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Central Asia gets closer, boosts trade

By Chen Yingqun | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-01 07:29

Horgos city of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in Northwest China is fast emerging as a strategic location economically, riding opportunities presented by the Belt and Road Initiative.

Horgos is near the border with Kazakhstan. And beyond are other central Asian countries. Russia and Belarus are within trading distance, in terms of possibilities of international trade in agri produce and manufactured goods likes robots and fashion via surface transport. Cross-border tourism is increasing too.

So, on a typical morning these days in Horgos, you can see truck drivers from Kazakhstan busy loading apples, tomatoes and peppers onto trucks. By next morning, the fruits and vegetables will appear in supermarkets and fruit stands in neighboring countries.

Yu Chengzhong, chairman of Horgos Jinyi International Trade Co Ltd, said they export about 1,000 metric tons of vegetables and fruits in 50 trucks every day to Central Asian countries, Russia and Belarus.

"Tremendous changes have taken place in Horgos. In the past, it took about two to three days for vegetables and fruits from Horgos to go through the customs and then be sent to Central Asian countries. But now, the time is shortened to one day," Yu said.

Thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative, Horgos has experienced a boom in business and trade with a number of Central Asian economies over the past few years.

Min Jianbo, general manager of Horgos Boshihao Tech Co Ltd, said they have been working on building a manufacturing facility for digital products in Horgos. Construction may start soon. The factory will be able to produce 3.6 million products such as service robots and mobile phones annually.

"In the past few years, we have seen great demand from Central Asian countries, so establishing a factory here would make it easier for our products to reach these markets," he said.

Zhang Yongsheng, deputy director of the Horgos Special Economic Zone office, which is under the State Administration of Taxation of China, said in 2016, more than 4,500 companies were registered in Horgos, far surpassing 1,500 registered the previous year.

He attributed the boom to two major reasons.

First, the preferential policies that Horgos has been offering to companies after the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed in 2013. Companies in tourism and high-tech sectors have benefited a great deal.

For example, companies registered in the Horgos Special Economic Zone will be exempt from income tax for the first five years after registration.

Second, Horgos' proximity to Central Asian markets. Many Chinese companies want to do business with them now as they are able to save on time and transportation costs.

The China-Kazakhstan Horgos International Border Cooperation Center, China's first cross-border free trade zone, also has seen an increasing number of tourists since it opened in 2012.

According to local border inspection authorities, the center received about 1 million visitors in the first quarter of 2017. In 2016, it attracted 5.43 million tourists, up 36 percent year-on-year.

Zhang Jingshou, director of the Port Bureau of the Horgos Special Economic Zone, said that in the past five years, more than 4,000 tenants and 40 duty-free shops selling luxury brands have entered the center. More than 6,000 people now work at the center.

Zhang Changchun, a Chinese fashion merchant at the center, said that for the past three years, his business has prospered as more people are visiting. "I sell 400 to 500 cold-proof hats a month. This week, I sold more than 100 gloves," he said.

Covering 5.28 square kilometers, the center was designed for business negotiations, commodity displays and sales, storage, transportation, financial services and international trade fairs.

It consists of 3.43 square kilometers in China and 1.85 square kilometers in Kazakhstan, and allows entry of citizens from any country with valid passports or with exit and entry permits.

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