Polish-hauled road freight between Russia and the EU could grind to a halt in months if a simmering bureaucratic dispute over border-crossing permits is not resolved soon. 

That is the warning from one Russian freight forwarder who emailed Lloyd’s Loading List.com following our coverage of the issue last week. Another forwarder, in the UK, has previously told us (click here) that the dispute is already pushing up costs. 

The issue affects manufacturers and exporters from across Europe because a large proportion of Russia-bound cargo is hauled by Polish operators who have seen their single-trip permit quota cut from 180,000 to 150,000. Of that number, the majority are intended for bilateral trade between Poland and Russia while only a small proportion are officially intended for ‘trilateral’ use – collecting in third countries and transiting Poland into Russia, usually via Belarus.

Meanwhile, the number of unlimited-entry, year-round permits granted to Polish operators has been cut from 1,100 to 670.

Some freight forwarders have started to look for alternative routes - such as using ro-ro services to the Baltic states and then employing non-Polish hauliers to make the border crossing. The Russian Ministry of Transport has also given public support to a one-year-old weekly DFDS ro-ro service from Sassnitz in Germany to Ust Luga in Russia: a route which completely cuts out Poland. 

For shippers, such by-pass strategies may have a limited shelf-life given Poland’s dominance of the Russia-EU market and some forwarders have warned that services to Russia could become more expensive and less reliable until the problem is sorted out. 

Our Russia-based email correspondent was more forthright (click here), saying that Poland could use up all its permits before more are issued.

Alexander Rogan, Director of Moscow-based Priority Freight CIS, said: “It is likely that Poland will run dry totally in Q3 and Q4 2012. 

He added that some shippers have contributed to the problem by turning a blind eye to Polish transport providers who carry non-Polish goods using permits intended for bilateral trade only.

This is believed to be part of the reasoning behind Russia’s stance on the dispute, although at the time of writing, no-one from the Russian Ministry of Transport had responded to Lloyd’s Loading List.com queries.

“The fact that the number of trilateral licenses available is very small (Of the 180,000 issued in 2011, 24,500 were trilateral) means that most goods transiting to Russia via non-indigenous or Russian transport are being moved illegally,” said Rogan.

“Just accepting a transport provider’s word that they have sufficient legal licenses, when the same providers are claiming Russian actions are destroying their industry, is a dereliction of [the exporter’s]management responsibility,” said Rogan.

The Polish Ministry of Transport would not comment on the reasons behind the dispute but a Senior Officer at the department, Piotr Pastuszak, told Lloyd’s Loading List.com (click here) : “The Polish side is going to resolve the problem, but it is difficult to say when this will take place.

“This year, several meetings of both administrations have been held and it has been agreed to run consultations of haulage associations from each country.

“Firstly, road haulage industry representatives will hold a meeting, and then transport ministers will discuss the issue, most probably in July this year.”