RIGA - The long lines of trucks being held up while awaiting increased customs inspections on the Russian side of the Latvia-Russia border starting in mid-December have vanished, says the Latvian State Border Guard, reports news agency LETA. Just before Christmas, over 1,600 trucks waiting to enter Russia were backed up at the border crossings.
The problems started with a claim by the Russian authorities of systematic breaches of customs regulations by Latvian truckers. Latvian customs received official notification from the Russian Federal Customs Service on Dec. 16, but the Revenue Service’s Communications Department wouldn’t reveal the contents of the letter to the public.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that Russian customs would tighten the checks on Latvian trucks because the number of violations by Latvian truckers in Russia had increased threefold, and that the amount of unpaid taxes by Latvian truckers caused a loss of 800,000 lats (1.1 million euros) to the Russian budget.
Latvia’s Foreign Ministry replied that these claims represented only a small portion of total trucking activity and that, if compared to the total number of TIR carnets [customs documents], failed deliveries of goods constituted only 0.018 percent of all activity. Moreover, in accordance with the international system of guarantees, Russia’s budget would receive compensation for default of tax payments by Latvian carriers.
Latvian International Trucking Association President Valdis Trezins pointed out that Russian customs officials were using the same methods against Latvian carriers that they had used against Lithuanian truckers last summer.
On Dec. 16, there were over 300 trucks in line waiting to enter Russia at the Grebneva border control point, and about 500 trucks waiting to enter Russia at the Terehova border crossing, with traffic moving slowly. This was just one day after the Russian Federal Customs Service started doing extra checks on Latvian-registered trucks at the border.
Russia’s Customs Service officers stepped up procedures verifying data on each truck, its cargo and the company in Russia that it was supposed to deliver the goods to. The procedures for each truck take several days to process as the trucks wait for clearance.
The Latvian State Revenue Service said it was “baffled by the actions of the Russian Customs Service, whose task it is to promote international trade, not delay it by applying extra controls on Latvian trucks.” Trezins said that the tightened customs checks had been ordered “at high levels,” because Russia’s budget revenue was smaller than planned and a “scapegoat had to be found.”
The Russian Customs Service, in looking for a solution, said that it received information from the Latvian side regarding the measures Latvia has taken to improve control measures on trucking companies, and that Latvia’s authorities have revoked the licenses of truckers who have committed violations in Russia.
Latvia’s Foreign Ministry concurred, pointing out that after being blamed of violations by Latvian truckers in Russia, the responsible institutions in Latvia carried out the necessary measures in revoking licenses from specific trucking companies and strengthened the control over transport companies.
Latvia’s truckers lost business as customers turned to other transport companies, worried about goods not being delivered before year-end. Trezins noted that similar customs checks on Lithuanian carriers this past summer caused international trucking volumes in Lithuania to shrink by about 40 percent.
The situation for trucks from Latvia returning from deliveries but still in Russia was also becoming problematic. Trezins said that “Truck drivers who have delivered goods and are on their way back to Latvia are hampered from leaving Russia, because Russian customs officers request the truck drivers to display confirmation from all customers who have received the goods, according to the accompanying documents. The process for requesting and receiving the information is time-consuming and the drivers are forced to wait in line.”
Latvian authorities say that the European Commisison will be informed about this situation, as these developments leave their negative impact on goods haulers from other [EU] countries. They also say that, though certain infringements have occurred, measures taken by the Russian side cannot be regarded as adequate to the infringements and cannot be justified by possible losses for the Russian Federation budget.
To settle the dispute, the Latvian International Trucking Association at the end of December paid 300,000 lats to Russian authorities. Part of the settlement terms, and in accordance with the TIR Convention, includes a Latvian International Trucking Association guarantee of payment of debt on each international freight shipment using TIR carnets if a 60,000 euro limit is exceeded.
Just one trucking company, Irona auto, owed the bulk of the debt, whereas the other seven trucking companies included on Russia’s blacklist did not exceed the limit, said Trezins.
The Trucking Association, having paid Irona auto’s debt, will turn to the Latvian authorities with claims against the company and those who represent it. Trezins said that collecting the money from Irona auto could be very complicated.
The Transport Ministry’s Transit Policy Department Director Andris Maldups says that the customs control process must be made more efficient and able to work faster. In his opinion, Russia’s response has been inadequate and has made a large number of cargo carriers suffer because of breaches committed by a few.