Freight carriers are struggling to deliver goods by land, sea or air as the coronavirus pandemic forces Western governments to impose lockdowns, threatening supplies of vital products, including medicines into the most affected areas, such as Italy.
But, the European Union on Monday urged its 27 members to unblock their borders and allow freight vehicles to cross from one country to another within 15 minutes to ensure the flow of basic supplies and medical equipment.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video statement that measures introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus had also slowed and sometimes paralysed transport, causing delays and risking shortages.
“This weekend we had some crossing points with more than 40 kilometers of queues. This is a waiting time of up to 18 hours. This has to stop,” she said.
Road transport, which accounts for 75% of freight shipments within the EU, has been particularly hit, notably at the Polish-German frontier after Warsaw’s decision to shut its borders to non-Poles, leaving Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians unable to return home.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said yesterday many of the problems on that border had since been resolved and queues of traffic were now much shorter.
The EU executive has asked EU countries to designate major crossing points as “green lane” border crossings, including for rail, sea and air transport and on waterways.
While China’s draconian steps to stop the spread of the virus are now allowing its economy slowly to come back online, supply chains are backing up in other parts of the world.
One European supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients used by the industry, who declined to be named, said the business was struggling to get supplies transported by plane.
The U.S. decision to ban foreign visitors has also cut an estimated 85% of U.S. air freight capacity, as vast amounts of goods were transported in the bellies of passenger planes that are now grounded. That has pushing freight costs up five-fold as space for remaining cargo runs is limited, companies directly involved in the trade say.
Goods from Europe are being re-routed through places including Mexico and Canada to the United States, companies say, but that adds time and also comes at a price.