Asia-Europe shippers and freight forwarders using the overland rail routes have been warned of potential disruption, as political tension mounts in the aftermath of the recent diversion of a passenger plane for the arrest of a Belarussian journalist.
Last month’s hugely controversial incident, which saw a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius diverted under military escort to Minsk, has so far led to the EU banning European carriers from flying over Belarussian airspace.
The EU is also preparing to impose sanctions on Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, key members of his regime and a number of state-owned firms.
At the end of last week, the International Federation of Freight Forwarding Associations (FIATA) warned its members this could have significant implications for Asia-Europe supply chains.
“Belarus is a major artery for east-west transport, and freight forwarders should be aware of the adverse impacts such sanctions and related restrictions could have on the movement of goods,” it said.
“A high number of flights to China, Japan and South Korea regularly fly over Belarusian airspace, and re-routing those flights will increase flight times and will result in the reduction of cargo capacity.”
And the impact on China-Europe rail services could be far more severe, given the country’s geographic position.
FIATA said: “Belarus is a key rail corridor and interruptions to this route may have significant impacts on the Eurasian Landbridge, as the corridor passing through Belarus takes 80% of the rail freight capacity between Europe and Asia.
“Should these sanctions extend to the closure of land routes, major disruptions are expected. Belarus has an important network of roads, which includes international transit corridors linking the EU with Russia, Central Asia, and China. They also connect the Baltic states with the Black Sea.
“The situation is still developing, but the mounting tensions between the regions creates risks of border closures and may weaken the position of freight transport.
“Freight forwarders should therefore remain alert of the potential impact that new sanctions on Belarus could have on international trade and logistics, noting the high volumes at risk,” it added.