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Fears that Russia’s land border with Europe could descend into chaos retreated at the eleventh hour last week after its government rescinded a forthcoming regulation that could have stopped the country accepting the TIR Carnet scheme.

In July, unbeknownst to its trading partners, Russia’s Federal Customs Service (FCS) decreed that it would from mid-August no longer accept the TIR convention – the UN-recognised scheme for road haulage movements across international borders and customs regimes which eliminates the need for customs agencies in intermediate countries to inspect the vehicles and goods, on which duties and taxes are guaranteed to have been paid. The Carnet is the TIR document distributed by the International Road Transport Union (IRU), itself authorised by the UN,  which acts as proof that the shipment is registered under the TIR programme.

Following sustained protests from the IRU, as well as concern voiced by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the FCS backed down from introducing the measure on 14 August, deferred it until 14 September and then on Friday appears to have abandoned altogether, after the IRU issued a press release that said: “IRU has just been informed that all Russian regional customs offices have been instructed by the Head of the Federal Customs Service of the Russian Federation, Andrei Belyaninov, that the additional guarantee measures foreseen by the FCS shall only apply in the Customs offices ‘subordinate to the Siberian and Far Eastern regional customs departments’.”

However, the problem could re-emerge later this year, according to DGTaxud, the European commission for customs and taxation, which stated: “The TIR procedure will continue to be performed at all other customs offices until 1 December 2013.”

The FCS said the reason for the proposed change, which would result in shipments requiring an additional Russian national guarantee once they had entered Russia, was due to “repeated cases of non-delivery of goods that are transported with the use of TIR Carnet and the non-fulfilment of the ASMAP [the Association of International Road Transport Carriers – effectively the IRU’s Russian branch] liability on customs duties payment”.

It claimed that a large minority of road haulage shipments – some 42% across the country – were not completed, and thus customs duties on them remained unpaid. It claimed that the FCS was owed Rb20bn (€464m) in total.

In a statement, it added: “The situation in the North-West region is even more serious. The amount of ASMAP debt reaches about Rb7bn and constitutes 57%. In comparison, the debt with regard to undelivered transit goods registered without TIR Carnet is only 1.73%.”

However, this was disputed by ASMAP general director A. Kurushin in a letter to IRU secretary general Umberto de Pretto.

“ASMAP considers that neither this requirement, nor the given reasons to justify it, comply with applicable legislation and directly contradict the provisions of the TIR Convention,” he said.

The UNECE described the chaos that could result if Russia insists on exiting the convention.

“It will inevitably disrupt foreign trade to, from and through Russia, while also leading to huge delays and queues at borders,” it said. “It may also have serious economic consequences for the road transport industry and the foreign trade of the Russian Federation, its main trade partners and several other TIR contracting parties.

“Each year, Russian transport companies conduct some 700,000 TIR transport operations in the other TIR contracting parties and around 1,500,000 TIR operations terminate in the Russian Federation. Consequently, the move could potentially cripple road freight movement in Europe and the entire Eurasian region, bringing additional guarantee costs to a system that functioned smoothly for decades,” it said.

Peter Cullum, the UK Road Haulage Association’s head of international affairs, told The Loadstar that a further issue for non-Russian hauliers was an obligation to use a Russian guarantor once a shipment had crossed the border.

“Three companies have been nominated to offer guarantees, but frankly, no one in international haulage knows who they are; we have no idea who is backing them, and the haulier has to work out if he can trust these companies.”

According to ASMAP, the cost of a road shipment from the Finnish port of Kotka to Moscow, one of the busiest international road transport routes in and out of the country, under a Russian guarantee could be as much as eight times that of the existing TIR system.

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