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A fast-trucking service between China and Europe will begin next year after the country became the 70th to join the TIR scheme.
The move will enable trucks to drive the Silk Road to Europe, through central Asia, without being opened at each border.
Trucks will take less than two weeks to arrive, offering a considerably faster service than sea freight – albeit at a higher cost.
The UN’s TIR Convention, administered by the IRU, allows goods to be sealed in load compartments, the contents outlined in a TIR Carnet. Customs verify the carnet and check the seals on the compartment, with no need for physical checking of the contents.
Trucks need only spend an hour at borders, rather than several days.
Also signed up to TIR are Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia and Tajikistan, while Pakistan ratified it last year and is currently implementing the scheme.
China’s membership is expected to boost trade along the Silk Road, which amounts to some $1 trillion. At the moment, less than 10% of Chinese exports to the EU go by road; sea and air are the most popular options, although rail is growing.
“China’s accession to the TIR Convention will open new efficient and faster transport opportunities and routes between China and Europe,” said UNECE executive secretary Christian Friis Bach.
“It can become a real game-changer for international trade and will be a strong contribution to the Chinese vision for the Belt and Road Initiative.”
China replaced Russia as central Asia’s largest trading partner in 2008, and its trade with the five central Asian states has risen to some $50bn, according to Stratfor. By 2025, the annual volume of trade between Silk Road countries is expected to be worth $2.5 trillion.
One of the deterrents to using rail has been concern over theft, which is also likely to be a problem on a long road journey. According to TAPA, the majority of cargo crime is from trucks, especially those stopped at unsecure parking locations.
The TIR scheme is continuing to expand outside of Eurasia, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia considering joining, as are Argentina and Brazil.
The TIR Convention in China starts on January 5 2017.