Antwerp Joins “One Belt, One Road” Taskforceby Joseph R. Fonseca
“One Belt, One Road” is a Chinese development strategy launched at the end of 2013 that focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily in Eurasia.
The strategy has two main components, namely the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the ocean-going “Maritime Silk Road.” Antwerp has a potentially very important role to play in both these routes as a major trading hub, and so the Port Authority is setting up a special taskforce for this purpose.
The importance of this project for Europe can hardly be underestimated, and so during the recent state visit to China by king Philippe of Belgium the country applied to join the new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, the investment bank behind the strategy.
Joining the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank is also very significant for the port of Antwerp, which for many years now has put great efforts into expanding its market share in China. The Chinese president Xi Jiping last week told his Belgian visitors – who included Marc Van Peel and Eddy Bruyninckx, respectively chairman and CEO of Antwerp Port Authority – that Antwerp has an important role to play in developing a “New Silk Road” linking the Europe and the Middle East with the economic centres of China and other countries in South-East Asia and around the Indian Ocean. In order for Antwerp to play this role correctly a “One Belt One Road” taskforce is being set up this month within the Port Authority.
The port of Antwerp has long had a prominent presence in China. The port has a permanent representative in Shanghai who defends the interests of Antwerp in all sorts of ways. These efforts have met with success, as collaboration between various Chinese port cities and Antwerp has expanded rapidly in the past few years. Antwerp is the market leader in five of the main six trading routes and acts as the European gateway for many overseas regions, a fact that has not escaped international investors. Last Monday the Port Authority signed a collaboration agreement with the China Development Bank and the Chengtong Holdings Group in which both parties have undertaken to look for a suitable site in the port of Antwerp to set up an EU-Africa-International Trade & Logistics Hub Centre.
One possibility (among others) currently being examined is the Churchill Industrial Zone. The Chinese holding company was one of the candidates in the Request for Proposals issued by the Port Authority last year to find a use for the former Opel site in the port area. This agreement fits fairly and squarely into the One Belt One Road strategy, a project in which Antwerp has been identified as an important region for investment and mutual collaboration, in this particular case by acting as a hub for trade with Africa.
To underscore the significance of the event the agreement was signed in the presence of Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. In preparation for the premier’s visit, He Lifeng, vice-chairman van the National Development and Reform Commission, called on the European Commission in Brussels to talk about “One Belt One Road.” Following the programme in Brussels, He Lifeng paid an extended visit to the port of Antwerp where the main topic of discussion was One Belt One Road and the role in which Antwerp can play in this project.
Antwerp is an attractive partner not only because of its location in the heart of Europe. Thanks to collaboration with various ports and regions that lie along the New Silk Road the port has become a major strategic partner. This week, for instance, representatives of two subsidiaries of Antwerp Port Authority – Port of Antwerp International (consultancy) and APEC (training centre) – will visit the port of Baku in Azerbaijan to sign a collaboration agreement that is expected to result in contracts in the short term. In Oman, Port of Antwerp International together with RentAPort has long been active in developing the port of Duqm, where a hub function is being created for trade between the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Far East, South-East Asia and East and South Africa.
One Belt One Road
The One Belt One Road project announced at the end of 2013 seeks to connect China’s main industrial cities with trading centres elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The project encompasses a rail route which roughly follows the historic Silk Road and a maritime route that covers South East Asia and the countries around the Indian Ocean. Infrastructure work for this project will be financed by among others the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.