Ferry lines that carry cargo to Malta have increased their rates this year despite global shipping rates declining, trailer operators have said. 

The Association of Tractor and Trailer Operators said that despite its attempts to tackle the issue with ferry operators, “these efforts have been futile”.

The association was reacting to a parliamentary speech by Labour MP Carmelo Abela, who argued this week that importers had a duty to lower their prices as global shipping rates declined.

Importers had bumped up their prices when rates went up, he said, and should therefore do the opposite now that the situation was stabilising. 

“When shipping prices increase, the price of the product they are shipping increases also. But when prices drop, this drop should also reflect on the price of the product,” Abela insisted. 

Challenges remain for local operators

The global shipping industry has reported that the situation is gradually returning to normal following years of container shortages and port delays sparked by Brexit and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that caused a historic spike in shipping costs. 

But local operators said on Saturday that they were not benefiting from the drop in rates, as ferry lines that carried their goods to and from Malta had stuck to their higher rates. 

“Ocean rates, especially from the Atlantic and the Pacific, have been drastically reduced when compared to those in 2021,” ATTO agreed. “However, the rates applied by the ferry lines which operate to/from Malta have increased in 2021 and in 2022.” 

And while declining shipping rates should help ease import and export costs, ATTO noted that its members faced price pressures from several other vectors. 

Diesel prices have surged across Europe, rising 70 per cent year-on-year in October as sanctions on Russian oil tightened the market for the fuel used to power trucks.  

And new EU rules concerning trucks and trailers will add further price pressures to such operations, ATTO fears.   

The EU’s Mobility Package Regulation introduces a series of rules for truckers that, at least at face value, leave Malta at a disadvantage when compared to its EU peers. 

One such issue is a requirement that all commercial vehicles return to their base every eight weeks – a problem for an island on the EU’s southern periphery. Another, similar issue is that any given truck may only perform up to three cabotage operations in any EU country within a week, and must then exit the country for at least four days. 

MEP candidate Peter Agius has claimed that, according to International Road Union calculations, the new rules mean that Malta is paying around €360 more per trailer of goods than mainland EU countries.

Truck and trailer operators are now reportedly lobbying for the government to secure an exemption within the EU’s Combined transport directive, which is designed to encourage a shift away from road transport to more environmentally friendly forms of transport. 

Around 60 per cent of Malta’s trade is done with other European countries, with ATTO noting that the majority of that business is handled by Maltese companies hiring locals. 

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