China Opportunities: The Transformation of Logistics

Look at the proximity of the airports of Liege and Brussels. So, the Belt and Road, with regard to connectivity, gave a boost to the rail transport.

Editor’s Note: The Belt and Road Initiative is promoting land and maritime connections across the Eurasia continent. China and Europe are benefiting from their close links, growing trade and logistics. How do Europeans see China’s opportunity? David Gosset, the founder of Europe-China Forum, discussed with Luc Arnouts, Vice President and Director of International Relations and Networks at Port of Antwerp, Belgium. He joined the company in 2007 as Chief Commercial Officer.

China Opportunities, hosted by David Gosset, is a global dialogue with senior officials, business elites and distinguished people. The serial interviews are coproduced by China Focus and DG2CI Limited in association with Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies.

David Gosset: How did the Port of Antwerp benefit from the Chinese economic reemergence?

Luc Arnouts: We have seen over the last 5 to 8 years that China stepped top in the ranking of the most important trading partners for the Port of Antwerp. If I can give you some figures, that will clearly show it. In last year, when we look at the total volumes going through the Port of Antwerp, China was our number three partner representing about 6 percent of the total volumes. But if you look at containerized cargo only, they are number two after the United States. So, (China is) our second trading partner with almost 12 percent of the total containerized cargo going through the Port. So, it is a crucial partner for the Port of Antwerp, and it grows importance. If we even look at the difficult period of last year and the first 6 months of this year, we see an increase of 10 percent plus in the volumes coming from China and going to China. So yes, I can only see from the figures that the Port of Antwerp is a gateway to and from Europe for Chinese cargo.

David Gosset: Clearly, for your country, for the Port of Antwerp, the Chinese economic transformation is an immense opportunity. Now, since 2013, we have a lot of conversation, discussions around the strategic project of the Belt and Road. Of course, it is also about the maritime connections. How do you see the Belt and Road Initiative from a big port like the Port of Antwerp?

Luc Arnouts: The Port of Antwerp is much more than just a maritime transit point. We see ourselves really as a logistics nodal point where the different transport modes come together. So, we obviously have since many years maritime connections with China, like we have with almost every port around the world. But with China, there are of course daily connections between the major Chinese ports and the Port of Antwerp. But we also are an important rail port. So, when you look at the Belt and Road Initiative (Note: The Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road), it put again emphasis not only on this maritime connection, which in the Belt and Road is called the Road, it’s a bit confusing, the maritime thing is the Road. And the land’s bridge, the real bridge, which is called the Belt, got again new attention.

So, for the Port of Antwerp that wants to be connected to the different modes of transport, this was an opportunity. So, we have seen an increase in Chinese cargo, but also cargo from the countries between China and Belgium transported by rail to the Port of Antwerp via direct trains, but also via indirect trains, so which means trains which are going to inland hubs in Europe, and then a part of the train continues its trip to the Port of Antwerp.

So, for us, it was enriching basically the offer that we can make to supply chain managers. So, they can make a choice depending on the time transit, depending on the price, they can make choices between maritime transport, rail transport, and even air transport. Look at the proximity of the airports of Liege and Brussels. So, the Belt and Road, with regard to connectivity, gave a boost to the rail transport. Another important aspect of the Belt and Road is, of course, that it gave an input to looking at the investments. We have already an important presence of a company like COSCO Ports in our Port. We would love to see further development. Obviously, we will look at the business case and the conditions, but also there the Belt and Road Initiative could be a push to see further investments in our Port.

David Gosset: I am sure that you will see much more Chinese investors, because as you said, at the Port of Antwerp, you have the land dimension, and you have of course the maritime dimension, but we live in the world in which of course lands matter, maritime connections matter, but the cyberspace matters also tremendously. And of course, China is doing very well in the field of e-commerce. What does it mean for you, the boom of the e-commerce?

Luc Arnouts: Again, this gave a boost to the Port of Antwerp as well, e-commerce in general. We have seen a tremendous boost of that business going through the Port which proves that e-commerce matured. It’s not only about fast delivery by air freight. More and more are done via e-commerce, and we prefer the word, omnichannel, different ways of delivering goods to the end consumer. We see more and more that it’s a combination of air freight, sea freight and rail freight as a result of the Belt and Road developments. So, for a port like Antwerp, basically, it enriches again our possibilities.

David Gosset: It’s fantastic. Of course, the Chinese economic reemergence is very good for the Chinese people themselves. But as we can see, through the eyes, through the concrete example of the Port of Antwerp, it does enrich all of us. Thank you very much to be a part of this, in a sense, of course, Chinese Century, in a sense.

Luc Arnouts: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to be with you.

David Gosset: Thank you.