The first Silk Road train exclusively destined for Antwerp arrived at Belgium's largest port on Saturday. The train left the port of Tangshan of north China's Hebei Province on 26 April, travelling a distance of 11,000 kilometres through Kazakhstan, Belarus, Poland and Germany to reach its final destination in Antwerp on 12 May, a day later than originally scheduled. The freight train took 16 days to reach the Belgian port from Tangshan, one of China's top 10 ports, compared to a 35 day plus transit by containership.
This direct train link between China and Belgium forms part of the transnational Chinese ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, with which China seeks to revive the trade routes of the old Silk Road from Asia to Europe.
The train’s consignee was Cosco Shipping Belgium and had 34 containers onboard containing industrial minerals for use in various industries and productions such as paper and ceramics, toothpaste and cosmetics. They were unloaded at Euroports for distribution in Europe.
"This direct train link puts our port on the BRI (the Belt and Road Initiative) map and will further strengthen our ties with China. We have long been working on this project, which represents an important milestone in our trade relations with China" said Luc Arnouts, Port of Antwerp’s Director of International Networks.
“China is the fourth biggest partner country for Antwerp, with an annual traffic volume of nearly 14m tonnes of goods. Antwerp is ideally located on both the maritime route and the rail route between Europe and China, and can function perfectly as a transhipment port for trade between China and Africa via rail link” Marc Van Peel, Antwerp port alderman, added.
"As Europe's second largest port, Antwerp has a very important position in Sino-Belgian trade," said Guo Jianjun, economic counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Belgium, in his speech at the welcoming ceremony.
The service, planned to be run once or twice a month, is an initiative of Tangshan City & Tangshan Port, in collaboration with the Chinese state-owned shipping company Cosco Shipping Lines and the Chinese Railways (CRCT).
Tangshan City is striving for closer cooperation with the Port of Antwerp and intends to sign an MOU/Sisterhood Agreement with the City of Antwerp. CRCT (Chinese Railways) is currently investigating the feasibility of setting up a commercial office in Europe.
Tangshan, an important freight hub
Tangshan, a largely industrial prefecture-level city in northeastern Hebei province, China, is situated at a 150-kilometre distance from Beijing. An important freigh hub, it has become among the 10 largest ports in China. It is a gateway to the Bohai Sea, and as such the new freight service offers not only a new route for westbound cargo from the Chinese cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, but also from Japan and the Republic of Korea. In 2017 the port handled 573 million tonnes of freight last year, according to the city government.
Port of Antwerp sees record freight volumes
The Port of Antwerp, Europe’s second-largest seaport, after Rotterdam, has been an indispensable link in world trade since the Middle Ages. Covering an area of 12,068 hectares – or 20,000 football fields – Antwerp is the biggest port area in the world. Antwerp handled 223,606,610 tonnes of freigh last year, an increase of 4.4% compared with 2016. Of note, the website of the Port of Antwerp, except English and Dutch, it also has a Chinese version.
Belt and Road Initiative, an immensely ambitious development campaign
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), formerly known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR), is Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy for primarily integrating trade and investment in Eurasia and beyond. It could turn out to be the largest ever infrastructure project with close to a trillion dollars being invested across the globe.