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Border block imprisons truck drivers, threaten losses

By Pham Chieu, Ngoc Thanh   December 17, 2021 | 05:45 am PT
Border block imprisons truck drivers, threaten losses
Truck driver Huong talks to his employer on the phone in Lang Son Province, December 16, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Tightened Covid-19 measures and “technical difficulties” are preventing Vietnamese goods from entering China smoothly, leaving thousands of truck drivers stranded for weeks with deteriorating fresh fruit.

After driving a 45-ton container truck carrying mangoes 1,700 kilometers from the southern province of Tien Giang to the northern province of Lang Son, Huong found thousands of other drivers waiting for clearance to China, most of them with perishable goods.

For the last two weeks, the truck has been Huong’s home, where he cooks and brushes his teeth amidst the constant hum of the air conditioner kept running day and night to preserve the fruit.

"The mangoes are beginning to turn yellow," he told his boss on the phone. Both know that this means the fruit will be ripen soon and Chinese buyers will lower their purchase price, which could inflict a significant loss on the venture.

"Try to hold on for a few more days," the boss said, as Huong shut the doors and got on the driver’s seat, continuing to wait without any clue as to when his truck will be able to cross the border.

As of Thursday there were 4,500 container trucks stuck at Lang Son border gates, up 400 from the day before, as Chinese customs authorities limited clearance citing "technical difficulties" and tightened Covid-19 safety measures.

Network issues on the Chinese side, or "technical difficulties" means the Tan Thanh and Huu Nghi border gates will be closed until further notice, said Dinh Ky Giang, deputy director of Lang Son’s Industry and Trade Department.

The suspension of goods clearance at border gates with China has become a frequent occurrence in recent years, he told VnExpress, adding that on previous occasions this period lasted several hours, half a day or two or three days.

It is likely that the same thing will happen this time, Giang said.

Another reason for the blockage is that China has tightened its Covid-19 protective measures and examines the packages more carefully, said Le Thanh Hoa, deputy director of the Department for Agriculture Processing.

The surge in exports volume to China, which often occurs towards the end of the year, is another reason for the blockage, some industry insiders said.

Some border gates in other localities, such as Lao Cai, are closed, which means more goods are being rerouted to Lang Son and this intensified the gridlock, they added.

Container trucks are seen at the Vietnam-China border in Lang Son Province as drivers wait for clearance on December 16, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Container trucks are seen at the Vietnam-China border in Lang Son Province as drivers wait for clearance on December 16, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Drivers trapped

The situation has imprisoned thousands of drivers in their trucks.

Huynh Xuan Thai, a driver from the central province of Binh Dinh, said he has not bathed for seven days, and 40 tons of jackfruit in his truck have begun to ripen.

"We do not have water," he said, adding that he and other drivers have to use water dripping from the truck’s air conditioners to clean their faces and brush their teeth.

Each day of being stuck costs VND1.5 million ($65.27) for parking and gas, which is needed to keep the air conditioner running.

"I did not expect to be stranded here this long."

The owners of fruit export companies face major losses if the trucks are not cleared in time.

Pham The Loc, CEO of Phu Loc Transport Company that has 110 trucks with dragon fruits stuck at the border gates, is rushing from the central region to Lang Son to deal with the situation.

"If our dragon fruits are not exported soon, they will rot, and our company may go bankrupt," he said, adding that some of his trucks have had to wait over three weeks for clearance.

Thoan, another exporter, said that she could lose VND300 million per truck if the fruits are ripe when they arrive in China.

Hoang Khanh Duy, deputy head of the management board at Dong Dang Economic Zone in Lang Son, said it might take another 15-22 days to complete customs clearance for all goods currently stranded at Tan Thanh if no new cargo trucks come in.

Authorities are still discussing ways to resolve the issue with the Chinese side. Lang Son has advised exporters not to send trucks to the border gates at this time.

Some exporters have opted to find other solutions.

Nguyen Hoang Cung, CEO of the Dai Thuan Thien Agriculture Company, said that since November, the company has been sending goods to China by ship to avoid the road border blockage.

In the first 11 months of the year, China was the second biggest buyer of Vietnamese agriculture produce behind the U.S. with a value of $8.4 billion.

 
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