Turkish trucks denied transit to Kazakhstan via Russia
Russia's refusal to let Turkish trucks carrying exports to Kazakhstan transit through Russia for over two months, citing slow bureaucratic progress, has caused major anger and concern among transporters and exporters, Today's Zaman reported.
Speaking to Today's Zaman on Tuesday, Alper Özel, the vice president of the executive board of the İstanbul-based International Transporters Association of Turkey (UND), declared that the situation was becoming ridiculous as Russia continues with these delays and finds it difficult to believe that such a problem is taking place with Turkey, which Russia calls a major strategic trade partner. Russia and Turkey hope to increase trade between the two countries to $100 billion within five years.
Özel recalled how in the past Turkey encountered difficulties as Russia repeatedly tried to limit the number of Turkish truckers so that Russian truckers could break into and become more involved in the land transportation segment of the logistics industry. "In the 1990s, the share of Turkish trucks carrying goods to Central Asian countries via Russia was about 97 percent, while Russian truckers comprised only 3 percent due their underdeveloped logistics sector, which mostly consisted of old trucks, as well as the limited access Russian companies had to several markets in Europe," Özel commented.
However, according to Özel, in the beginning of the 2000s, Russia attempted to change this by asking Turkish exporters to use their trucks in exchange for four passes for Turkish trucks for every Russian truck used, forcing Turkish transporters to find partner firms in Russia that would enable more Russian truckers to enter the logistics sector. This system was called a "bonus system."
Although Turkish truckers experienced minor problems with their transits via Russia in the years that followed, in 2009 Russia decided to lift the bonus system and reduced the share of Turkish trucks to 75 percent, while subsequently increasing the share of Russian ones. The percentage of Turkish trucks was further reduced to 70 in 2011, and 65 percent in 2012, while the share of Russian trucks increased to 35 percent. In addition, Turkish logistic companies are having a difficult time dealing with problems stemming from "unreliable" Russian truck drivers, whom they have to work with to meet the requirements of the Russian government, in contrast to Turkish truckers, who are fast and competitive. Turks complain that these drivers are extremely picky about the routes they use and say things like, "I do not carry freight outside of İstanbul," etc., which poses high risks for businesses because these problems can potentially transform into major financial loses.
UND President Ruhi Engin Özmen said during a phone interview that "in order to avoid this problem, Turks has been using routes via Georgia and Azerbaijan to reach Central Asia, but this increases costs by about an average of $3,000. This triggers anger among Turkish logistic companies and firms operating in countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan who are waiting for goods to arrive for their projects, particularly in the construction sector." Furthermore, Özmen explained that furious businesses have contacted Turkish and Russian officials to resolve the problems but Russian officials have said they are waiting for the approval of their minister. "This indicates that either Russian officials are insensitive or they have a cumbersome way of conducting business," he added.
In addition, Özmen said that Russia plans to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and was waiting for their ratification which allows the free use of transit routes, but he pointed out that it is currently behaving against the rules of WTO. "In the 1990s the number of times Turkish trucks travelled via Russia was 30,000. However with the implementation of Russian policies, this number was down to 9,000 in 2011. We demand that the Russian government approve transit passes as soon as possible."
In 2009 Turkey and Russia signed a protocol to liberate open up transit passages but Russia is acting against the protocol.
Recently, after initiatives by high-ranking Turkish officials, Russia awarded 300 passes for a period of two months which ran out in four to five days.
When responding to questions about what is being done about the problem, Turkish officials downplayed the issue, saying they did not share the same concerns and it is currently not on their agenda.