Belgian farmers’ blockade heads to Port of Antwerp

Belgian farmers blockade major ports

Farmers-led protests have erupted in the surrounding area of the Port of Antwerp stifling operations at one of Europe’s biggest container ports.  

Hundreds of tractors have planted themselves on surrounding port roads, thereby blockading access, while farmers demand increased pay and improved working conditions, Reuters reported.

The disruption led to a buildup of traffic. Drivers have been requested to keep an emergency lane open at all times, while truck drivers have been asked to use the right-hand lane allowing cars to pass through the other lane.

According to Reuters, Stephan Van Fraechem, Director of the Association of Port Companies Alfaport VOKA, said: “Operations are heavily disrupted.”

“No freight can be delivered or picked up, as trucks are halted, while employees are only being allowed in after a long wait.”

Van Fraechem said the disruptions are costing companies working in the port millions of euros “for a conflict they play no part in”.

With regards to freight handling, the disruptions further compound other maritime concerns including the attacks on vessels in the Red Sea which has forced ocean carriers to avoid the Suez Canal, among the world’s most significant maritime gateways, and opt for alternative routes.

“Supply chains are already disrupted,” Van Fraechem added.

“Now ships that are already working outside their usual schedule arrive in a port where they can’t unload. This is a cause of great concern.”

At the heart of the protest, farmers have held EU environmental policies and cheap imports as responsible for the low prices they receive for food, hence why these major ports have been targeted as the hosts of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the Algemeen Boerensyndicaat (ABS, General Farmers Syndicate) union has rallied its members to unite in the protest, according to The Guardian.

READ: ICTSI obtains over $20 million settlement in ILWU dispute

As indicated by Reuters, the protest in Belgium follows similar dissent held among farmers in France, Italy and the Netherlands. The FNSEA, the head of France’s biggest farming union, stated on 13 February that protests that blocked highways across the country last month could return should the French government disregard their grievances.

Nonetheless, in efforts to address the farmers’ concerns Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, reaffirmed the agricultural sector as “the backbone of our society and an essential part of our economy which absolutely has a future in our country and the European Union”, reported The Guardian.

The Guardian further reported late last month that the Belgian government may offer a concession that includes postponing the new rule requiring farmers to set aside 4 per cent of land for hedgerows, fallow use, or other agriculture that can promote biodiversity in 2024.

Late last year, the Ports of Houston and Antwerp-Bruges, along with other partners, announced they would explore a mutually beneficial collaboration centred on importing and exporting renewable and low-carbon molecules.

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