Polish freight companies are continuing to block one of the Polish-Ukrainian border crossings as part of a protest against what they see as an unfair market advantage for Ukrainian companies. They are demanding the reinstatement of the mutual entry permit programme, which was suspended after the outbreak of war in Ukraine.
The protesters have rejected an offer from the Ukrainian infrastructure ministry to allow Polish drivers to carry out transports from any EU country to Ukraine without permits.
Currently, several dozen protesting truckers are only allowing five lorries per hour to enter Poland from Ukraine at the Dorohusk crossing. Carriers are therefore having to wait for nearly six days – and for transport requiring a veterinary check even up to 10 days – to enter Poland, according to the Ukrainian governmental website eCherha (eQueue).
Kyiv first sent a note of protest to the Polish foreign ministry and claimed that the demands of the protesting carriers were unjustified. It later stated that as of 8 May, Polish firms would be temporarily allowed to carry out transports from any EU country to Ukraine without the relevant permits and vehicle environmental standards requirements.
“At the moment, more than 5,000 lorries cannot cross our largest border crossing. With limited capacity and blockade of seaports, smooth distribution of cargo is impossible,” said Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Serhiy Derkach, as quoted by Poland’s state news agency PAP.
“We are grateful to our Polish friends for their continued support in resisting the aggressor and look forward to further dialogue to unblock the border. We have taken the first step, we look forward to the next one,” he added.
The protesters, however, are not satisfied with Ukraine’s concessions. Rafał Mekler, regional leader of the far-right Confederation party and the owner of a trucking company protesting in Dorohusk, noted that Kyiv’s decision to suspend the permits shows that “the Ukrainian side interprets as it wishes what it has agreed to”.
“We don’t need permits since the EU abolished such requirements as a result of a deal with Ukraine,” he told Notes from Poland, referring to a deal struck between EU and Ukraine last year.
“Suddenly it turns out the permits are needed, [which] we knew earlier, because our carriers are getting fines for [lack of them], and many are being harassed in Ukraine,” he added.
Łukasz Białasz, a self-employed lorry driver who has been carrying freight to Ukraine for 13 years, told Notes from Poland that Polish transport firms have been receiving fines in Ukraine for lack of permits, amounting to €800.
Polish carriers claim that following European and Ukrainian regulations that came into force last summer, rates for freight have collapsed after Ukrainian companies were granted nearly unrestricted access to the Polish market.
They say they cannot compete on a level playing field with Ukrainian carriers, which are not bound by European regulations and have lower wages.
“At the moment the rates have been so squeezed that profitability is disappearing,” Białasz said. “Ukrainian carriers who have been operating in this market for a long time also object to the lack of permits. They also want the permits to be reinstated, as this regulates the rates on the market.”
The Polish truckers’ key demand is the reintroduction of a permit system for Ukrainian hauliers, which would limit the number of transports they can carry out in a year. In their view, the return to the old rules will enable Polish companies to return to the market.
Lorry drivers plan to maintain the protest, which has been ongoing since 2 May, for at least a month. Polish infrastructure minister Andrzej Adamczyk is due to meet with them on Monday.
The protest of transport firms is the latest by Polish businesses dissatisfied with what they see as too easy access for Ukrainian companies to the Polish market.
Farmers’ protests lasting several weeks ended in an agreement with the European Union to ban the import of Ukrainian grain to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, while letting transit through those countries take place.
The European Commission has also proposed €100 million in support for farmers in five affected countries. Poland can count on almost €40 million.