The future opportunity of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is “real,” Erich Staake, chief executive officer of German logistics company Duisburger Hafen AG, has said.
“New logistics infrastructures mean new sales markets,” Staake told a recent interview, noting that the expansion of infrastructure in the countries and regions along the Belt and Road can open up more sales markets, notably for European companies.
He expressed the confidence that China’s role as a critical international trading partner for Europe will even consolidate in the post-pandemic era.
“To achieve this, we need to deal with the expansion of infrastructure,” said Staake. In his view, it should be beneficial to further raise efficiency and reduce the cost of rail freight transport across the Eurasian continent by improving infrastructures along the way.
Located in Germany’s industrial Ruhr region, the Port of Duisburg is the world’s largest inland port as well as the leading logistics hub in Central Europe. Since 2011 when the first regular rail freight connection between Duisburg and the southwest China’s megacity of Chongqing was launched, the port has been enjoying sustained momentum of growth and won the position as a key terminal of the freight trains from and to China.
“For a decade now, we have been considered pioneers in Eurasian rail transport,” said the 67-year-old chief executive officer, adding that Duisburg has continuously expanded the network with China since 2011.
At that time, the focus was on the Yuxinou (Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe) railway, which took 16 days for a single trip, Staake said, however, the operation has been somewhat faster at the current stage.
“The figures speak for themselves,” Staake noted. Only around 900 containers were transported by rail between China and Germany in 2011 whereas the number has increased more than 100 times by 2018 when over 4,600 China-Europe freight trains operated between Germany and China, transporting around 95,000 containers in total.
Calling it an “incredible momentum,” Staake said the Duisburg logistics hub had contributed to the successful development.
He emphasized that around one-third of the total volume of China-Europe trade by rail flowed via the Duisburg logistics hub, helping create local jobs in the industrial region where tough structural transformation remains underway.
Looking back at 2020, an extremely challenging and extraordinary year due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Staake pointed out the number of freight trains connecting Germany and China still increased to around 10,000, while around 150,000 containers were carried across the Eurasian continent.
“Duisburg’s reputation as one of the most important European destinations for Chinese cargo trains was further consolidated, especially in the midst of pandemic,” Staake said, adding that his port has changed the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity.
“Never before have more freight trains run between the port of Duisburg and Chinese destinations than the year of 2020,” he said.
Staake told journalist that he was deeply impressed by the moment as he in April 2020 attended the welcoming ceremony of the first China-Europe freight train loaded with medical supplies, auto parts, electronic products, etc. from Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province after the city had been locked down for almost 11 weeks over COVID-19 outbreak.
The pandemic has further enhanced the value of rail transport, said Staake, believing the BRI will achieve greater successes as exports of increasing European goods to China via rail are being more facilitated.