A worker stands by a train leaving China to Europe at the railway port station in Chongqing (重庆) on April 14, 2017. Source: Xinhua/Liu Chan
Last May 10th 2017, a train left Panjin Port (盘锦市), located in Liaoning province (辽宁省) in China for a 16-day journey to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Train freight from China to Europe is increasing significantly, according to the OBOR (One Belt One Road) initiative, lead by China starting in 2013. Indeed, even if in the past the European leaders wondered whether OBOR was a threat or an opportunity, they are now more optimistic and more active participants in the project that plans to revive the ancient Silk Road. This new road could link Asia to Europe, passing through several countries such as Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France.
A new freight alternative
The most visible part of the OBOR project is the China Railway Express that connects Asia to Europe. This railway was created to accentuate trade and shipping overland by train, in both directions. China Daily reports that even if “the price is higher, considering the time and reduced wastage, the cost is about the same as by sea” but faster, which helps reduce waste for perishable goods. According to BBC News, because of the Brexit, even some UK companies are thinking about shipping by train to China. Jody Jacobs, Director of Brand Avenue (UK), specializing in cross-border trade and the distribution of British Brands in China within the global fashion market, explains that especially for heavy goods for which airfreight are expensive “a service which is quicker than sea and cheaper than air is a great middle ground.” Moreover, the railway’s extra advantage is an environmental one, as it could be a way to reduce the CO2 emissions as well.
Tangible Effects of this new freight alternative
This new way of doing freight contributes to the free-trade passage of European products to China. According to the Chinese website Jin Bin Wang (津滨网), “now whenever there is a train carrying computers and daily necessities from China to Europe, there are four trains with full loads of car accessories, chemical supplies from Poland to China.” Indeed, thanks to the China Railway Express, Poland is now shipping 500 tons of milk powder per month to China.
Currently, the train links 11 European countries to 28 Chinese cities. Radio Chine international noticed that it could even affect the destiny of some Chinese cities, as Chengdu (成都) –a land-locked city previously with little access to certain types of trade. Indeed, the capital of Sichuan province (四川) has now started to import luxury cars such as Land Rovers, Bentleys, BMWs, at the same freight rates as tax-free coastal cities in China. Last year, Chengdu, regional hub for the Southwest, even hosted the international meeting on vehicle logistics that had been previously held in first-tier cities such as Beijing (北京) or Shanghai (上海).
According to BBC News, Beijing is planning to create 20 new railways for freight bound for Europe. Last May 14th 2017, the Belt and Road Forum took place in the Chinese capital for two days. This event was the perfect time for the Chinese government to assess the willingness of European leaders to get involved in this project. The summit was also an opportunity to exchange on the recognition from E.U to China of the market economy status which will lead to strengthening the trade between them.