THE BIG PICTURE: Train route reviving the ancient Silk Road

World Today

Chinese-manufactured goods are as popular in Europe as the rest of the world.

CGTN’s Dan Williams continues “The Big Picture” by focusing on the connection between China and Europe.

Follow Dan Williams on Twitter @Danielclearcut

While cargo eventually ends up in cities like the Spanish capital Madrid, the train route takes significant planning and logistical effort, but it is already proving to be an attractive option for many exporters.

Some of the computers that are assembled in China are sold in electrical goods stores in the United Kingdom as well as across Europe.

The train route is a much quicker and altogether more efficient option than sending the goods by sea. A railway yard in the heart of Spain’s capital Madrid is the end of the line for thousands of containers after their roughly 13,000 kilometer journey.

The world’s longest rail route starts in China’s market city of Yiwu and winds through seven countries before arriving in Spain. The journey now takes a little over two weeks.

“The timeline of the train has been greatly shortened,” says Mao Wenjin of the Yiwu to Spain Foundation. “The services have been improved and the coordination has also been enhanced greatly, so the train has been providing a better timeline and services.”

The train route between China and Spain opened in 2014. Since then, there have been more than 200 journeys in both directions, carrying some 18,000 containers.

The 13,000 kilometer train service can already point to significant successes.

But Spanish companies on the whole have been slow to embrace the route and the enormous commercial possibilities it offers.

Earlier in the year, a news conference was held in Madrid to promote the service, and some Spanish experts believe attitudes towards the route are changing.

“There is no question that there are a lot of economic benefits,” Maite Diez, a partner of Baker & McKenzie Madrid said. “On the one hand, with respect to exports, Spain can benefit from the growing demand from Chinese consumers for European products for quality. And in fact, Spain has been exporting large amounts of meat, olive oil and wine and other food and beverages products. So it will represent a big opportunity for Spanish companies to use this transport to China.”

A Spanish vineyard known as Vinos Pedrosa is among those to use the service. The family-owned company has seen an increase in exports over the last ten years with China now a key market. The company believes other Spanish producers will soon follow their example.

“For a vineyard and a wine producing company like we are and like many other food products the less time spent during the traveling the better for the product,” explains Juan De La Vega of Vinos Pedrosa.

“We didn’t know about this way of transport to China. The publicity was not good enough from the beginning but I think in the future it will become a really important way of sending goods and shipments to the Chinese continent.”

Currently, the containers are loaded and unloaded onto different trains along the way as the track gauge changes.

Operators hope the service could become even faster and more efficient in the future.

“I am very much convinced that the Yiwu-Madrid railway train will have a very good future,” says Mao Wenjin, “because we are making great efforts to provide greater services, to make it shorter and shorter for the timeline in the future, and to make these advantages more obvious and to provide services more comprehensive to the customers.”

The service follows the ancient Silk Road, which just goes to show that great ideas never go out of style.

Gary Cohen explains China’s role in international trade

Gary Cohen is the associate dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. CGTN’s Elaine Reyes spoke to him about China’s changing role in global trade.