QINZHOU, China: Once a sleepy harbour, Qinzhou Port in southwest Guangxi now wakes up daily to the noise of cargo containers loading and unloading.
More of this is expected when the Southern Transport Corridor reaches full integration.
The corridor, a new trade route initiated by Singapore, seeks to connect China's southwest region to Southeast Asia, by way of the Guangxi autonomous region. Qinzhou Port is located in the Beibu Gulf near China’s border with Vietnam.
The plan is to build Qinzhou into a key port for trade not only with Vietnam, but also other countries in Southeast Asia. The Chinese government has been looking for ways to promote development in Guangxi, one of China’s poorest regions. Qinzhou Port looks to be playing a major role in this.
It was developed in the late 1990s but for years, failed to attract traffic due to its location in an impoverished provincial neighbourhood. Things are looking up however.
In the first half of last year, the port handled 39.09 million tonnes of cargo, up 14.7 per cent year-on-year, while its container handling capacity hit 785,000, an increase of 25 per cent.
Dr Lei Xiaohua from the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences said: “The biggest advantage for Guangxi is its geographic position. That can be seen through its sea and land linkages with ASEAN countries, so the Southern Transport Corridor is capitalising on the advantages of these linkages.
"Guangxi’s development is closely linked to trade with ASEAN, so its trade volume with ASEAN will determine Guangxi’s accomplishments in opening up.”
With the new corridor, cargo can be shipped from Chongqing to Singapore within seven days, while the current route via the Yangtze River can take up to five times longer.
Mr Lye Chee Whye, the general manager of Beibu Gulf-PSA International Container Terminal said: “This traditional route has been in use for a long time, and due to the limitations of the Yangtze River, as well as the healthy growth of the volume over the years, the whole Yangtze River has become very congested today, and the transit time has increased dramatically in the region of between two and four weeks just for cargo, to transit from one end of the river to mouth of the river in eastern China.
"The Southern Transport Corridor will dramatically cut down on the logistics time, as well as the costs, and it will definitely facilitate the trade between China and ASEAN countries.”
An hour-and-a-half away from the port, Singaporean businessman Edwin Hooy is keeping a close watch on developments.
He owns a farm on the outskirts of Fangchenggang city in Guangxi, which he and his business partners acquired in 2015 for about US$3 million.
Mr Hooy, the president and CEO of Agriculture Dynasty, said: “Now we’re trading mainly dragon fruit but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of selling other fruits in the future, so I think the Southern Corridor will benefit us by bringing the fruits from Chongqing or Sichuan or Guizhou to Nanning, and then we can export it to Southeast Asia.”
Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN countries hit a record high of US$515 billion last year, the fastest growth pace between China and any of its major trading partners.
The Southern Transport Corridor may just be what it takes to channel the vast potential into bigger trade gains.