Friday, June 10, 2005

EU Directive on wood causes hitch at Frontier

New rules relating to the transport of wood across the border from Gibraltar into Spain sparked concern in the freight transport community this week.

Spanish authorities told customs agents that wood items would have to be accompanied by a certificate stating that they were free from organisms that could potentially be harmful to plants.

The measure, which was being applied to everything from wooden palettes to crates, stemmed from a European Union directive that establishes protective measures to prevent such organisms from entering the region from non-EU countries.

But local freight companies feared it would impact adversely on their operations and raised the matter with government officials.

Just days later, the measure was put on hold and it was business as usual at the border. So what was going on?

The directive dates back some years but was transposed into Spanish law, along with other relevant pieces of EU legislation, by Royal Decree earlier this year. The decree has been amended several times since then, most recently on May 17.

The measure on wood imports was applied at the border because Gibraltar, although a member of the EU, is outside the union when it comes to customs matters.

But local freight forwarders were surprised by the new rules, which they said were impossible to comply with on day-to-day shipments. They also questioned the logic of the move because most wood items crossing the border from Gibraltar – about 95% according to some – come from Spain in the first place.

The matter was raised with the Gibraltar government, which in turn pursued it with British and Spanish authorities.

One senior official said it was discussed “at the appropriate level”, though he would not elaborate.

The issue now appears to have been resolved – it is not clear how - and the border is back to normal as far as wood products are concerned, at least for now.

“Potentially it could have been very nasty,” the government official said. “But it’s been addressed at the appropriate levels and it’s a non issue.”

The local transport community, which has kept a close eye on the developments, has been informed from the Spanish side that no extra customs requirements will be applied to wood products “for the time being.”

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