An international forum in Brussels highlighted the role of strengthening of trade and supply chains between Europe and Asia through the expansion and integration of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (known as “the Middle Corridor”) into the international logistics system, as well as the role of Kazakhstan’s transport hub.
Margulan Baimukhan, Head of Kazakhstan’s Mission to the EU, emphasized that the “development and diversification of the country’s transit routes remains a priority area for New Kazakhstan”.
At an event, organized by the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the EU with the support of the European Parliament, Kazakhstan Railways NC JSC, and the “Trans-Caspian International Transport Route” International Association (TITR), Baimukhan noted that in 2022, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced plans to invest about $20B in transport infrastructure to help expand the transit flows and meet the growing needs of the region’s countries.
Representatives of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Commission’s DG MOVE and the EU Transport Commissioner unanimously underlined the EU’s interest in “developing transport and transit cooperation with Kazakhstan and with the corridor participants”. In this context, it was noted that the trusting political relations between Kazakhstan and the EU create an additional positive impetus for cooperation in the transport sector.
The Middle Corridor discussion in Brussels was the first forum in the EU capital to discuss the prospects of the route that goes from China through the territory and ports of Kazakhstan and onwards to Azerbaijan, Georgia or Turkey to the countries of Europe.
In light of continuing changes in the region’s trade and logistics routes, the Middle Corridor is becoming the main land route for the transit of goods from China to Europe. The Middle corridor participants note a sharp increase in traffic volume and demand for the services along the route. This is also confirmed by the high interest of European transport and logistics companies that arrived in Brussels to participate in the event and meet in person with representatives of eleven TITR members and Kazakhstan’s railway and transit operators during the B2B session.
More than 150 experts, politicians, diplomats as well as representatives of 80 companies from eighteen European and South Caucasus countries took part in the event. Along with the secretaries-general of TITR and TRACECA, the Kazakhstani delegation included the CEOs of KTZ NC JSC, KTZ Express, KTZ Express Hong Kong Limited, and ports of Aktau and Quryk, JSC Kazmortransflot, etc.
More than ten international organizations and financial institutions (UN, OSCE, EIB, EBRD, EBRD, OSJD, TMTM, TRACECA, WCO, and others), as well as the EU railway associations (“Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies”, “Reilfreight”, “FERRMED,” etc.) participated in the event.
Leila Batyrbekova, TRACECA representative in Brussels and railways expert from Kazakhstan, moderated the discussion.
MEP Bogusław Liberadzki in his speech highlighted the EU Strategy of “Global Gateway”, where the bloc plans to develop transport connectivity with its global partners, including Central Asia and Kazakhstan. The strategy is to accumulate more than 300B euros in investments, supporting the improvement of transit links with the EU’s trade partners.
In his presentation, Luc Devigne, Deputy Managing Director at the EEAS, noted that transport and transit is one of the most important areas among the 29 fields of cooperation set out in the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Kazakhstan and the EU. The EU pays particular attention to the development of multidimensional cooperation with Kazakhstan, its largest trade and economic partner in the region, and the strengthening of transit cooperation with the region is enshrined in key EU strategies such as the “Global Gateway” and the EU Strategy for Central Asia. Constant dialogue at the highest level, political stability and the aim of the current reforms in Kazakhstan help strengthen economic ties between the parties, the European diplomat noted.
According to Pablo Fabregas Martinez, a cabinet member of the European Commissioner for Transport, “Kazakhstan already plays a key role in transit between China and Europe, which has been doubling annually since 2013”.
Harvey Rouse, Head of Unit at the DG MOVE, the European Commission, spoke about the details of the EBRD study on sustainable transport links between the EU and Central Asia. The study, the results of which are expected by early 2023, will identify bottlenecks, the missing links, and the investment demand along the Middle Corridor in terms of both hard and soft infrastructure.
According to Gaidar Abdikerimov, Secretary-General of the TITR, the number of Association members are currently growing. The TITR is also working on enhancing the transit route from the ports of Batumi and Poti to the Romanian port of Constanta. On the sideline of the event, the Director-General of the Managing Company of Bulgarian ports of Varna and Burgas expressed interest in cooperation with the association.
Yerlan Koishibayev, Managing Director for Logistics of Kazakhstan Temir Zholy NC JSC, assured the participants that Kazakh railways are aimed at diversifying export routes, including through the Middle Corridor. He stressed that the work has already begun to increase the carrying capacity and modernization of the entire route.
The participants confirmed that the successful development of transport and logistics ties involves a constant dialogue and direct contact between industry stakeholders. In this context, the forum allowed for direct links between Kazakhstani and European participants.
Some of the practical results of the event are the EIB’s potential participation in the modernization of the transport infrastructure of KTZ NC JSC, and the organization of port management courses for Kazakhstan’s port workers at the port of Antwerp in Belgium.