The Eurasian Economic Union’s (EAEU) Member States and China signed a roadmap to speed up the digitalisation of rail freight between them. This simply means that after implementation, digitalisation could significantly boost rail freight services between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Armenia.

The roadmap was signed during a meeting between Andrey Slepnev, trade minister of the Eurasian Economic Commission, and Li Fei, assistant minister of commerce of the People’s Republic of China. The roadmap consists of three sections.

According to Slepnev, Section I is the most important since it concerns the gradual transition to electronic document exchange in rail transport – a measure that will “simplify trade procedures and speed up cargo transportation between involved countries”.

Intention there already

An agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China has existed since 2018. The countries involved have been working towards building seamless connectivity between them. However, currently, the conditions seem to benefit the project’s development.

For example, by the end of 2022, Networks Energy, a leading IT company in Kazakhstan in railway logistics, discussed with the ASU DKR online freight forwarding platform. The platform covers 95 per cent of all railway transportation in Kazakhstan while it has completed integration with RZD. Additionally, it is very close to doing the same with China while other countries, including Kyrgyzstan, participated in the process. This means that the needed infrastructure to reach advanced digitalisation and use solely electronic documents is there, at least in some of the EAEU countries.

Increased activity and interaction

Lately, the EAEU is becoming all the more relevant concerning transport and trade in Central Asia and further. For instance, most of its members are or will get involved in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). At the same time, the Union actively advocates the corridor’s development and invests in new projects.

The latest example is the Eurasian Agroexpress rail logistics project that the EAEU aims to expand outside its borders and include Iran, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Turkmenistan. Slepnev has commented that the project has a special significance since it boosted trade between the EAEU Member States and China and exceeded 200 billion dollars in turnover by the end of 2022.”

China drops in

China and Russia have been working closely in the Silk Road context and outside of it. Especially in 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian-Chinese trade by rail increased while volumes between China and Europe dropped significantly. At the same time, Russia has been attempting to shift the transport power balance established before 2022 by absorbing the bulk of Chinese volumes while also exploring new markets and corridors like the INSTC.

The fact that Russia is currently attempting to dominate Central Asian rail freight and open up to large markets like India since the EU is not an option any more has resulted in increased transport activity in the region. China has been a traditional partner of some countries in the region and with most EAEU Member States. As a result, it comes as no surprise that it strives to facilitate rail freight transport in the region through digitalisation because it is aware of the economic and geostrategic benefits it will have.

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