Chinese cities rush to supply trains to China-Laos rail ahead of RCEP, boon to Southeast Asian economy

The first international freight train along the 1,035-kilometer China-Laos Railway arrives in Vientiane, Laos on December 4, 2021. The flagship project, under the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China, officially entered service on December 3. Photo: VCG

After the opening of the China-Laos Railway, an increasing number of cities in China immediately deployed freight trains to the Laotian capital Vientiane, providing timely transportation convenience for the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that will be implemented in a month. , while countries in Southeast Asia are sparing no effort to boost their economies as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus threatens to disrupt the region’s COVID-19 recovery.

There are high expectations that the China-Laos Railway, which was launched on Friday, a landmark project under China’s proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connecting the province’s Kunming from Yunnan (southwest China) to Vientiane, will stimulate trade and investment between China and southeast China. Asia and promote cooperation in the Lancang-Mekong region in a flourishing era of bilateral relations, officials said.

After the launch of the railway, Chinese cities ranging from Chongqing and Chengdu (southwest China) to Shenzhen (southern China) opened freight trains to Laos, many of them opening routes for the first time and halving the transport time compared to sea transport.

Freight trains from Nanjing, east China’s Jiangsu Province, headed for Vientiane on Monday, the Jiangsu International Freight Train Company told the Global Times.

This was followed by the departure of a train involved in cold chain logistics on the China-Laos Railway, loading 33 containers of vegetables from Kunming on Saturday and due to arrive in Vientiane on Sunday, reported Sunday l Xinhua News Agency. The train would return with specialized products from Thailand and Laos to Kunming, which will be delivered to the Chinese metropolitan cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, achieving closed-loop cold chain transport.

Such a successful rail project was launched in the year which marked the 30th anniversary of the ASEAN-China dialogue relationship, noted a senior official from the ASEAN-China Center, an intergovernmental organization co-founded by 10 ASEAN member states and the United Nations. China.

“ASEAN-China connectivity via the Kunming-Vientiane rail link will play an important role in strengthening ASEAN-China cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. The project also shows the implementation of the integration between the ASEAN 2025 connectivity master plan and the Belt and Road initiative, the official told the Global Times on Monday.

The 1,035-kilometer route is expected to eventually cross Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore, fulfilling the dream of the high-speed train connecting Southeast Asia and China.

The railway will not only help Laos to develop trade and attract investment, catapulting the landlocked nation of Southeast Asia into a land-linked hub, but will also allow countries in the region to seize the opportunities. opportunities fueled by the world’s largest trade deal, as RCEP goes into effect on January 1. , 2022, Xu Ningning, executive chairman of the China-ASEAN Business Council, told the Global Times on Monday.

“Once RCEP comes into effect, the region’s free market institutional arrangements will need transport support. Free market rules and physical infrastructure, like the China-Laos railway, will fuel the region’s economic growth, ”Xu said, noting whether the China-Laos railway connects with other rail links. , there will be a bigger and more open market for China and ASEAN members as the two sides will work to launch version 3.0 of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area.

Looking ahead, Xu said ASEAN will be China’s biggest trading partner as long as tariff and trade barriers imposed by other major economies remain.

China-ASEAN trade increased from $ 8.36 billion in 1991 to $ 685.28 billion in 2020, with an annual growth of 16.5 percent, data from Chinese customs revealed.

Rail link with Thailand encouraged

The China-Laos railway has raised hopes for better regional connectivity, and a connection with the Thailand-China bullet train, currently under construction, will speed up the process.

Durian producers in Thailand, for example, are eagerly awaiting improved access to the lucrative Chinese market where Chinese consumers’ appetite for Thai durian continues to increase.

Even though the China-Laos Railway is not yet ready to transport fresh fruit and the durian season has not yet started in Thailand, the Thai Durian Association expects the China Railway -Laos is the main transport route if the prices and the process are competitive. .

“We urge the government to advance the rail link with the China-Laos Railway because durian is essential to the Thai economy,” the association told the Global Times on Monday in a statement.

It now takes at least three days by truck and seven days by boat to transport durian from Thailand to China. “If the delivery time by train is faster and cheaper, it would benefit both the exporter and the importer, and provide the best quality of durian to the customer,” the association added.

A director of the China Fruit Marketing Association, nicknamed Ti, told the Global Times that the China-Laos Railway is intended to greatly promote the fruit trade in Southeast Asia.

For example, the export of tropical fruits – durian and longan – to China will increase, as the cost of transporting the fruits will be reduced thanks to the railroad, Ti said.

Southeast Asia accounts for about 80 percent of China’s fruit imports. The region supplied more than 7 million tonnes of fruit to China last year, according to the association.

Yunnan traders are also eager to expand their channels to Southeast Asian markets.

“I am considering increasing the marketing channels with the convenience provided by the China-Laos Railway, as it allows towns like Xishuangbanna, a border area of ​​Yunnan on the border of Laos, to truly integrate with Southeast Asia. I think Kunming will be next, “he said. a veteran flower supplier told the Global Times on Sunday.

He noted that Thailand would likely be a major beneficiary of the China-Laos Railway and is exploring the possibility of exchanging more products with Southeast Asian markets instead of flowers.

Yin Yeping contributed to the story

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