However, according to the Egyptian Horticultural Export Improvement Association (HEIA), the problems are grossly exaggerated, though HEIA does admit there have been issues causing a backlog.
“We’ve had some problems with airports closing down all over Europe due to the cold weather conditions,” says Mohammed El Agamy of HEIA. “Because of this, we didn’t get clear instructions for the departures of freighters. We only receive word on very short notice on when which airports will be accessible.”
The grounded cargo plane that is the main problem for the strawberry exporters was supposed to carry a load of 65 to 70 tons. “There was a delay for the necessary equipment for transport. However, we’re working very hard to let the plane leave on the next day. As for exporters pulling out their export volumes, I can say this isn’t true. When the produces is left in our care for export, the volumes can only be retrieved if a company asks for permission at customs. This hasn’t happened at all. There hasn’t been a single airway bill that has been rejected,” says Mohammed.
Mohammed thinks that the strawberries that ended up on the local market were batches of fruit that never made it to the airport. “A delay in export causes a backlog. When there are still strawberries waiting in our system to be transported by plane, we don’t have room to accept new volumes. So, new volumes on their way from the company to our premises would have to be diverted by the companies themselves. Those volumes would end up on the local market without us ever seeing it.”
Mohammed acknowledges the problems the exporters are currently dealing with and sympathises with them. “The period of the 1st of December to the 24th is a rush season, with high competition and massive loads for transport. There is much profit to be made. The US and China in particular are attracting more traffic than previous years.”
While HEIA is doing it’s best to catch up with the backlog, Mohamed mentions that some issues are simply out of their hands. “We can’t do anything about European airports closing up because of snowfall or other adverse weather conditions. If that happens, all we can do is wait. We keep our fingers crossed for the weather to improve and for the airports to remain open,” concludes Mohamed.
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