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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Global Trucking Union: Customs Fraud Still Rife

Half a year after a crisis that could have blocked much of the country's foreign trade, the leading international trucking union is still seeking consensus with the Russian government.

The Geneva-based International Road Union, or IRU, is pushing four government agencies -- the Economic Development and Trade, Foreign, and Transportation ministries and the State Customs Committee -- to do more to root out organized crime from international cargo transportation.

Last December, the Geneva-based International Road Union, or IRU, threatened to stop honoring TIR documents, which are IRU-authorized papers that waive truckers through border customs points on the promise that they will declare their cargoes at their final destination. IRU president Martin Marmi said the system could not continue because many cargoes would disappear after entering Russia and the goods' owners would thus avoid paying the customs duties they owed.

The State Customs Committee then filed some $60 million worth of legal claims against IRU for duties not obtained since 1999.

Later the same month, customs agreed to drop legal claims, and IRU restored the TIR system on the condition that Russia would enforce changes to prevent the disappearance of cargoes.

Some 70 percent of the trucks that cross the country's borders use TIR documents, according to customs officials. The IRU believes that the volume of goods transported under this system accounts to about 30 percent of Russia's total foreign trade, or about $3 billion per year.

Negotiations on Friday between the IRU and the State Customs Committee were "very, very positive," IRU deputy general secretary Umberto de Pretto said in an interview.

De Pretto said that coordination between the ministries had proven difficult and talks with the Transportation Ministry had proven especially so. The IRU delegation expressed frustration at having been unable to arrange a meeting with Transportation Minister Sergei Frank.

The lack of coordination between ministries, he said, "is causing difficulty at the international level when there is information being sent, for example, to the United Nations that is inconsistent with the actions we are taking with the State Customs Committee."

De Pretto said that since December, several TIR system fraudsters have been identified and the money they owed in back customs fees has been paid.

Russian customs officials now relay information to the IRU on what goods have been delivered within about three days, he said, while in the past it could have taken months to be reported -- and sometimes it never was. Ideally, the information is transferred immediately.

There is less abuse of the system than many claim, Yury Sukhin, president of the Association of International Road Carriers, or ASMAP, said at a round table organized by the IRU in Moscow on Thursday and attended by representatives of about 400 trucking companies.

Sukhin said only six Russian trucks have not delivered their cargoes to their destination points since Dec. 17. In the previous years, there were hundreds of such cases each year.