Industries world over face the brunt of the troubles caused due to the novel coronavirus as world leaders scamper to tackle it. Apart from the apparent health concerns due to an exponential rise of COVID 19 cases, there is now a focus on economic obstacles on the horizon. Consequently, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been central to some of the developments materializing because of this global crisis.
The list of trials and tribulations faced by the BRI mainly concern its infrastructural developments. A slowdown will be witnessed in the expansion of BRI as the inability of the Chinese government to send workers to the current projects in the pipeline, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In a situation like this, most countries, including China’s primary focus would be to stimulate their domestic economy before making overseas investments. Subsequently, Chinese officials have ensured the countries that have signed the MOU that they are keen and committed towards the projects, though it might not be an easy task. China continues to send emergency supplies to MOU countries that are also affected by this pandemic as a way of establishing their assurance.
The month of February was the roughest for the supply-chain network along the BRI, especially after the complete lockdown of Wuhan. Wuhan, situated in the Hubei province of China, is a major industrial and transport centre, and its shutdown caused massive impacts on not just 13 Chinese cities, but also the global supply chain. The sea-freight industry faced a rather tricky situation as the ports and docks in China functioned smoothly, but the movement of goods to and from the docks was severely hampered. Containers struggled to ship enough cargo, a backlog of products piled up in factories and these in turn impaired global economies.
In March, the epicentres of coronavirus moved towards Europe with countries such as Italy, Spain, France and Germany adversely affected. The Chinese experience mirrored in the European continent, with borders closing down and complications arising in the logistics industry. Freight moving through EU member states saw overwhelming traffic congestions, such as the 60 km traffic jam between borders. In an attempt to tackle the situation, the EU declared travel advisory and installed ‘green lanes’ at border crossings. Green lane border crossings are open to all freight vehicles, which include checks and health screening of workers that cannot last more than 15 minutes in all internal borders.
Amid the growing crisis in the European supply chain network, there were a few silver linings. The Eurasian rail freight traffic massively increased with a record number of 174,000 TEUs of cargo moved. This cargo also included emergency medical supplies directed from China to Europe to combat the corona crisis in multiple EU countries. The China-Europe rail service was inaugurated in 2011, becoming a significant part of BRI. In the face of the global pandemic, rail freight is functioned phenomenally and established itself as a significant mode of transport.
As April rolls in, many wish for a sense of normalcy to return and all of us in the supply-chain industry accommodate innovative ways of preventing disruptions. Many cities, including Wuhan, have begun to function in an attempt to reach their full capacities. Regrettably, the imbalance between the situations in China and Europe continue to influence supply chain networks. Still, the significant revival of rail-freight during this pandemic has made a remarkable impact on supply chain operators, as we trudge resolutely along the road to recovery.