China-EU trade seen expanding 2-3% in 2021; buoyed by cargo trains: expert

A China-Europe freight train pulls out of Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province, Jan. 1, 2021. Photo by Bai Guibin/People’s Daily Online

Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic and logistics hurdles, China-Europe freight trains went against the trend in 2020 with 12,400 trains dispatched, up 50 percent year-on-year, according to a report that China State Railway Group (China Railway) sent to the Global Times on Monday.

It was the first year the number of trains exceeded 10,000 since the launch in 2011, marking resilient bilateral trade in hard times.

Industry experts said that with negotiations completed for an epic bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between China and the EU at year-end, bilateral trade is likely to grow further this year.

The number of containers delivered by the China-Europe freight trains reached 1.13 million, up 56 percent year-on-year, according to the report by China Railway.

The number of trains operating in a single month was stable at more than 1,000, effectively serving the new development pattern and international cooperation on epidemic prevention, the report said.

With sea transport disrupted by container shortages and air cargo costs soaring amid the pandemic, China-Europe cargo trains managed to keep goods moving, ranging from medical items to daily necessities for the European market, with relatively stable costs and in a timely manner.

The record-breaking cargo train operations show the resilience of China-Europe trade, which boomed after China reined in the coronavirus, which enabled the country to resume production in response to orders from the West, experts said.

From January to November last year, China-EU trade grew 3.5 percent, public data showed.

“It would be very good if trade between China and Europe could maintain annual growth of 2-3 percent,” Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Monday.

However, Cui said that China-Europe trade has reached a bottleneck, because the European market is saturated, the economic situation in some countries is relatively serious due to debt problems, and the consumption capacity of the European market is declining.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) surpassed the EU last year, becoming the top trading partner of China, and the signing of the RCEP (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) is expected to deepen trade ties between China and its neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, the BIT still has a long way to go, said Cui, as both sides have to go through their own procedures before they can implement it. But the completion of the negotiations has stabilized market confidence and expectations for the future, when the world is in the midst of uncertainty, added Cui.

A source at China Railway Container Transport surnamed Shi told the Global Times on Monday that in the future, the growth of China-Europe freight trains should not focus just on the quantity of goods transported, but more on service quality, such as the digitalization of electronic terminals and port efficiency.

Source: Global Times

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