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Trans-Caspian trade route will open Chinese import markets

The ‘Middle Corridor’ of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) is expanding. At a meeting in Ankara on 16 February it was agreed that Turkish State Railways would join the TITR as a full member. Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia established the TITR in 2013 as a coordinating committee for their national railways. In April 2017 they signed the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route Protocol, underpinning the international legal framework for the TITR.

The main appeal of the TITR for landlocked Kazakhstan is access to Lianyungang Port in China’s Jiangsu. Ukrainian cooperation then opens the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk, while Polish cooperation joins the line to Western European railheads.

With Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and now Turkey on board, China is aiming for China–Europe trade to reach an annual 300,000 shipping containers via the Trans-Caspian Route by 2020. For China–Turkey container traffic in 2018, 15,000 shipping containers is the agreed target. The cost of one container from Lianyungang to Istanbul by block train is some US$ 6,300.

According, for Azerbaijan, the development of this Trans-Caspian route means more than simply becoming a trans-shipment port. The Caucasus nations are already some of the economies most integrated into China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As more infrastructure projects are completed, China’s interest in Azerbaijan will shift from the construction of infrastructure to how such projects will facilitate regional trade.

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