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Illegal trade in Xanthi flourishes

29 April 2013 / 19:04:33  GRReporter
3765 reads

Victoria Mindova

The ban on the movement of vehicles heaver than two tons along Zlatograd - Xanthi road over the past two weeks has brought serious discontent in Bulgaria. The trade flow in the region close to the border has been seriously hit and Bulgarian businessmen want Greece to allow the movement of heavy vehicles of up to 3.5 tons again.

GRReporter contacted the president of the Chamber of Commerce in Xanthi Stelios Moraitis to clarify the reasons for the restrictive measure taken by the Greek side. He explained in a telephone conversation that the restriction was not arbitrary and that it had existed since the creation of the road connection, but had not yet been observed.

The major problem in Xanthi and the surrounding area is actually not the ban on the movement of heavy vehicles but the omissions in the work of the controlling authorities, which have led to a boom in the illegal trade between the two countries. Over the past three years, the market in the region has been flooded with smuggled goods of all kinds, which has proved fatal for the legal trade in north-eastern Greece. It seems that stopping the movement of large trucks is not only legally and technically justified but that it also indirectly serves the fight against illegal imports and exports of goods.

The problem

"Since the opening of the Zlatograd-Xanthi road connection, 2,135 local businesses and representations in the region have closed. Beyond the effects of the crisis and due to the increased illegal trade, the turnover in the region has dropped by 70%. This means that unregistered traders come here and supply uncertified goods thus undercutting the market. The losses incurred due to the illegal trade are huge. This is true not only for Greece but also for Bulgaria."

The Chamber of Commerce in Xanthi does not believe that the problem is one-sided. Moraitis states that the lack of control by the Greek side has contributed towards spreading the illegal trade on both sides of the border, giving the example of illegal export of sugar from Greece to Bulgaria, which is often carried out by Greek "exporters".

"Sugar is only one of the products that are illegally imported from Greece and the Bulgarian state incurs loses due to unpaid taxes and other charges," states the businessman, referring to complaints filed ​​at the trade union in the past.

The restriction

Like the old joke that was popular during communist times, namely, that "those were not computers but compotes and we do not export them to Japan but it returns them because they are spoiled", this is not a case of an arbitrary ban on the movement of heavy vehicles. It is rather a restriction that has been in force since the opening of the road, but has not been observed to date.

"The sign indicating that vehicles not heavier than two tons are allowed to move along the road in Greece was erected two weeks before the official opening of the Zlatograd - Xanthi road three years ago," states Moraitis.

The restriction on the movement of heavy vehicles was determined back in 2010 in compliance with the technical studies, which the municipality carried out with the assistance of the traffic service in Xanthi.

"I cannot answer why the law restricting the movement of heavy vehicles hasn’t been applied so far. The fact is that trucks with a weight of over two tons had been crossing the border despite the ban," says the chairman.

In early April this year, representatives of the Chamber of Commerce in Xanthi held on the border a protest against the inaction of the state towards the expansion of the illegal trade. "The first 10 minutes after we arrived at the border crossing, we found that there has been a sign indicating that vehicles with a width of 1.8 metres and two tons in total weight are allowed to circulate on the road. We asked for an explanation of why the law had not been applied and then, the mechanism had started operating and enforced the restriction."

"We will do everything possible to destroy the illegal trade, on the part of both Greece and Bulgaria. That is why laws should be applied in both countries and the real business should function seriously and responsibly."

The measures

The Chamber has submitted to the Ministry of Development and Transport a formal proposal for the expansion of the road from Xanthi to the border in order for it to meet the international standards and enable the legal circulation of trucks and commercial vehicles weighing up to 3.5 tons.

“The Bulgarian side has done a great job in this regard. The road meets the standard. It is 6.5 metres wide, allowing trucks and other vehicles of over two tons of weight to travel freely on it. On the Greek side of the border, however, the width of the road remains 4.5 metres. If two trucks happen to meet, they cannot circulate on the road simultaneously, which does not allow the movement of heavy vehicles on it. The movement of heavy vehicles remains dangerous unless the road is widened," says Moraitis.

In addition, the businessmen urge the Ministry of Finance to open a customs office at the border crossing and to tighten the control over the carriage of goods in both directions. Otherwise, the Greek entrepreneurs believe that the situation in the region will continue to deteriorate.

The paradox

Tags: EconomyMarketsXanthiZlatogradRoadBorderrestrictionHeavy vehicles
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