Global Times: Sprawling transport network prompts Central Asia from ‘land-locked’ to ‘land-linked’

BEIJING, May 22, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Amidst the roar of machines, cranes are busy hoisting containers while trucks shuttle back and forth at Xi’an International Trade and Logistics (ITL) Park, China’s largest inland port in Xi’an city, Shaanxi Province. Each day, more than a dozen of cross-border freight trains, run among 20 Chinese cities and 45 countries along the “Belt and Road,” uploading and unloading containers.

Such a busy scene has become the norm at the Xi’an ITL Park backed up by the expansion of the local railway network and booming trade between China and Central Asian countries and others participating the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Chang’an ChinaEurope freight train service, a vital transport link between Xi’an and European cities, has started operation in 2013, when the BRI was proposed. So far, the Chang’an train service is expanding to 17 international lines, including the launch of the regular lines from Xi’an to Almaty in Kazakhstan and Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian cities.

As of late April, the Chang’an train has made 17,643 trips, 40 percent of which are transported through Kazakhstan, and 4,294 trips in the five Central Asian countries, Yuan Xiaojun, general manager of Xi’an Free Trade Port Construction and Operation Co, told the Global Times.

At the Xi’an ITL Park, 59 railway lines have now been built, with a designed annual container throughput of 5 million TEUs and a capacity of 60 million tons. Meanwhile, as trade grows, goods delivered by the sprawling transport network are also expanding from raw materials and rubber products, clothing to food.

Xi’an’s rapid development as a transport hub is a microcosm of how the joint initiative has prompted the economic and trade ties between China and the countries along the BRI. Speaking with industry insiders, the Global Times reporters have learned how the transport network facilities have promoted the development of the trade and investment in the region.

Thriving business

Yuan Zhaohui, a Chinese businessman, has been operating cross-border trade with his partners from Kazakhstan for eight years. He started his business from scratch as the first company in the Xi’an ITL Park to use the Chang’an train to carry cross-border e-commerce goods.

At present, about 80 percent of his company’s business is linked with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries and Russia through the train service. And, the stable operation of China Railway Express has reduced freight costs.

Taking the road from Xi’an to Almaty as an example, the cost of freight for a container transported by the Chang’an train is about 50,000 to 60,000 yuan ($7,130 to $8,560), which is half the price of traditional land border transport, according to Yuan. The simplified and easier custom declaration for cross-border e-commerce companies has accelerated the growth of his business.

Xi’an Aiju Grain and Oil Industrial Group, a food processing and storage company, has also witnessed how the freight train has brought great changes to their businesses.

Before the Chang’an train was launched, the group’s cross-border grain and oil trade with Kazakhstan and other countries needed to use the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok, and transfer to Lianyungang, East China’s Jiangsu Province, by sea, before arriving at Xi’an by rail and road transportation. The whole trip took as long as two months.

“Now with the cross-border train, the grain and oil we import from Kazakhstan can reach Xi’an in 7 to 10 days – a big saving on transportation time and cost,” Liu Dongmeng, deputy general manager of the group, told the Global Times.

The return train service delivers high-quality wheat from Kazakhstan and premium cotton yarn and leather from Uzbekistan to the Chinese market with competitive prices while turning the Central Asian countries from “landlocked” to “land-linked,” industry insiders said.

The fast development of the ChinaEurope (Central Asia) freight train networks has accelerated connectivity of the Central Asian countries with the major production and trade hubs in China, as far as Jinhua city in East China’s Zhejiang Province, enabling the high-quality made-in-China products available at local shopping stores in Central Asian countries.

In Zhengzhou, Central China’s Henan Province, another production and logistic center, a total of 954 trains are operating on the ZhengzhouEurope (Central Asia) railway line since its inaugural run in May 2018. Over the past five years, the number of outbound trains has increased from one train per month to 27 trains.

Stronger outlook

On the sideline of the first China-Central Asia Summit held in Xi’an city, all sides aim to expand and deepen ties, with trade the core of their cooperation.

From January to April, China’s import and export volume with Central Asian countries amounted to 173.05 billion yuan ($24.9 billion), an increase of 37.3 percent compared with same period last year, according to China’s General Administration of Customs on Wednesday.

There are strong expectations for the trade to maintain good momentum especially with the much expected signing of documents for a closer tie between China and the Central Asian countries during the summit.

Tommy Tan, president of the Shanghai EPU Supply Chain Management Co, an agent for China-EU freight train service, took note of accelerated border trade with regional countries. “Currently, the ChinaEurope (Central Asia) freight train continues to maintain a growth rate of more than 10 percent, while regional trade remains strong,” Tan said, noting that he has confidence in the cross-border freight train service.

The five Central Asian countries play a crucial role in connecting Europe and Asia, with nearly 80 percent of ChinaEurope freight trains passing through Central Asia.

On the back of a positive outlook for stronger trade, industry insiders are full of confidence for more vibrant cross-border commerce, with the Central Asian countries no longer just being the transit hub between China and Europe but also important market destinations and sources of supplies.

With the improvement of transportation infrastructure under the BRI, there is enormous trade potential between China and the five Central Asian countries – China possesses the products needed for industrialization, urbanization, and digitalization in Central Asia, demonstrating strong trade complementarities, the experts said.

With the trade structure continuously optimized, Yuan is planning to expand his export business to Central Asian countries through the Chang’an train, such as bringing more Chinese new energy vehicles (NEV) to Kazakhstan.

“Chinese-made NEVs are cost effective, and attractive to local consumers, ranging from low-end to high-end cars in the Kazakhstan market,” Yuan said.

SOURCE Global Times

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