capacity
Shipping News Feature

BELARUS – WORLDWIDE – The disgraceful incident in which a journalist, Raman Pratasevich, was seized by the Belarusian authorities last month has led to the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) warning freight forwarders of the ramifications for the cargo community.

On 23 May, Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius was intercepted over Belarusian airspace and made to land in Minsk by Belarusian authorities who then arrested the journalist. Forwarders should be mindful of the significant risks this poses to freight transport, which may result in disruption to air and possibly land transport between Europe and China.

On 4 June, the European Union (EU) imposed a ban on Belarusian airlines from using EU airspace and called for EU-based carriers to avoid overflight to Belarus. Sanctions on senior Belarus officials are currently being contemplated, targeting key members of Lukashenko’s regime and several state-owned companies. Reports suggest that the UK and the US may adopt similar measures.

Belarus is a major artery for East-West transport, occupying as it does, a key position geographically. In the air a high number of flights to and from China, Japan and South Korea regularly fly via Belarusian airspace, and re-routing those flights will increase flight times and will result in the reduction of cargo capacity.

The main concern however is probably on the roads where, should these sanctions extend to the closure of land routes, major disruptions are expected to occur in the supply chain and overall East–West transport. Belarus has an important network of roads, which includes international transit corridors linking the EU with Russia, Central Asia, and China.

Additionally the highway network also connects the Baltic states with the Black Sea whilst Belarus is also a key rail corridor, and interruptions to this route may have significant impacts on the Eurasian Landbridge, as the corridor passing through Belarus takes 80% of the total rail freight capacity between Europe and Asia.

The situation is still developing, but the mounting tensions between the regions creates risks of border closures and may weaken the position of freight transport. Freight forwarders should therefore remain alert of the potential impact that new sanctions on Belarus could have on international trade and logistics, noting the high volumes at risk.

The Belarusian government issued a statement saying the Ryanair flight was ordered down because of ‘a threat from Hamas’, the equivalent defence to ‘the dog ate my homework’ as this was plainly an operation intended to capture the dissident scribe. FIATA says it is closely monitoring the events and is committed to supporting the freight forwarding community with information on how to adapt to the changing situation as necessary.

Photo: Captive journalist Raman Pratasevich, his face clearly marked, ‘confessing’ and telling on the government made video that he had been treated well. Supporters say the government is now so lazy and incompetent they cannot even hide the marks of torture often applied to state prisoners when they appear in such films.