China has launched a ground-breaking reform package to integrate its customs clearance system along the route of the Silk Road Economic Belt, which came into force on May 1.
The project is part of a major initiative by President Xi Jinping to establish new trade routes between China, Central Asia and Europe.
This train, arriving in Qingdao, is transporting the first batch of cargo for the new, integrated customs clearance system.
From this coastal port, the train, now being loaded with imported goods from overseas, is bound for a Chinese city called Yinchuan, the capital of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, in the heart of Eurasia.
Under the old regulations, its journey would have been held up several times by red tape before it reached its final destination.
But now, by completing just one clearance in Qingdao, it has free rein to go out west.
“This journey, which used to take five to seven days in the past, can now be completed within just 48 hours. This not only makes logistics more efficient, but also slashes its cost by 20 to 30 percent, and sometimes even by half, as the cargo no longer needs to be stored during the several rounds of customs clearance,” said Wang Dong, deputy logistics manager of Qingdao port.
The port of Qingdao is furnished with one of the most effective sea-rail transport infrastructures in the world, and it processes more containers per day than any other ports in China.
Most imported cargo for China goes through this port, but what had always frustrated international traders was the complicated customs policies.
The ten customs offices, being integrated into one, stretches across China, forming a free economic corridor.
“Now Qingdao is a port shared by all these inland cities, and all these cities in return become Qingdao port’s vast economic hinterland. This shows the strong determination and support of the government to build the Silk Road Economic Belt,” said Cheng Xinnong, president of Port of Qingdao.
Behind the busy scenes at the port, is an even busier one at a temporary Emergency Coordination Customs Center.
From April to June, officials from the ten local customs officers will gather in Qingdao to guarantee a smooth flow of goods.
It will be dismissed only when everything is on the right track.
“The next move for China’s Customs’ reform is to expand this integration initiative across the whole country. It is expected to be achieved by July 1 of this year, by which time companies can freely choose where they declare their goods... and the clearance at one customs office will be sufficient for them all,” said Miao Yuexue, vice-director of Supervision Dept., China Customs.
After just hours at the Qingdao customs clearance, the train departs, loaded with imported goods. Many say that this journey is a symbol of how the wheels of change, along the Silk Road Economic Belt, are now in motion.