The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which opened up in Azerbaijan on Monday and will move cargo westward to Turkey via Georgia, is getting a lot of attention. But another route, to Azerbaijan’s east, is also in the works and is no less important for regional commerce.
Azerbaijan and its Caspian Sea neighbor Kazakhstan are aiming to increase trade via a water route that will move freight coming into Kazakhstan from places like China, across what is the world’s largest lake, and move westward to Europe via Baku.
On October 26, during a meeting with journalists, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, Beybit Isabayev said that by 2020 freight traffic moving from east to west will be increased five-fold, according to preliminary estimates.
From January through September 2017, trade between the two countries reached nearly 1.5 million tons, almost 150 percent more than during the same period last year, according to Isabayev. Goods exported from Kazakhstan were mainly petroleum products, whose those moving from Azerbaijan consisted of chemicals and sugar products, like soda and confectionery foodstuffs.
Both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are benefiting from the advantageous geographical location, which allows them acting as pivotal overland transit centers separately in their regions.
As Central Asia’s largest country and largest economy, Kazakhstan is well situated and regarded as a bridge for goods moving from the Far East and through the Caspian.
China in particular, with its $11.2 trillion economy and global exporter status, sees Kazakhstan as a gateway to western markets, and has factored it into Beijing’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) mega-trade initiative, which aims to revive — and expand — the legendary Silk Road, connecting global markets through state-of-the-art overland and sea routes. Astana and Beijing agreed in 2013 to link Kazakhstan’s railways to China’s OBOR project, and are already working on laying down nearly 1,500 km (932 mi) of railway tracks.
Azerbaijan, too, stands to benefit from OBOR and Kazakhstan’s railway initiatives with China.
Smaller in size than Kazakhstan, its position on the western side of the Caspian Sea and close to Turkey gives it the potential to become the major transit hub in the region. Baku, the capital, stands at the crossroads of major air, sea, rail and land routes within Eurasia, including the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), the North-South and East-West routes, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway.
The railway adds value to the region, and consumers, by cutting transit time nearly in half. What normally takes 25-30 days to move from China to Europe will take only 15. Azerbaijan invested over $670 million in the railway’s construction.
«The launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is a historically grandiose event, which was preceded by ten years of nonstop work,» Kazakhstan’s ambassador stressed at the press briefing last Thursday.
Astana sees BTK as the key link of the intercontinental Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, which begins in China and passes through Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and further to Europe.
«The first two echelons [consisting] of 82 containers have already left China and Kazakhstan for Turkey, while another train Kazakhstan’s coal is being prepared for shipment to Romania,» Isabayev said.
After reaching the Kazakhstani port of Aktau, they will make a 30-hour journey across the Caspian Sea to Baku, arriving at its port of Alat, and head north to Georgia before entering Turkey and moving further westward towards Europe.
- Created on .