The deadline for road haulage cabotage rules to be extended has now passed, but the results of the government consultation have yet to be announced.

In October 2021, the UK government announced a temporary extension to road haulage cabotage rules, but that was due to end on April 30th 2022.

Following a further consultation in March, the government’s website tells users to ‘visit this page again soon to download the outcome’ but has not been updated again as of May 3rd.

This leaves road hauliers in limbo awaiting the outcome of the consultation and a decision on whether to extend or renew the cabotage exemptions, potentially for a further six-month period.

What is cabotage?

Cabotage gives hauliers from one country the right to carry out activities in another country. It can apply to road, rail, sea and air, but in the context of road haulage, it means non-UK hauliers can stay in the country and carry out unlimited activities for up to 14 days.

The word itself is French in origin, from the verb ‘caboter’, which means travelling along a coastline.

What are the cabotage exemptions?

The cabotage exemptions introduced in October 2021 mean hauliers from outside of the UK can transport goods around within the UK for up to two weeks. They were initially introduced to ease pressure on UK supply chains, in light of the shortage of domestic HGV drivers.

Effects of the extension

The Road Haulage Association opposed the extension in October, warning that it risked ‘sabotage’ of UK haulage companies.

In March, the RHA echoed its concerns, claiming that the exemption suppresses UK lorry drivers’ wages and is ‘deeply unfair’ as there is no reciprocal arrangement in place when UK HGV drivers enter other countries.

Duncan Buchanan, RHA policy director for England and Wales, said that ‘continuing the cabotage relaxation benefits large companies wanting to use it make more money and to suppress freight rates for UK operators.’

He added: ‘Any justification for the cabotage relaxation has now passed, it should have ended before now.’

Will the exemption be extended?

Time is now up for the UK government to make a decision, but the outcome of the consultation has not yet been released.

It’s easy to see the arguments for both sides. On the one hand, cabotage allows overseas operators to work for up to two weeks in the UK, diluting the market and keeping domestic drivers’ incomes down – and it’s not clear that another six months would be enough to overcome the long-term pressures on UK haulage firms anyway.

On the other hand, supporters might argue that UK supply chains are still under considerable pressure, compounded by drivers isolating due to COVID-19, and that another six months would give time for circumstances to settle down further.

Either way, it will be good to get some clarity from the government once a decision is published, especially now that the deadline of April 30th 2022 has passed.