At the port of Lianyungang in east China’s Jiangsu Province, several cranes are seen slowly lifting colorful containers and arranging them in a line, ready to be transported by China-Europe freight trains.
The commodities, including face masks, elevators and construction materials, will be shipped to Asian and European destinations before the Spring Festival, which falls on Feb. 12 this year.
According to Xinhua News Agency, the city of Lianyungang is the eastern terminal of the 10,900-km-long New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB), an international passageway linking the Pacific and the Atlantic. The bridge runs from China’s coastal cities of Lianyungang and Rizhao to Rotterdam of the Netherlands and Belgium’s Antwerp, passing through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany. It serves more than 30 countries and regions.
In the past five years, international freight trains made about 4,000 trips from Lianyungang’s port.
“In January alone, 32 China-Europe freight trains went through the port of Lianyungang, and 23 freight trains are slated for departure in February,” said Zuo Xuemei, vice general manager of Lianyungang China-Kazakhstan International Logistics Co., Ltd.
YEARS OF CHANGE
On Dec. 1, 1992, a locomotive pulled the first international freight train to Central Asia and Europe from Lianyungang, marking the official opening of the NELB. The locomotive has been preserved to this day in the port of Lianyungang, bearing testimony to the transformation of economic and trade cooperation between China and Europe.
Shen Gang, with Sinotrans Land Bridge Transportation Co., Ltd., said the company is the pioneer in providing transportation services on the NELB.
“The first international train was loaded with 30 containers and 15 carriages of bulk cargo,” said Shen. “At first, it was an internal-combustion locomotive with an average speed of 40 km per hour. Today, the railway has been electrified, with an average speed of 80 to 120 km per hour.”
Last year, 554 China-Europe freight trains departed from and arrived in Lianyungang.
Recalling the old days, Shen said earlier workers had to go with the trains to ensure the safe arrival of commodities. “However, now we can obtain logistics information through the internet at any time, making the whole process more convenient and effective,” Shen added.
Bruce Wei, the general manager of World Jaguar Logistics Inc., Lianyungang Branch, started engaging in railway transportation services along the NELB in 2012. Products delivered through this route have undergone significant changes over the years, he said.
“In the past, the main goods were second-hand automobiles and construction materials. But, today elevators, electronic products and solar panels are also shipped, which reflects improvements in people’s living standards along the NELB,” Wei said.
The NELB is not just a mere transport corridor, it also links the inland Chinese provinces with Europe and connects all the inland countries between them, said Li Yuan, a professor at the Institute of East Asian Studies, the University of Duisburg-Essen.
When the pandemic hit hard global maritime logistics, made-in-China medical supplies were consistently sent to Europe through the Eurasian continental bridge. This signifies the importance of the land-based transportation corridor, Li said.
Last year, China-Europe freight trains transported 5,580 tonnes of anti-epidemic supplies to European countries including Germany, Serbia, Poland and Austria from the central Chinese city of Wuhan alone, authorities said in December.
CHINA-EU CLOSER COOPERATION
China has become the biggest trade partner of the EU while the EU is now China’s second-largest trade partner. The EU is also China’s third-largest source and destination of investment.
On Dec. 30, it was announced that China and the European Union completed investment agreement negotiations as scheduled after 35 rounds of negotiations, a milestone in the development of China-EU relations. The agreement will provide greater market access, higher level of the business environment, stronger institutional guarantees and brighter cooperation prospects for mutual investment.
“The strengthening of economic ties, especially the elimination of investment and trade barriers between China and Europe, will lead to the steady recovery and growth of the global economy in the post-pandemic era,” Li said.
Over the years, the land bridge has helped bring closer economic and trade cooperation between China and Europe.
In the German inland port city of Duisburg, containers specifically made for China-Europe freight trains are often seen in various transfer hubs. They are used to export clothes, electronic products and domestic appliances from China to Europe. Meanwhile, more and more cars, machinery and food continue to enter China from Europe via the land bridge.
Xavier Wanderpepen, who is responsible for China-Europe rail freight activities at Forwardis, a subsidiary of France’s national railway company SNCF Logistics, was impressed by the surge of freight train operations between China and Europe during the first half of 2020.
“In my company, since April 2020, demand for trains has increased sharply. The increase is more than 20 percent compared to 2019,” Wanderpepen said.
According to official figures, a record 12,400 China-Europe freight train trips were made in 2020, up 50 percent from the previous year. This is also the first time freight train trips between China and Europe have exceeded 10,000 per year.
Riding on the success of booming cooperation, Chinese and European companies are also seeing an increase in exchanges. In Duisburg, for example, more than 100 Chinese companies have started doing business, compared to just 40 in 2014, according to official figures. An investment center and a commercial association have also been established there.
Even during the COVID-19 outbreak, China and Europe saw growth in bilateral trade, with the import and export between China and 27 European Union member nations rising about 2.6 percent year on year during the first seven months of 2020.
“The China-Europe freight trains have played a big role in the economic development along the New Eurasian Land Bridge and in the growth of China-Europe bilateral trade in 2020,” said Chen Fengying, a researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Strengthening bilateral economic relations between the two sides would generate more business opportunities, create new jobs, and increase confidence in the economic recovery of China, Europe and the rest of the world, said Li Yuan.
Chinese and European firms have huge opportunities for cooperation to build new economic corridors along the NELB, Li added.
Logistics diversification is an advantage, and good land-based connections, such as the NELB, will make connections “broader and more robust,” said Dr. Michael Borchmann, former ministerial director of the State of Hesse, Germany, and senior adviser of the China International Investment Promotion Agency.