Polish-Russian lorry conflict

Boguslaw Kowalski

It was a big astonishment for Polish freight companies. They were negatively surprised so much that they did not order their lorries to come back from Russia earlier. Consequently, over 1,000 lorries were held at the border. Freight companies have the right to be surprised and irritated, have the right to justified grudges against the Polish government. Such a situation has not happened since the fall of the U.S.R.R. Losses amount to hundred million zloty. And they resulted from the lack of agreement concerning the number of lorry permits for the year 2011.

Old permits expired and there are no new permits

15 January 2011 was a fatal day for the Polish international freight transport. On that day the permits for Polish lorries expired. And new permits were not negotiated. The ministries of transport (in Poland the Ministry of Infrastructure) negotiate the number of permits every year by signing mutual agreements. The number is connected with the transport politics conducted by particular countries, with the quantity of transport exchange and demands of freight companies. The talks have been difficult for years because this kind of transport is developing dynamically in Poland. Our freight companies care for the trade exchange between Poland and Russia as well as other European countries and Russia. Therefore, we can have more rides than we have permits. The authorities in Moscow do not want to agree to that because they are also developing their fleet and want more transport orders for Russian freight companies. But the agreements were negotiated in time and Poland gained more permits although not as many as she wanted. That’s why the Polish freight companies did not expect such a severe conflict and closed border. Since the Russians also have losses as their lorries cannot enter Poland and many of them were held at our border. Only multiple permits were negotiated and granted. But their number is only 670 whereas ca. 10,000 Polish lorries regularly cross the Russian border. This year the Russians gave only 50% multiple permits for Poland and all EU countries. The probable reason is that it is hard to control such licences. They propose more single permits instead. But both parties could not agree to the number of additional permits. Poland even rejected the Russian proposal in order to lengthen the validity of old permits to the end of the first quarter of this year to have more time for negotiations. But this only halted the transport.

Lorries wait, losses increase

Last year the Polish export to Russia amounted to 20 billion zloty. It includes mainly industrial goods and food. They are transported in lorries. The total value of transport services conducted by our freight companies from Poland and the EU is ca. eight billion zloty a year. That’s why the closing of the borders lead to losses of 130 million zloty a week. And salaries must be paid and some companies have loans and leasing contracts for which they have bought lorries. Polish exporters also have serious problems. For example, let us take the County of Losice in the Mazowsze Voivodship with its economy based on the production of common mushrooms sold mainly to the district of Moscow. The lack of transport of fresh and decaying food is a real catastrophe for many small producers. The Polish companies try to transport the goods to Lithuania or Slovakia and then tranship the goods to the local lorries that have permits to enter Russia. But such a solution increases costs. The cost of freight from Poland to Moscow has increased by ca. 60%. Such operations lead to the loss of market by Polish freight companies for their competition in the neighbouring countries. The state budget loses, too. Every week the public finances have losses of ca. 20-30 million zloty from excise duty, VAT and other taxes. This situation has already led to a severe conflict among the Polish freight companies. Since 670 multiple permits were given to the largest companies and they could transport their goods. But it was only a drop in the sea of needs, which causes an increase in prices, and now these companies are reaping a real golden harvest. And paradoxically these companies might be interested in keeping this situation as long as possible. But the individual benefits of this narrow group of freight companies are at the cost of the remaining majority and economy as a whole.

Ineffectiveness of the government

Responsibility falls on the Minister of Infrastructure Cezary Grabarczyk and indirectly on Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The negotiations with Russia started too late and from a certain stage they were conducted on a too low level. Russia is a centralised country and the most important decisions, including the international economic relationships, are taken on the highest political levels. They were conducted by deputy ministers till the expiry of the former permits. The lack of reactions of the minister or even the prime minister when the crisis could have been prevented, testifies about a surprising nonchalance and negligence of the problem. Prime Minister Tusk announced a new chapter in our relationships with Russia, which was to be proved by his several talks to Vladimir Putin. There were smiles, shaking hands, patting on the shoulder. But when it came to concrete interests it turned out that they were empty gestures and consequently, ineffective businesses. During the government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was accused of bad relationships with Moscow, such crises did not occur. The representatives of that government could sign proper agreements in time and even increased the limit of permits. We have more and more examples that the present government does many things for show, without real contents. But the losses resulting from such a policy are very much real.

"Niedziela" 7/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl