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China border truck jam leaves drivers, exporters in a pickle

By Hoai Thu, Thi Ha   February 15, 2022 | 08:41 pm PT
Vietnamese drivers and exporters are shouldering additional procedural burdens stress and financial burden as container trucks with agricultural produce continue to get stuck at the China border.

At present, more than 1,800 trucks have been waiting for more than a week to offload their cargo across the border as the latter continues to impose strict Covid-19 restrictions.

For the last 11 days, Quan's 16-ton dragon fruit truck has not been able to enter China through the Huu Nghi Border Gate in Lang Son Province; and it is uncertain how many more days he will have to wait.

For driving 1,800 kilometers from the southern province of Long An, Quan will be paid VND10 million ($440). But the extra expenses he’s incurring while he waits are eating into his salary.

"There will not be not much left after I finish the delivery," he said.

Thinh, driving from the southern province of Binh Dinh, has been waiting with a co-driver for nearly one week.

They receive a daily stipend of VND200,000 for food, water, bath and other expenses. They eat instant noodles and sleep in the truck to save money.

"It has been raining, so we drivers are even more tired."

As of February 13, 1,815 container trucks were waiting to enter China at the three main border gates of Lang Son. Ninety percent of them were carrying fresh fruits from southern provinces.

The delay in clearing container trucks at the border has been happening since the end of last year. During the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday from Jan. 19-Feb. 6, the issue was partly resolved thanks to intervention from senior officials, but it has resurfaced since.

Chinese customs authorities have continued to impose the "zero Covid" strategy which requires stringent safety measures. It takes hours to screen a truck now instead of the normal 10-15 minutes.

With 100-200 trucks arriving every day, it would take 10-15 days to clear the blockage, Lang Son authorities estimate.

The delay, which has become routine annual event for some drivers, is hurting transport companies.

Container trucks are seen at Tan Thanh Border Gate in Lang Son Province, February 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quan Ha

Container trucks are seen at Tan Thanh Border Gate in Lang Son Province, February 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quan Ha

The Thai Viet Trung International Transport Company is losing VND60-80 million a day as it has over 30 trucks stuck at the border.

Tran Van Hao, CEO of the company, said that the time it takes to complete a trip from the south to the border has tripled to 25-30 days because of the blockage.

The shortage of drivers, which often happens after the Tet holiday, only creates more headaches because Hao has to pay higher salaries.

"They used to ask for VND2 million a day, now they want VND3 million or even VND5 million."

Several transport companies have refused to take on border deliveries for fear of having their trucks stuck at the border for weeks.

Since the end of the Lunar New Year holiday on February 6, Nguyen Manh Hung, CEO of transport firm XNK, has received many calls to deliver goods to China every day. He has rejected all of them.

"We have advised our customers to find other border gates, such as Mong Cai in Quang Ninh Province. But it does not help much."

Hung has been taking more orders from China to Vietnam, but there has been less of them due to Covid-19 safety measures at the border.

Dang Phuc Nguyen, general secretary of Vietnam Vegetables and Fruit Association, said that the prolonged blockage could reduce the prices of fruit like jackfruit, mango, watermelon and dragon fruit.

This could end up reducing Vietnam’s agriculture exports to China by 30-40 percent this year, he added.

Several exporters said they were looking to other markets to distribute their goods.

China was Vietnam's second-largest export market for agricultural, forestry and fishery products behind the U.S., posting an export turnover of $8.4 billion in the first 11 months of last year, accounting for 19.2 percent of Vietnam’s total agricultural exports.

 
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