Digital certificates peel back bureaucracy for faster smoother banana shipments

Digital certificates peel back bureaucracy for faster smoother banana shipments

Ganor Sel

Cutting down on the time-consuming certification processes involved in shipping organic bananas into the EU is to be introduced in April.

PBUK caught up with executives at the European gateway for fruit transports, the Port of Antwerp, during Fruit Logistica to discuss how service providers are investing in cold storage facilities, bananas from Suriname are arriving and how the new digital system for organic banana certification is about to come online.

Digital certification kicks off in April

In less than two months a new digital certificate for import of organic bananas will be introduced throughout Europe where issuing “organic certificates” will become much smoother, according to Stefanie D’Herde, Port of Antwerp marketing coordinator for Benelux, UK, Latin America & Turkey.

The idea is to make the process easier for imports by getting rid of paperwork considered to a blocking or delaying factor.

The EU pilot project involved the port, together with banana producer and marketer Dole, testing whether the paper certificate could be replaced by “a more reliable and faster” digital version.

“In the past this paperwork needed to be transported by courier to Brussels and to Antwerp, so it took quite some time, and there was a chance that some papers could get lost, or there were errors and so on,” D’Herde tells PBUK.

“With this digital certificate it’s a gain of two to three days, which is very important, and represents a good time saver.”

The project also involves Dole’s customs agents Belfruco, the Peruvian administration in Lima, the Belgian customs administration in Antwerp and the Flemish Ministry of Agriculture.

“It is important to respond quickly to growths, not only in expanding facilities, but also to innovate, this is a good example of that. It will start to be implemented with other member states soon.”

D’Herde adds how the bio bananas digital certification could “open doors for other bio fruit” that currently use time-consuming certification process to import into the EU.

“The certificate is transmitted directly from the customs authority from Lima, Peru, to the European Commission where they receive the certificate in a digital format. Then in Belgium it can be announced that the cargo has left Lima by vessel and as soon as it arrives in Antwerp, we can do a declaration at customs and then they confirm the arrival of this cargo again to the European Commission.

“It comes all together, that’s why the certificate can be released and the cargo can just continue. It is very significant and could be rolled out and expanded to other products.”


D’Herde explains how the transport in reefer containers is growing at the Port of Antwerp which is leading to significant capacity building at the European transport hub, including developments in transshipment, storage and value-added services  – service providers are extending their infrastructure, she says.

In the summer, the Brazilian port of Pecan will be added to the South America East Coast/North Europe service from MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company between August 2017 and January 2018.

“North of Brazil is a very important region for the export of melons and watermelons to Europe and the fact that they’ve added this, directly connects us to them with a transit time of 10 days,” says D’Herde.

“The Port of Antwerp it is the first port of call in Europe.”

New banana contract

The beginning of February marked the start of the CMA CGM vessel Pointe des Colibris calling at the Belgian New Fruit Wharf (BNFW) terminal in Antwerp loaded with bananas from Suriname bound for the domestic market and onwards transportation to surrounding countries. The bananas come from Greenyard fruit partner, Food and Agriculture Industries NV (FAI).

According to D’Herde, calling at the BNFW is vital because it cuts the throughput time in the logistics chain.

“Of course reducing time with perishables is very important,” she says.

“What is significant for fruit and other perishables is that you have the shortest transit time possible, or at least when it gets to Europe it can go on as soon as possible to its end destination.

“We were very pleased with the announcement.”

D’Herde also talked about how Greenyard using a CMA CGM direct service to Antwerp means every Wednesday 2,800 TEU capacity ships will call at the BNFW Terminal arriving at 6am then continuing at 2pm the same day.

During the stop over an average of 50 containers containing approximately 43,000 bananas per container) are unloaded, while fruit, vegetables, sugar, wine and beer is reloaded as return cargo bound for the Caribbean islands.

The latest round of developments follow others last year, including in March when Antwerp Cold Stores opened a modern cold storage facility (initial phase was 32,000 square metres) on the left bank of the river Scheldt. This equates to 8,000 pallet spaces for deep-freeze and 7,500 pallet spaces for cold storage.

In 2016, the Sea-Invest group took over the Independent Maritime Terminal (IMT) to generate additional commodity flows and create a new reefer container hub for perishables. The €50 million (£42.4 million) investment also includes tripling terminal space from around 167,000 to about 549,725 square metres and expanding barge and rail connections in the hinterland as well as inside the port.

Belgian Fruit Auction (Belgische Fruitveiling) plans to build a construction centre just outside Antwerp in Vrasene where export fruit that has been shipped via the Port of Antwerp, will be sorted, stored and packed.

Pears destined for India, China and North Africa will make up 80% of fruit handles in Vrasene amounting to around 20,000-25,000 metric tonnes (MT) per year.

Reefer traffic

The latest figures show maritime cargo handling reached 9.02 million tonnes last year, an increase of more than 1.2 million tonnes (13% rise) between 2014-2016.

There was a 6.1% growth of TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) from 2015 to 2016.

“Reefer container volumes in the port are continuously growing and we see a shift in the export of fruit involving containers because it provides flexibility especially with smaller volumes of fruit or when the product needs to go to many different destinations.

“To be able to cope with that growth, several service providers in the port have decided to expand their storage facilities.

“I’m sure there will be much more growth to come and we will have many other developments throughout the year.”




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