“Steel Camels” Strengthen Links Between China, Kazakhstan

In a bustling freight terminal in northwest China, rows of brand-new electric vehicles gleam in the noonday sun, while workers use forklifts and cranes to stack containers onto waiting trains.

This is a typical scene at the China-Kazakhstan (Xi’an) Trade Logistics terminal in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road. The freight terminal was launched in February to facilitate the operation of China-Europe freight trains, which are often referred to as the “steel-camel caravans.”

It was jointly launched by KTZ Express, a subsidiary of Kazakhstan’s national railway company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), and Xi’an Free Trade Port Construction and Operation Co., Ltd. Its counterpart in Almaty is expected to be put into operation later this year.

Olzhas Aleibekov, deputy general manager of the Chinese branch of KTZ Express, said the terminal, located at a crucial logistics hub, can effectively alleviate customs congestion and enhance the stability of transportation times.

Trains traveling between China and Kazakhstan have to be transferred to different tracks at the border due to varying track gauges, a process that can take up precious time. Also, the customs clearance process can be complex, and in the past, this often took three to five days.

Located more than 3,000 km from the border, the new terminal provides solutions for both of these problems. When the trains are still at Xi’an, KTZ Express communicates with partners in Kazakhstan to pre-arrange containers and railcars based on the cargo, ensuring efficient transfers and timely delivery.

In addition, trains at the Xi’an terminal are prepared for customs clearance, which means the procedures can be completed within an hour of the train reaching the border in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

To date, more than 35,000 tonnes of goods have been transferred through the terminal in Xi’an.

With enhanced operational capacity, the delivery time between Xi’an and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, has been reduced to nine days from 13 days, and the combined rail-sea transportation across the Caspian Sea has been shortened from 20 days to 12 days.

“This terminal has facilitated more efficient cargo transportation between China, Kazakhstan, Central Asia and Europe,” said Aleibekov. “Particularly in light of disruptions to the Suez Canal and Red Sea routes due to escalating geopolitical tensions, the reliability of the China-Europe freight trains has been further proven.”

PFIT International Logistics Co., Ltd. in Xi’an was among the first group of beneficiaries.

Ma Dong, the company’s general manager, said that previously, the company relied on sea routes that took up to two months to transport seamless steel tubes to Baku, Azerbaijan. Now, by using the Xi’an terminal, the journey takes just 12 days, saving 800 U.S. dollars per twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU).

China was Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner in 2023, with two-way trade up by 32 percent year on year to reach 41 billion U.S. dollars.

Trains speeding along rail tracks have become a symbol of international trade in the new era, just like camel caravans were in ancient times.

Since the first China-Europe freight train left southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality in March 2011, the trains have completed over 90,000 trips, reaching 223 cities in 25 European countries and over 100 cities in 11 Asian countries. More than 8.7 million TEU containers of goods were transported, valued at over 380 billion U.S. dollars.

Cross-border e-commerce companies are leveraging China-Europe freight trains to gain convenient access to affordable international delivery services.

So far, 27 companies in Xi’an have built 51 overseas warehouses across 24 countries and regions. The city’s cross-border e-commerce transactions exceeded 16.8 billion yuan (about 2.36 billion U.S. dollars) in 2023, marking a 16.7 percent increase from 2022.

“Overseas customers can now purchase Chinese products and enjoy door-to-door service with just a few clicks of the mouse,” said Jumekenova Anita, a Kazakh entrepreneur who founded a cross-border e-commerce platform called Silkroad City Shop and built warehouses in Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus.

“The terminal sets a precedent for multinational cooperation in the development of China-Europe freight trains,” said Yuan Xiaojun, general manager of Xi’an Free Trade Port Construction and Operation Co., Ltd. 

African Times has published this article in partnership with Xinhua News Agency



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