A new liberalised transit permit regime between Bulgaria and Turkey should help businesses and develop the economy in both countries, officials and business owners say.
By Menekse Tokyay and Tzvetina Borisova for Southeast European Times in Istanbul and Sofia -- 07/03/14
New liberalised traffic rules between Bulgaria and Turkey are expected to take effect in April. [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]
Bulgaria and Turkey agreed to proceed with steps to liberalise the transit permit regime following a dispute that led to a several-day blockade between the countries at their main border checkpoint.
"I consider that we should think about how the companies of both countries can grow and develop further instead of competing between each other," Turkey's Minister of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Lutfi Elvan told reporters after a meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Danail Papazov in February. "We care very much about Bulgaria. We accord high importance to boost our relations in the transport sector. In this sense, we have important avenues alongside road transport: maritime, rail, communication are very important areas worth co-operating in."
A new agreement, which is scheduled to be signed by the end of March, will replace the outdated agreement that took effect in 1977.
The new rules are expected to be enacted in April. According to Bulgaria's Ministry of Transport, Information Technology and Communications, the countries agreed that the administrations on both sides of the border will fully assist transport companies to facilitate their operations in both nations.
In a statement to SETimes, the ministry said a call centre will be set up at the Automobile Administration in Sofia and the General Directorate on Road Traffic Regulation in Ankara to resolve all disputes in the processing of documents from both sides.
"It is a welcoming development that the two countries agreed on a full liberalisation of the permit regime to cover the transit and bilateral shipments," Tolga Er, logistics expert from Istanbul-based Maxi Logistics Services, a company conducting transport activities through Bulgaria for years, told SETimes.
The consensus between the countries was reached at an emergency meeting of transport ministry officials amid pressure from the businesses that were suffering extensive losses during the border blockade.
Private sector representatives in Turkey and Bulgaria said border blockades have a negative impact across the logistics sector and the latest one has caused substantial losses.
The agreement came after a blockade at the main border checkpoint damaged the economy of both countries. [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]
"Every day a truck is stuck at the border costs businesses 150 euros," Ilian Filipov, a member of the Managing Board of the Bulgarian Association of Road Transport Unions (BASAT), told SETimes, adding that his organisation supports "full liberalisation with the Turkish market."
Turkish-origin trucks are mostly carrying time-sensitive products intended to be delivered quickly. Delays and the huge truck queues made some drivers hurry in order to reach destinations on time.
Er said this transport dispute was engendered on an arbitrary basis, and had a negative impact on transactions between Turkey and other European countries, especially with road carriers making long queues at the joint border checkpoints.
"As Bulgaria is a transit country for Turkey's transportation activities, 90 percent of total volume of our company's activities pass through Bulgaria, and this crisis created a negative economic impact for us," Er said. "I hope that this new agreement is implemented efficiently and that similar arbitrary practices do not occur again between these two neighbours."
The agreement came as a result of the longstanding efforts of Turkish and Bulgarian sector representatives. Turkey's International Transporters Association (UND) and the Association of Bulgarian Enterprises for International Road Transport and Roads, which are both members of International Road Transport Union, have been in dialogue since 2001.
Fatih Sener, Istanbul-based UND executive director, said the organisation will continue to advocate Turkish carriers' rights deriving from the Customs Union between Turkey and the European Union as well as of the World Trade Organisation at all European platforms and international arenas.
"The free movement of goods, which is valid for Turkey-EU trade since 1996, will only be possible if the transportation pillar of this rule is liberalised accordingly covering all member countries of the EU," Sener told SETimes.
Er said there is a need for an EU-wide system to prevent similar crises in the future, as Turkey is a significant trade partner for European countries. That requires a mechanism based on pre-established rules and effective mechanisms to resolve trade disputes.
How would you evaluate the new liberalisation agreement between Bulgaria and Turkey and what are the benefits for the countries? Share your thoughts in the comments section.