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Cross-border ecommerce may be air cargo’s ‘golden egg’ currently, generating buoyant demand and boosting the business of airlines, forwarders and logistics companies alike. But the mood is far less upbeat among Europe’s online traders and shippers.

They claim the sector is inadequately policed when it comes to the activities of their non-EU counterparts.

Ecommerce Europe, an EU lobby group representing firms selling goods and services online domestically, has alerted decision-makers, enforcement authorities and stakeholders to the urgent need to ensure a level playing field via effective enforcement of EU law on all ecommerce players active in the single market.

“In the past years, and even more recently, new ecommerce players from outside the EU have entered the union and are putting a lot of pressure on the single market and on companies already established,” said Luca Cassetti, secretary general of Ecommerce Europe.

“We have always been, and will continue to be, strongly in favour of an open and competitive market, as ecommerce is a global phenomenon. However, decision-makers and competent authorities must ensure that competition is fair.”

An open letter from the group highlights that the commercial practices of these players raise questions about their compliance with EU legislation, especially in the areas of consumer protection, product safety, counterfeits, data protection, privacy, the environment and taxation.

It concluded: “If companies already based in the EU violated these rules, there would be consequences, with authorities potentially taking enforcement action. The problem lies in the poor enforcement of these EU rules towards non-EU based players. National authorities are often under-resourced, under-staffed and lack coordination. This gives those non-EU based players that do not play by the rules an unfair competitive advantage.”

At the end of last month, the EU designated Chinese online marketplace Temu as a ‘very large online platform (VLOP) – which means it will face more stringent rules.

In Belgium, for example, a number of ecommerce logistics players based at Liège Airport (LGG) and specialising in customs clearance, have long been in the crosshairs of the Belgian authorities.

However, according to local media, LGG-based ECDC Logistics, a company set up by a Chinese businessman, has in recent weeks won a total of 12 cases against Belgian Customs having been suspected of the undervaluation of imported goods, representing several million euros in unpaid duties. And another LGG-based firm, BeCargo, has reportedly won four legal cases, three of which were for procedural errors.

Approached by The Loadstar, no one at ECDC Logistics or BeCargo was available to respond to questions, while Liège Airport declined to comment.

One Belgian newspaper said that, to date, state authorities have not won a single case against LGG’s ecommerce firms over suspected customs clearance infringements.

But, undeterred, they have lodged an appeal against the decision concerning ECDC Logistics, which is scheduled to be heard in court in September.

In an attempt to repair the frayed relations between customs declarants and Belgium’s tax authorities, FPS Finance, a working group headed by the CEO of ECDC Logistics, Patrick Hollenfeltz, was set up, with 72 participants at a forum this month, incuding companies from the airport’s ecosystem and the cargo community. The aim is “renewing all public-private contacts and restoring Liege Airport’s image”.

LGG has emerged as a leading hub for cross-border ecommerce between China and Europe, largely due to the growing presence of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba’s logistics arm, Cainiao, which has invested heavily at the airport, in warehousing and handling space, and in developing a network of flights.

In March last year, EPPO, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, dismantled a suspected customs fraud ring operating at Liège, which allegedly evaded tax payments estimated at €310m ($331.5m).

Investigators believed a number of firms were taking Chinese goods through Belgium and requesting VAT exemption. However, EPPO has declined to provide an update on the case, and it is not known whether those arrested have been charged and, if so, when they are scheduled to appear in court.

You can read The Loadstar’s special ecommerce series here.

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