Belarus is a transit country, with thousands of vehicles passing through its border checkpoints daily. It’s an endless process; every year, trade, tourist and cultural ties between West and East expand.
Is our country able to ensure a good transport corridor, avoiding delays and queues at the border? Several years ago, the question was acute. Now, the customs points along the Belarusian-Polish border have significantly expanded. Bruzgi international border checkpoint, in the Grodno region, is an excellent example.
Poland’s modern customs terminal of Kuźnica has been constructed using the EU funds. Previously, our western neighbours were able to register over 5,000 crossings daily. Meanwhile, its Belarusian counterpart lacked technical equipment to meet the same pace. As a result, long queues were commonplace, with drivers waiting several hours. The situation has now drastically changed — as the Secretary General of the World Customs Organisation, Kunio Mikuriya, saw on his visit to Bruzgi.
Mr. Mikuriya has occupied his high post since early 2009 and is now familiarising himself with customs in 174 countries worldwide. The first CIS state he visited was Belarus. Mr. Mikuriya arrived from Warsaw by helicopter, flying over six checkpoints on the Belarusian-Polish and Ukrainian-Polish borders. Later, he walked through Bruzgi, escorted by the Head of Grodno Regional Customs, Yuri Senko.
The new terminal is quite astonishing, equipped with a local computer and telephone network, radiation control devices and examination equipment. Additionally, 180 cameras permanently observe the site’s activities. Customs and insurance services are situated under one roof, ensuring efficient use of time.
The special examination area can accommodate 45 trucks simultaneously. There’s no need for queuing, as a scanner checks each vehicle as it passes through. Those requiring extra examination are moved to one side and are quickly unloaded into a cargo box. A mobile Mercedes inspection device (costing over 1m euros) is now in operation, paid for by the European Commission as part of its international technical aid. Control is greatly simplified as a result, saving time for cargo registration. Already, Bruzgi’s daily capacity has risen to 5,000 vehicles (from 1,000).
Mr. Mikuriya has been pleased by what he had seen and by the close collaboration of the Belarusian, Polish and Ukrainian customs agencies. “Under crisis conditions, it’s important for customs organisations to help businesses trade; the quick transfer of cargo across borders is essential. It’s especially topical here, since this is a strategic transport site connecting West and East. I’m convinced that much has been done but further improvements are necessary, which the WCO intends to fully support,” he said.
A declaration on strengthening co-operation, signed in Kuźnica by the heads of Belarusian, Polish and Ukrainian customs agencies — Alexander Shpilevsky, Jacek Kapica and Anatoly Mararenko, should help simplify and facilitate cargo registration.
“Our three neighbouring states have been closely co-operating for some time; now, we are stepping up our pace of international customs collaboration,” notes the Head of the Legal Department at Belarus’ State Customs Committee, Alexander Adereiko. “During our talks, we came to the conclusion that it’s necessary to share information to ensure stability. We should also solve issues dealing with the preliminary declaration of cargo. We may need to unify software for registration and control or set up a single information system. We have all opportunities to achieve this.”
The modernisation of Bruzgi border checkpoint is only one stage in the renewal of infrastructure along the Belarusian-Polish border. Similar terminals — equipped with the most modern equipment — are operational at other sites in the Grodno and Brest regions. Our western gates have expanded and now fully meet European standards. The Belarusian transit corridor is expanding.
By Iosif Popko