China's quest for new markets and growing export figures continues. As a result, the country started with the presentation of a ‘new Silk Road’ in 2013, under the title: One Belt, One Road (OBOR). On Wednesday 30 March, a seminar on this topic was organised at the Port of Rotterdam, where different parties came together to explore the possibilities and to exchange ideas.
OBOR is an important pillar in the economic strategy of the Chinese government, which made approximately $ 40 billion available for these plans through the ‘Silk Road Fund’. The fund can invest this amount in the logistics infrastructure from China to Europe in the coming years. The combination of the active encouragement of foreign activities by the Chinese government and the focus on logistics in the Eurasian region makes it likely that more and more logistics parties from China will focus on Europe and even more actively seek investment opportunities.
Point of departure and a destination point
From a geographic and facilities perspective, Rotterdam would a logical point of departure and destination point for the new Silk Road. The port of Rotterdam sees a role for itself as a hub and gateway for the United Kingdom and the East Coast of the United States. During the seminar, the discussions mainly focused on the Eurasian rail connections. In July 2015, the first train from China arrived at the Waalhaven. With a journey time of about 15 days, rail transport is approximately 2 to 3 weeks faster than transport by ship. The loading capacity, however, is significantly lower compared to shipping and the price of rail transport is higher than by ship, although significantly lower than air transport. It's the details that make the difference in this case. For instance, can the railway line withstand the heavy snowfall in Kazakhstan? What role do cultural differences play? Are the trains well protected against theft? Experiences are openly shared during the seminar.
Train, ship or airplane?
The strategic element of transport and infrastructure in the new Chinese plans mainly comprises two components: the rail connection between China and Europe via different routes and the maritime connections. The role of OBOR therein is still a work in progress, so the attendees are still faced with a lot of unanswered questions. What, for example, is the most efficient shipping method: by rail, air or sea? Walter Vermeer is Procurement Category Manager at FrieslandCampina and attends today to learn about the experiences of other parties. "We would like to know when alternatives to the routes we currently have are or become available," Vermeer explains. "We are mainly interested in learning the experiences of other companies first-hand and today was a great opportunity to achieve this."
The connections and relationships with China are important for the commercial activities in the port of Rotterdam. The Asian country accounts for approximately 25 percent of the total flow of containers in Rotterdam. The Port of Rotterdam Authority works closely together with parties in China in order to strengthen the good relations. Therefore, OBOR is an important topic of discussion. During the seminar, the parties were given the space to share knowledge with each other, share experiences and even to establish partnerships. One of the persons who travelled to Rotterdam today is Fenneke Frieling, Project Manager at HP. She elaborates on the positive experience of the company with intercontinental rail transport between China and Europe. "I really like sharing our experiences with others today," says Frieling. "At HP, we are actively involved in getting other companies interested. The more parties are involved, the better it is for the connection, obviously."