German government signs “freight agreement” to ensure food supplies

The German logistics industry is taking measures to ensure the security of supply chains. Regulation on driving times will be relaxed, special lanes established and capacities increased, using taxi companies and car rental agencies. However, for the food industry, there remain the problems of finding enough harvest workforce.

The German government is issuing a number of special regulations to ensure the continued functioning of food supply chains. At a press conference in Berlin on Thursday (26 March), Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) announced a “Freight Transport Agreement,” which had been worked out in cooperation with the logistics industry and the transport ministers of the federal states.

This included far-reaching measures such as lifting the ban on Sunday driving, relaxing driving times for important goods such as food, medical goods or fuels. Wherever possible, special lanes are to be created, and checks are to be made to ensure that rest areas offer sufficient food and hygiene facilities for long-distance drivers.

To ensure the mobility and logistics of supply chains, the opening hours of water transport locks have also been extended. Vehicles that are supposed to undergo general inspection are to be given a fair amount of leeway in terms of time.

Scheuer praised the efforts and voluntary offers of many logistics companies. Germany has the best logistics sector in the world, he said, and this is now becoming apparent: “Everyone is working even harder now than they ever have.”

His ministry is in talks with taxi associations that want to offer the delivery of medicines to private households. Car rental companies will soon offer low fixed prices for medical staff so that they can use their vehicles to get to work.

However, Scheuer noted that he was “not so happy” about the talks with the European neighbouring states. Especially with Poland and the Czech Republic, he said, there are always problems that lead to long traffic jams at the borders.

At the same time, Germany, Spain, Italy and France are working on a concept to secure the future infrastructure after the emergency corona measures. To this end, a proposal will be submitted to the EU Commission in the next few days.

Scheuer said the concept should lead to a “digital deal” that would secure jobs in the transport sector, especially in the airline industry.

Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) added that transport and the food industry are working closely together and repeated that the food supply is secure.

Nevertheless, she noted that the labour situation could be strained at times. Germany is dependent on around 286,000 seasonal workers. Most of them come from Romania and Poland and are currently unable to enter Germany through the normal channels because of border closures enforced to stop the spread of coronavirus.

At Wednesday’s video conference of EU agriculture ministers, some member states had spoken out in favour of state intervention in the food market, but Klöckner rejected this.

The European Commission should only intervene in the event of a severe disruption in the food market, she said. “If there are exceptional market disturbances due to the worldwide coronavirus events (…), the instruments of the Common Market Organisation should be operational,” said Klöckner.

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