China aims to nearly triple rail freight shipments to and from Europe by 2020, an international logistics executive here told The Nikkei, making the transport link a backbone of economic growth in the Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
The National Development and Reform Commission, which steers economic policy, aims to run 5,000 freight trains between China and Europe in 2020, up from 1,800 in 2016.
Toward that goal, China must not only export more to Europe, but work toward economic development with the other countries along the Belt and Road routes, said Zhou Shulin, chairman of the supervisory board at major international shipper Yuxinou (Chongqing) Logistics. Zhou sees railroads as fundamental to that economic development.
Rail freight could bring building materials to Central Asian countries along the Belt and Road route where infrastructure construction is growing, such as Kazakhstan, Zhou suggested.
He added that cross-border e-commerce probably would drive demand for rail shipping as well, as economic growth in Belt and Road countries would let consumers there buy more goods from Chinese companies such as Alibaba Group Holding, raising exports.
China also aims to import more from Europe. There was almost no demand for such imports when the Chongqing railway opened in 2011, but recent years have brought more shipments by rail of European high-end cars and auto parts. Yuxinou is considering bringing in lumber from Russia and northern Europe as well, Zhou said.
He added that he would like to partner with Japanese companies for their cold-storage shipping technology, which could pave the way for importing salmon and other goods from northern Europe.