E-commerce, China-Europe freight train service shore up confidence in Belt and Road trade
An exhibitor (1st R) introduces his products at the Fifth Silk Road International Exposition in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, May 11, 2021. (photo by Xinhua/Zhang Bowen)

Chinese businessman Yuan Zhaohui has been engaged in cross-border trade with his partners from Kazakhstan for six years, during which time he has witnessed the growth in economic and trade vitality under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“Cross-border goods can be cleared in just four hours and transactions can be settled directly in RMB,” said Yuan, adding that smooth communication and increasing connectivity can be felt in various aspects of trade along the Belt and Road, including policies, infrastructure and people-to-people exchanges.

Despite COVID-19, the revenue of Yuan’s company reached 200 million yuan (about 31.08 million U.S. dollars) in 2020, three times that of 2019.

“Most of the physical stores in Kazakhstan were closed last year, so I collaborated with over 2,000 social-media influencers there to promote home appliances, digital products and furniture online, and it worked unexpectedly well,” said Yuan.

For many businesses along the Belt and Road, the boom in cross-border e-commerce has established a “Silk Road on the Internet,” with ever-expanding China-Europe freight trains serving as “iron camels,” jointly alleviating the pandemic’s impact on global trade.

The Fifth Silk Road International Exposition concluded over the weekend in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, attracting more than 1,900 envoys and guests from 98 countries and regions. This year’s theme, “Interconnection, Contribution, and Shared Benefits,” highlighted the uniqueness of the BRI.

E-commerce has become an important force in China’s efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of economic development and promote industrial restructuring, said Wang Shouwen, China’s vice minister of commerce, at a roundtable meeting held during the exposition.

According to Wang, China’s cross-border e-commerce imports and exports reached 1.69 trillion yuan in 2020, up 31.1 percent year on year.

At the same time, the China-Europe freight-train service has played a vital role in stabilizing international trade supply chains. According to data released by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, 12,406 freight trains ran between China and Europe in 2020, up 50 percent year on year.

For Yuan, the cargo rail is not only safe but also cost-effective. “I used to use road transportation and it cost more than 40,000 yuan per container. Now the freight-train service only charges about 20,000 yuan a container,” he said.

With the gradual deepening of trade along the Belt and Road, the development concept of win-win cooperation is attracting more members from the international community to cast a vote of confidence in the initiative. As of the end of January, a total of 171 countries and international organizations had signed 205 cooperation agreements with China on the joint construction of the BRI.

Tatyana Kharlap, a senior counsellor at the Embassy of Belarus to China, said during the exposition that when global trade cooperation faced severe challenges in 2020, Belarus’s exports to China increased and China became Belarus’s second-largest trading partner after Russia for the first time.

A similar bilateral-trade boom took place between China and Malaysia. The trade volume between the two countries increased by over 4 percent in 2020, and China remained Malaysia’s largest trading partner and export destination, said Nur Azni Aziz, director of the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation’s Chengdu Representative Office.

Adjei Peter Junior is the manager of Ghana Opace Group, one of the exhibitors of the exposition. In order to promote the company’s products, such as drums and wooden handicrafts, he banged a drum and danced to an exciting rhythm in his booth.

He said that at a time when the pandemic is still raging across the globe, the Chinese market offers a sense of security. “It is a huge market and full of potential,” he noted.