A free exchange system has operated through Europe on Euro-pallets since the UIC 435-2 design was adopted in 1961, thus allowing pallet users to benefit from the availability of millions of good quality pallets of a standardised specification, but the integrity of the pool has been disturbed by the introduction of some counterfeit pallets that closely resemble the accepted design but fail to offer the same level of performance and strength.
Rail Cargo Austria, acting on behalf of UIC members, signed an agreement with EPAL in October 2014 regarding the continuation of the European Pallet Pool for the unrestricted exchange of UIC/EUR and EPAL pallets, but CEO of EPAL Mr Martin Leibrandt has stated that “EPAL can no longer guarantee that UIC/EUR pallets meet the demands that the industry, retail and logistics sectors justifiably place on the quality and safety of EPAL Euro pallets, and in particular, the uncontrolled import of counterfeit UIC/EUR pallets endangers the quality and safety of the EPAL Euro pallet pool”.
Mt Leibrandt added, “According to research by EPAL, there are more than four million counterfeit UIC/EUR pallets from Ukraine on the market, and this number increases all the time. East European gangs for the main part are increasingly counterfeiting UIC/EUR pallets, since it has become riskier to counterfeit EPAL Euro pallets due to the joint action of EPAL, customs authorities and lawyers. EPAL assumes responsibility for the quality and safety of the EPAL Euro pallet pool. The industry, retail and logistics sectors can count on that.
The UIC described the decision to terminate the deal as incomprehensible. “UIC protests in the strongest terms against the grounds given for terminating the agreement,” the UIC says. “Quality failings have no place in the UIC network: for us, the safety and quality of our pallets have top priority.”
EPAL claims that the UIC has failed to take any measures comparable with those of EPAL to protect the quality and safety of UIC/EUR pallets since October 2014. “In many countries, the UIC does not organise the exchange pool at all,” EPAL says. “Yet, in the two-and-a-half years of negotiations, the UIC declined EPAL’s offer to take over the organisation of quality assurance and trademark protection for UIC/EUR pallets. Terminating the exchangeability agreement is in EPAL’s view the only option to effectively protect the quality and safety of the EPAL Euro pallet pool in the future.”
The UIC acknowledges that fake EUR pallets are a major risk to the safety of users and goods in transit and says its members take a proactive approach on counterfeiting, whilst implementing all appropriate measures to stop fakes. “The argument that UIC pallets are counterfeited is divorced from reality: trademark infringements are, regrettably, a fact of life for all pallet manufacturers,” the UIC says. “UIC takes a tough line on all forms of fraud”.
“EPAL’s decision to terminate the agreement will jeopardise the pallet pool as an enduring, open solution which is advantageous in price terms compared to other systems such as pallet hire. Repealing the agreement will create uncertainty amongst users. UIC and its member railways will continue to consider both pallet brands as equivalent and exchange them in future, since we still believe in and will stand up for a borderless, barrier-free pallet pool.”
EPAL’s decision creates a situation whereby users of second-hand Euro-pallets which are marked with the UIC logo may not be accepted by all pallet users in Europe with load rejection and increased costs being the possible result. Taking this to a logical conclusion we may find suppliers of second-hand Euro-pallets in the UK being called upon to segregate EPAL pallets from those marked with UIC branding in order to guarantee compliance with the requirements of the European Pallet Pool – if this proves to be the case pallet shortages are likely and costs will certainly rise.