Railway hailed as business boon for Laos


A freight train in Southern China heads toward the Lao border on Saturday, following the inauguration of the China-Laos Railway the day before. JIANG WENYAO/XINHUA

Phouphet Kyophilavong said he is delighted that the China-Laos Railway is now in full operation after being opened on Friday despite the difficulties that the pandemic threw in the way.

Apart from linking two countries, the first railway in landlocked Laos ushers in a new era and will benefit the country economically, including by helping t facilitation on both tariff and non-tariff barriers, Kyophilavong said o alleviate poverty, said Kyophilavong, dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business Management at the National University of Laos in Vientiane.

On Saturday afternoon the first international freight train from Vientiane, the country's capital, loaded with Lao exports had arrived in China. By the evening, the first cross-border freight train from Kunming, Yunnan province, arrived at Vientiane South Station after traveling 1,035 kilometers.

"The China-Laos Railway runs similar to the domestic railways, and the railway conditions are even better," Zhou Yukui, 31, driver of the freight train from Kunming, fully loaded with dicalcium phosphate, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Though more policy support is needed for trade facilitation on both tariff and non-tariff barriers, Kyophilavong said, he forecast that the railway will create more potential for Lao business. The country should also open up more to welcome investors from China and other countries to set up joint ventures, which will create jobs for locals.

Tee Chee Seng, general manager of the joint venture Savan Park, said the railway will provide a new and convenient logistics route for trade and turn the Southeast Asian country into a regional connector.

Savan Park links Laos and the Malaysian company Pacific Streams Development to create a commercial and logistics hub for Laos by building the country's first special economic zone. About 70 companies from countries including China, Australia, Japan, Thailand and the United States have invested in the zone.

Shortening transit time

Tee's company used to depend on sea freight, which could take days to reach its destination. The railway has shortened the transit time to just 10 hours.

The railway link could reduce transport costs between Kunming and Vientiane by 40-50 percent, a reduction of about $30 per metric ton, a report issued by the World Bank last year said. Domestic transport costs within Laos are tipped to fall by 20-40 percent.

The railway "will not only benefit investors in the park, but will also benefit manufacturing companies in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore", Tee said.

His company will also work to expand its warehouse and logistics capacity to facilitate the flow of goods between China and other Southeast Asian countries.

Countries in the region have long desired to connect to each other as well as to China, which now has the capital, technology and expertise to work with its neighbors to realize this vision, said David Lampton, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and former president of the National Committee of US-China Relations in New York.

The Bangkok Post in Thailand reported on Wednesday that the Thai government is being advised to accelerate efforts to link its rail system with the China-Laos Railway, citing comments by Danucha Pichayanan, secretary-general of Thailand's National Economic and Social Development Council.

"Opening the high-speed rail line in Laos is a key step in realizing this vision because it runs down the spine of Southeast Asia," said Lampton, a co-author of the book Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia.

Lampton said he expects subsequent links involving Thailand, Malaysia and perhaps Singapore to emerge over time.

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