China–EU Transit Switches to Southern Routes

To the knowledge of the Internet portal, before the hostilities began in Ukraine, the route through Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus to the Polish station Małaszewicze was one of the major container transit routes from China to the European Union. But currently, many EU importers stop transiting their cargoes through Russia and Belarus. Another route leads to Hungary through Ukraine, but the events in Ukraine have made it almost impossible for importers to transit through Ukraine.

In light of this, there has been increased interest in using alternative corridors that pass through the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus.

On the 31st of March, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan signed a declaration on the East-West Middle Corridor with the Caspian Transit. This document lays emphasis upon the importance of cooperation in the area of integration of the corridor into the international transport system by the parties thereto.

The Chinese, who are most interested in implementing the concept of the New Silk Road transport system, quickly responded to the changing political situation. The first freight train following the route Xi'an–Mannheim, Germany, and bypassing Russia, was already loaded on the 13th of April. The route passes through Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Black Sea to Romania, then through Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic to Germany. Its length is 11.3 ths. km.

Three ships with a total capacity of 600 TEU run presently between Aktau and Baku. “The number of ships following this route will increase to six from September this year,” said Gaidar Abdikerimov, Secretary General of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) association.

However, the use of the new alternative route is technically and logistically challenging, involves the replacement of modes of transport, and is also associated with transportation by sea transport twice. All this affects the provision of regular service, time of delivery, and cost. In particular, it seems difficult to organise the loading of several container trains at once onto sea-going ferries in Kazakhstani or Georgian ports on a daily basis. We should be also sensitive to the fact that the railroad infrastructure of transshipment ports will not be able to quickly adapt their operations to the steep increase in volumes.

In 2021, 1.46 mln TEU were transported along the major railway line of the New Silk Road. It is apparent that the alternative corridor will not be able to take all or even most of the volume of cargo transported along the major route, even taking into account the overall reduction in cargo traffic.