Waiting for sanctions against Belarus could complicate East-West freight movements

An industry group focused on international trade warns that air and rail freight transport could be affected if tensions escalate between Western allies and Belarus over the forced landing of an airliner and the arrest of a dissident journalist last month.

Airline industry officials say the impact on operations of changing flight patterns over Belarus has been minimal so far. But the situation could change if new sanctions are imposed and Belarus fights back.

The Belarusian government, led by strongman Alexander Lukashenko, on May 23 intercepted Ryanair’s flight over Balerus airspace on its way from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Last week, the European Union banned Belarusian airlines from using EU airspace and called on EU-based carriers to avoid overflights to Belarus.

The US, EU, Canada and UK are developing sanctions against key members of the Lukashenko regime and several state-owned companies. The sanctions will likely involve travel bans and the freezing of their assets in those countries, but could also restrict travel and transportation. US Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher said Sanctions will soon be imposed on Tuesday in response to the Ryanair incident, as well as long-standing human rights and corruption concerns. The EU had already punished dozens of Belarusian entities and individuals for what it considers repressive actions even before journalist Raman Pratasevich’s arrest.

Belarus is a key artery for East-West transport. A large number of flights to China, Japan and South Korea regularly fly over Belarusian airspace and the rerouting of these flights will increase flight times and reduce cargo capacity to some extent, the Federation said on Friday. International Association of Freight Forwarders (FIATA) in an alert.

If the sanctions extend to the closure of land routes, “major disruptions are expected to occur in the supply chain,” FIATA said.

Belarus has an extensive road network, which includes international transit corridors connecting the EU with Russia, Central Asia and China. They also connect the Baltic States with the Black Sea.

“Belarus is also a key rail corridor, and disruptions to this route can have significant impacts on the Eurasian Landbridge, as the corridor through Belarus absorbs 80% of the total rail freight capacity between Europe and the United Kingdom. Asia, ”said FIATA.

Any dispute could also involve Russia, Lukashenko’s benefactor, and make it difficult to hijack planes and trains across its territory.

FIATA urged logistics providers to remain vigilant in the face of potential disruptions and to develop contingency plans to bypass blocked roads.

Airlines say the impact on operations of the situation in Belarus has been minimal.

“At current traffic levels, the implications are limited and will be manageable. If traffic increases it will become more of a problem, especially for some flights between Asia and Europe where extended flight times could result in payload restrictions, ”said Katherine Kaczynska, spokesperson for the Association. international air transport, in an e-mail.

Air France / KLM flights to and from Asia are forced to fly around five minutes longer to navigate Belarusian airspace, cargo spokesman Gerald Roelfzema said.

Logistics companies that run intermodal unit trains between China and Europe also say there has been no service disruption to date.

NATO summit

Meanwhile, air cargo flights are expected to experience delays next week due to the NATO summit, the operator of Brussels Airport said in a notice. Freight terminals will be temporarily closed at various times, including for US President Joe Biden on Sunday evening and his departure on Tuesday afternoon. A number of service roads to the airport will also be closed.

Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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