Committee on Transport and Tourism – The new Silk Route – opportunities and challenges for EU transport

STUDY PRESENTATION: 20 March 2018, 11:30-12:30

In late 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his country’s ambitious plan to revive ancient trade routes that connected China to Europe through South-East Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. The modern initiative, often referred to as “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR), or “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) aims not only at construction of land-based transport connections between Asia and Europe but also at creation of an economic belt for fostered Eurasian cooperation. Moreover, it foresees the development of a 21st century maritime routes reaching from China to countries on other continents, which have the potential of increasing trade volumes with China.

Approximately 90% of the cargo from Europe to China is currently transported by ship via the Suez Canal. The overland corridors traversing Central Asia are shorter than the sea routes, but they are presently inefficient and, in some cases, relatively expensive. Yet, the Chinese BRI may change this modal split, as new trading routes will be promoted by the construction of Eurasian land transport infrastructure. A rapid expansion of a Europe-Asia intermodal cargo rail services could just be the first sign of such a change.

A presentation of the study “The new Silk Route – opportunities and challenges for EU transport” was organised by the EP’s Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies on 20 March 2018 in the framework of meeting of the Committee for Transport and Tourism (TRAN). The presentation focused on the following issues:

  • The definition and geographical scope of the BRI;
  • The main objectives (stated and likely) of the Initiative;
  • The analysis of Chinese engagement in the BRI;
  • The EU-Chinese cooperation under the framework of the Initiative;
  • The possible impacts and prospects for the EU transport system;
  • The readiness of the EU transport system for the BRI;
  • The main conclusions & recommendations.

The expert explained that as a result of improved services attributed to the BRI, around 2.5 million TEUs could transfer from maritime and 0.5 million TEUs from air transport to rail by 2040. This is equivalent to 50 to 60 additional daily trains between Europe and the Far East, or 2 to 3 trains per hour, in each direction. Rail services can be expected to target higher value and more time-sensitive goods than current maritime transport.

Assessment of the routes most likely to be used in the future for the shift of container traffic to rail shows that the most likely route is the one north of the Alps, towards EU Member States bordering the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. This route is expected to primarily carry by rail containers which previously had been shipped to North Sea ports. These containers would mainly travel along the corridor from Moscow (Russia) through Brest (Belarus) and Warsaw (Poland) to Berlin (Germany), including part of the TEN-T North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor.

The review of the European Commission’s North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor Study found that that rail infrastructure capacity in 2030 should be capable of meeting the current and forecasted demand to that date. However, the study appears not to include the volume of BRI-related traffic which may emerge by 2040. While bottlenecks may still emerge in the EU’s transport network, the study notes that any specific changes to the TEN-T programme were not justified at present. Such changes would be premature and might be inadequate or redundant, depending on the future evolution of the BRI.

The debate that followed the expert’s presentation revolved around the financial involvement of China in the transport infrastructure projects in the EU, the reciprocity in relations between the EU and China in the context of BRI and the impact of the Initiative on the European transport and the climate change. While acknowledging the Initiative’s potential benefits for the EU’s transport and logistic system through creation of alternative infrastructure links between the European and Asian continents, Members of the TRAN Committee expressed their concerns in relation to BRI. They pointed out the Initiative’s possible impact on the fragmentation of the EU transport system, given Chinese strong involvement in projects agreed on the bilateral rather that the European level. In this context, they emphasised the need for the EU to develop a common transport policy towards third countries as soon as possible. They also insisted on further reinforcement of transparency in the EU’s public procurement rules.

Link to watch video of the event (with multilingual interpretation) – Study presentation starts at 11:14:00

Further reading: Research for TRAN Committee : The new Silk Route – opportunities and challenges for EU transport

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The new Silk Route – opportunities and challenges for EU transport – Research4Committees · April 27, 2018 at 8:04 am

[…] of the TRAN Committee, the Policy Department commissioned a study (published in January 2018 and presented in March 2018) to investigate the European transport system’s readiness for the Initiative and to identify […]

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