Thursday, March 26, 2020

Freight Lobby Group Petitions Government on Brexit and Criticises Open Borders Policy Abuses

Coronavirus Will Disrupt EU Negotiations and Countries Fail to Follow Green Lanes Guidelines
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has put its case for a couple of the matters of most importance to the logistics industry at the moment, and it will be no surprise they both emanate from the current pandemic.

Firstly the FTA has expressed a similar view which Robert Keen of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) put forward recently, and is petitioning government urgently to seek an extension to the current transition period for leaving the European Union with the prospect of the current disruption delaying negotiations beyond December’s scheduled deadline. Elizabeth de Jong, Policy Director at FTA, explains:

“This is not about the relative merits of Brexit, or any trading arrangements which our industry will need to adopt. This is purely and simply so the businesses tasked with keeping the UK’s supply chain intact can concentrate on the serious issues which the Covid-19 pandemic is placing on the industry.

“Logistics is facing unprecedented challenges, both in terms of keeping the UK economy supplied with all the goods it needs to function, as well as coping with the increased disruption to staffing levels caused by sickness and self-isolation and concerns about the viability of their businesses.

”Our first priority is always to deliver for our customers, and there is simply not enough capacity available to plan the major structural changes needed to implement a successful departure from the EU, as well as the myriad of other planned legislation changes on the horizon [and] dealing with unprecedented pressures caused by Covid-19.”

Additionally the FTA says that the government should also suspend other planned domestic legislation which will impact the logistics sector in the short term. This includes the expansion of the London-wide Low Emission Zone for HGVs and the London Direct Vision Standard due to take effect from October this year, as well as the start of other Clean Air Zones around the country, in areas including Birmingham and Leeds. Ms de Jong continues:

“All this new legislation, and new trading arrangements, need careful planning and implementation in normal circumstances. But it is clear they would bring major change to our sector at a time when we are fully committed to overcoming the challenges which Covid-19 presents. In addition to the administrative, practical and financial difficulties experienced by our sector, the pandemic will undoubtedly have a significant impact.

[This will specifically affect] supplies of new equipment, technology and vehicles in the coming months, as well as the industry’s ability to recruit and train new staff. Add in the challenge of adapting to new trading arrangements with the EU, which are yet to be formalised, and the situation is placing logistics under huge and unnecessary pressures.

“Logistics is a flexible industry, but such significant change cannot happen overnight, and there is simply not the capacity for planning and delivery of new legislation at present within the system. Covid-19 has created a once-in-a-lifetime emergency situation which needs the full attention of the whole sector, adding in a host of new legislation would place untold, unnecessary pressure on a supply chain that is already stretched. Our industry needs the support of government, not to be broken by it.”

Today the FTA has also commented on this week’s decree by the European Commission (EC) that the TEN-T network of border crossings be designated as ‘green lanes’ allowing free, unhindered crossing for all road haulage vehicles the full details of which we gave in an earlier article. The FTA say many logistics operators have encountered significant delays at the EU’s internal borders, which is disrupting the delivery of goods, and the integrated supply chains that are urgently needed as the European continent fights the virus. Pauline Bastidon, Head of European and Global Policy at FTA, made a statement, saying:

“Green lanes at borders are intended to ensure freight flows freely to and from different countries, but many operators have faced, and are still facing delays of up to 14 hours at the EU’s internal borders. Currently, crossing the border should take no more than 15 minutes, as specified in the EU’s guidelines, and on behalf of our members and their partners across Europe, we are urging member states to facilitate the movement of vehicles to protect supply chains and the delivery of essential goods.

“While we are all facing such an extraordinary trading environment, procedures at green lane border crossings should be minimised and streamlined to what is strictly necessary. We are urging EU member states to ensure checks and screening can be carried out without the need for drivers to leave their vehicles, and they should not be asked to produce any documentation except ID, driver’s licence and, if necessary, a letter from the employer, as specified in the EU guidelines. Electronic submission and display of documents should be accepted.

“Quarantining workers at borders without reason is simply placing the whole supply chain under even greater threat. European logistics as a whole is facing a significant shortage of workers, particularly among drivers, and the industry which keeps the economy working efficiently simply cannot afford to sustain the gaps in the workforce which these unnecessary delays are causing. At present, society is relying on logistics to deliver, more now than at any other time, but our operators are being hampered by unnecessary checks and red tape.

“Covid-19 has created an exceptional set of circumstances which logistics operators are negotiating their way through to keep businesses, schools, hospitals and homes supplied all over Europe with the goods and services they need. The industry now needs the support of all European governments to support their efforts, by suspending restrictions such as weekend, night and sectoral bans, and to provide stimulus to facilitate the operation of such a vital sector of the economy.

”Logistics is committed to delivering for society but needs governments to provide support to ensure the continued movement of goods without obstruction. This will ensure the safety and resilience of the continent’s interconnected supply chains at such an extraordinary time.”

Photo: Trucks queue at a Bulgarian border.