Consumer prices will increase under EU trucking rules, Express Trailers CEO warns

Express Trailers CEO Franco Azzopardi says EU cabotage rules designed for influential countries protecting their trade from Maltese competition

Proposed European rules on trucking will have an adverse effect on Maltese businesses due to an inevitable increase in freight costs, Express Trailers CEO Franco Azzopardi has warned.

The EU Mobility Package adopted by the European Council on 7 April 2020 and approved by European Parliament on 8 June will see a major reform of the EU road transport sector that includes new rules claimed to improve drivers’ working conditions, to regulate governing access to the road haulage market and also to regulate maximum work and minimum rest times for drivers.

Franco Azzopardi said the EU mobility package will bring major disruption to its operations and costs, which, “needless to say will be passed on to the importer and exporter.”

“Every 8 weeks, we will have to bring our trucks back to Malta for a week and then returned back to the continent. This means that every truck will be laying idle for six and a half weeks every year. To make good for this and to ensure our steady service, for every eight trucks we have on the continent, we will need to acquire another truck just to fill the gap of the dead time of the fleet. Why should we be forced to invest say, €500,000 to acquire five new trucks and incur depreciation and amortisation without any return on investment?”

Azzopardi said the carriage of goods was an artery of Malta’s survival because all goods consumed on the island is imported.

“The spillover effect on people’s lives will be price hikes on all imported and exported products due to this increase in freight costs meaning a restraint and choke on any e-commerce initiative on the part of the retailer due to becoming uncompetitive on freight,” Azzopardi said.

“I am extremely sad, disappointed and outright angry at all this. My expectation was that the EU should not even have come up with such discriminatory initiatives and rules, especially now in these already very delicate economic times,” he added.

“From where we stand this is a capriciously designed rule, camouflaged under an environmental excuse which in my view is complete nonsense. Miles will still have to covered to carry cargo from exporter to importer. Difference is that now those miles will cost much more due to the amortisation of the cost of unproductive capital tied up the additional trucks that will give us no miles.”

Azzopardi said the new rules are claimed to supposedly improve working and social conditions for drivers and contribute to road safety. “Truckers are now going to be prohibited from doing their weekly rest period of 45 hours in the truck which is their second home. Why impose such a prohibition?”

Azzopardi said the EU wants transport companies to also send their drivers home every 4 weeks.

He said truckers “find solace and pride in their truck cabin which they will always prefer to any hotel for just the weekend, every week they are on duty.”

“And I can vouch for this having personally done a tour with a trucker which enlightened me to understand how truckers think and feel. The EU rule could have just given the right to the truckers to demand such a condition, not impose it on them and us.

“This is unsustainable, our truckers work on the road out of their own free will, are all well paid and should be free to work the length of tour they want. No authority should interfere unless the truckers are being exploited or unless there is scientifically proven health hazard.”

Azzopardi suggested that the rules could be an orchestration by more influential countries to protect their companies from more competitive companies doing trucking operations on mainland Europe. “I really can see no other reason for it having been put forward at EU level,” Azzopardi said.

Azzopardi referred to the rule of ‘cabotage’ which defines that in EU countries, trucking companies cannot do more than 3 operations in an EU country, within 7 days, and now without getting out of that country and ‘cooling off’ for 4 days.

“I feel this rule goes head-on against the EU principles of free movement and in Malta’s case, it is paralysing. Malta’s size and that of its businesses make it near impossible to have less than three stops or pick-up points from a country. We already struggle to operate sustainably. What we do is, by specialising in ‘groupage’, we load and stack trailers as much as possible, with multiple units of cargo going to the same country regions for dropping off at different addresses so as to optimise tour efficiencies.”

He said the ‘cabotage’ rule prohibits Maltese companies from doing such multiple operations within 7 consecutive days in the same country because of the limitation of up to three operations, when they normally complete a whole tour with a multiple of operations in just a couple of days.

“In my view, this is nothing but protectionism of the territory hauliers and if you had to ask me, goes against the true spirit of the EU, at least the way I understand it to be.

“I am not sure whether Maltese MEPs together with the transport and economy authorities fought this EU Mobility Package tooth and nail from the outset. Even if since recently, all the local MEPs whichever creed came out strong and united, the timing was wrong. To my knowledge, the EU does not function that way. We came out too late.”