China-Kazakhstan border ports are facing dual challenges of pandemic and backlog

According to the statistics of Khorgos Railway Port, the number of Eurasian Freight Train through the Khorgos Railway Port reached 4,720 from January to September this year, a year-on-year increase of 34.1%; the port cargo volume was 6.77 million tons with year-on-year increase of 48.2%. The number of trains and the volume of cargo were increased simultaneously. With the increasing number of trains, the types of goods through the Khorgos Port have also developed from clothing and footwear, daily necessities, building materials etc. in the past to the current high value-added products, such as mechanical and electrical products, high-tech products, and complete vehicles. The increasing variety of commodities has led to a reduction in the empty-load rate of return trains, and “heavy-out heavy-in” trains are normalized.

Statistics from Khorgos Customs revealed that in the past five years, it took 3 years to increase from the first Eurasian Freight Train to 5,000 for the Khorgos Port; then 14 months to increase from 5,000 to 10,000; and it took only 10 months to increase from 10,000 to 15,000. At present, there are as many as 39 train lines operating through Khorgos Port, reaching 18 countries and 45 cities.

Congestion and backlog continues at the border crossings

However, the congestion continues at the border crossings of the Eurasian Freight Train. During the National Day holiday, bad news against smooth operation of the train was spread from Khorgos Port again: Because of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Khorgos, China implemented a series of restrictions on cargo transportation. It is alleged that China has suspended receiving a series of cargo from Alashankou Port and Khorgos Port to China now, and these restrictions may be extended to the end of 2021.

It is also reported that: “Currently, the Alashankou Port has suspended the receipt of grain, mixed feed, milled products, coke, refractory materials, chemicals, soda water and hardware. It has reached an agreement on a limited quantity of receipts of other goods. The Khorgos Port suspends the receipt of grain, alumina, and rolled ferrous metals. There are no restrictions on other goods for the time being.”

The bulky cargo volume forced China Railway to issue another suspension order. All cargoes at Alashankou Port, Khorgos Port, and Manzhouli Port, except for the Eurasia Freight Train, were suspended again. We can infer from those symptoms that how large is the cargo volume and how heavy is the burden at the port. Although the cargo transportation of the Eurasia Freight Train will not stop, it is difficult to say that the transportation is not impacted.

Especially for Khorgos Port, after the emergence of confirmed COVID-19 cases, strict COVID-19 prevention policies have made the matter worse to heavily congested port. Fortunately, the number of confirmed cases did not increase as of now, and the port is expected to resume normal operations soon.