China has embraced tremendous changes in the past two decades and has presented huge market potential with its endeavor to pursue high-quality development and promote regional connectivity, said Jens Eskelund, managing director of Maersk China Ltd.
“China joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 was absolutely transformative,” he told journalist in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the annual conference of the Boao Forum for Asia.
Recalling the old days after having lived in China for three decades, Eskelund said the country was a reasonably big trading nation and an important one, but the size then was nowhere near that of today.
China’s total imports and exports of goods expanded 1.9 percent year-on-year to 32.16 trillion yuan (about $4.94 trillion) last year, hitting a record high despite a worldwide slump in shipments.
“It is hard to overestimate how big a change joining the WTO has brought to China in basically any respect, especially in terms of personal income, quality of life and opportunities for young people in China,” he said.
Looking forward, Eskelund said China’s aim to help increase the disposable incomes of its people indicates that there will also be growth in consumption. “We expect that also translates into growth in trade.”
Increasing people’s incomes, boosting domestic consumption, and seeking to foster a world-class business environment, among others, are high on the agenda in a blueprint for China’s development over the next five years and beyond.
Eskelund, who is also the vice-chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, said another area of huge potential is trade in services between China and Europe. The two sides can work together to enhance mutual market access and cooperation.
Eskelund said he hopes China’s opening-up trend that led to a surge of trade in goods between the two sides would continue.
When the COVID-19 pandemic induced huge challenges for maritime and air transports last year, Maersk’s intercontinental rail freight service between China and Europe provided an alternative solution for global supply chains with much faster growth in volume.
The company had arranged a total of 210 tailored intercontinental trains from China to European countries including Germany and France.
Eskelund, however, noted that while China’s ports and maritime transport are efficient, there is still a gap between the inland areas and big port cities.
Eskelund said that he has observed a very significant willingness and understanding of the ability of efficient logistics to foster economic growth in the inland areas.
“There’s a very big potential in making logistics available on locations that are not very well connected with international trade routes,” Eskelund added, hailing the concept of connectivity embedded in the country’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“Over the years, we saw how China has gone out and focused on creating connectivity through building highways and container ports,” he said.
Going out and creating the right infrastructure can be a powerful enabler of trade and bring countries together, Eskelund added.