VAALIMAA, Finland, Oct 10 (Reuters) Next time you complain about waiting in a queue, spare a thought for Pavel.
He has parked his truck in a line stretching for 5 km and this is a good day at the Finnish-Russian border.
Russia's economy is booming and its hunger for new cars, televisions and machinery means the transit routes through Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are clogged with trucks.
Because of this surging trans-border traffic, Finland is now as large a trading partner for Russia as the United States, but customs posts on the border are struggling to cope.
Pavel makes a return trip to Finland once a week: this time it was with a truck full of electronic equipment for Moscow.
Two weeks ago he spent 48 hours waiting to get back home.
Last winter the queues stretched for more than 60 km.
While the vehicles are stuck at the border, retailers in Russia and the transport firms are losing money and local people are scared to drive on the roads with one lane blocked by trucks.
The Finns blame the Russians for the queues which are also a problem in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. ''Last year we had queues on 300 days,'' said Mika Poutiainen, head of Finnish customs at Vaalimaa, 186 km east of Helsinki.
Vaalimaa is Finland's busiest border crossing to Russia, dealing with 700-800 trucks a day. Poutiainen says Finnish customs could double the amount of trucks that pass through because processing export papers takes only a couple of minutes.
''But because of the different kinds of procedures ... the limit is set by the Russian side,'' he said.
Russians prefer to import goods through Finland because Russian harbours near St Petersburg do not have enough unloading equipment or warehouses, and to minimise theft.
CROSSING POINTS The amount of goods imported through Finland has doubled since 2002 to about 3 million tonnes in 2006 and Russia's transport ministry admits its officials cannot handle the growing number of vehicles.
''Crossing points cannot manage as they are not big enough,'' a ministry spokeswoman said. Finland's transport minister says Russia could do more.
''They have promised to cut the number of officials (at the border) from seven to two. And they should also increase the number of staff,'' Anu Vehvilainen said.
Russia's relations with some of its nearest neighbours, especially from the former Soviet Union, have deteriorated lately amid mutual recriminations. Russia cut oil supplies and rail links to Estonia in a row over the relocation of a Soviet war memorial in the capital Talinn.
Finnish President Tarja Halonen, who met Russia's Vladimir Putin at the end of September, said Russia had made decisions that would help improve border traffic but had not carried them out fully.
Earlier this month the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania called for Brussels to raise the problems at border crossings at the next EU-Russia Summit.
Latvia has queues of between 700 and 1,000 trucks regularly waiting at the two main crossing points to Russia, and processing takes between 60 and 72 hours. Last month trucks stood in a queue for more than a week in Estonia.
The situation in Latvia got so bad that in April a local region declared a state of emergency to draw central government's attention to its infrastructure needs.
FUMES AND TRASH People living near the border crossings are fed up with the exhaust fumes, faeces and trash. ''There are always bottles and cans,'' said Tuomo Nurkka, who lives near the Nuijamaa border crossing in Lappeenranta, 247 km northeast of Helsinki.
''Trucks are standing in one lane and other traffic is using the other lane. It makes life interesting. It is dangerous especially in winter time and when the roads are icy.'' Poutiainen said electronic customs declaration would put an end to the queues.
''We don't have the electronic declaration because the agreement would have to be made between the European Union and Russia, not between Finland and Russia. On the EU level we are still in talks to solve this problem.'' The Finnish government has raised the issue in the EU, minister Vehvilainen said.
However, it does not expect the problem to be solved anytime soon and has put aside 24 million euros ( million) to build a new waiting area for the trucks.
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