A whole new world of trade

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -

Lon­don lawyer sees far-reach­ing po­ten­tial in China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive

May is in­vited to at­tend.

In Theochari’s view, the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive’s power is its co­or­di­na­tion of ef­forts to build trans­port in­fra­struc­ture and the creation of a lo­gis­tics chain of roads, rail­ways and ports, which will sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce trade costs and in­crease ef­fi­ciency.

“This ini­tia­tive is made pos­si­ble be­cause of China’s po­lit­i­cal will, eco­nomic power and will­ing­ness to take a lead­er­ship role in this fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant area of world trade. In the past, the ten­dency would be to fo­cus on mov­ing goods or raw ma­te­ri­als within sov­er­eign bor­ders or po­lit­i­cal group­ings to an ex­port or im­port point. The plan­ning was very lo­cal in na­ture,” Theochari says.

“The ini­tia­tive looks to cre­ate a global lo­gis­tics chain with trade routes be­ing planned across con­ti­nents and oceans. These lo­gis­tic chains, from point of ori­gin to point of de­liv­ery,

will play a key role in re­duc­ing the costs and in­creas­ing the ef­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity of global trade.”

In ad­di­tion to boost­ing trade growth, the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive will also be in­stru­men­tal in cham­pi­oning free trade, a mes­sage high­lighted in Pres­i­dent Xi’s speech at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos, Switzer­land, in Jan­uary.

“It is clear from Pres­i­dent Xi’s speech at Davos that China has ev­ery in­ten­tion of con­tin­u­ing to in­crease its trade with the rest of the world. En­hanced trade links will help fast-grow­ing coun­tries like Malaysia and In­done­sia, with young, am­bi­tious and grow­ing pop­u­la­tions, to de­velop even faster,” Theochari says.

Some projects in Belt and Road coun­tries are al­ready built and in op­er­a­tion. In 2016, China Rail­way Tunnel Group com­pleted the Qam­chiq Tunnel in Uzbek­istan, the long­est tunnel

in Cen­tral Asia. It is part of the 169 kilo­me­ter An­gren-Pap rail­way line, which im­proves Uzbek­istan’s in­fra­struc­ture and enhances China’s links with Cen­tral Asia.

Mean­while, the China-Be­larus industrial park is in devel­op­ment, and work on the Hun­gary-Ser­bia rail­road is to be­gin soon. Co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries has been fur­ther ex­panded.

China’s lead­er­ship in re­al­iz­ing global free trade is backed by con­crete ac­tion. For in­stance, in Novem­ber last year Pres­i­dent Xi called for the build­ing of a Free Trade Area of the Asi­aPa­cific at the APEC CEO Sum­mit in Peru.

Mean­while, the China-led Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank is gain­ing mo­men­tum in lead­ing a new method for multi­na­tional devel­op­ment bank op­er­a­tions. Es­tab­lished just over a year ago with 57

found­ing share­hold­ers — in spite of op­po­si­tion from the US — the AIIB has al­ready ap­proved a lend­ing pro­gram of $1.73 bil­lion, and in­vested in nine projects across Europe, Asia and the Mid­dle East.

In ad­di­tion to the AIIB’s fi­nanc­ing ca­pac­ity and global sup­port, Theochari says the bank’s cor­po­rate gov­er­nance struc­ture is unique: “Its in­ter­na­tional ad­vi­sory panel con­sists of notable fig­ures, a num­ber of whom have held po­lit­i­cal power and who not only un­der­stand trade but how the in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal land­scape works in prac­tice.”

The AIIB’s in­ter­na­tional ad­vi­sory panel in­cludes An­ders Borg, for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter of Swe­den, and Lord Ni­cholas Stern, a pro­fes­sor at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and for­mer chief econ­o­mist at the World Bank.

Theochari also praises the long-term sus­tain­abil­ity fo­cus of the AIIB, which is co­her­ent with its motto of “lean, clean and green”. For him, one demon­stra­tion of this sus­tain­abil­ity mind­set is the bank’s abil­ity to help de­vel­op­ing coun­tries along the trade route to truly grow.

“Its com­mit­ment to in­vest­ing in projects such as ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture, san­i­ta­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, could con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to­ward gen­er­at­ing wealth through well-planned in­fra­struc­ture,” he says.

The AIIB has al­ready launched projects to im­prove san­i­ta­tion in In­done­sia, up­grade Bangladesh’s elec­tric­ity grid and build high­ways in Pak­istan and Ta­jik­istan.

Theochari, who was born into a poor Greek Cypriot fam­ily that em­i­grated to the UK in the early 1960s, started a ca­reer in ship­ping law as “a nat­u­ral choice”. Greece had a ma­jor ship­ping fleet and he spoke the lan­guage of the Greek shipown­ers. In 1985, he joined Nor­ton Rose Ful­bright, and in 1987 he vis­ited Pudong district in Shang­hai.

“It was my first time in China and all I could see were fields and a few pigs. I pinch my­self now when I go to Shang­hai and see this mag­nif­i­cent new city, with world-class ar­chi­tec­ture and built in al­most no time,” he says.

Over the three decades of Theochari’s ca­reer in ship­ping law, he not only has wit­nessed China’s dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion but also the tremen­dous in­ter­na­tional strength ac­cu­mu­lated by Chi­nese trans­port com­pa­nies over­seas, es­pe­cially in the years fol­low­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

In 2014, three out of 15 of the world’s largest ship­ping lenders were Chi­nese banks, to­gether pro­vid­ing $45.3 bil­lion of global ship­ping mar­ket fi­nance — just un­der 20 per­cent of the $258 bil­lion to­tal ship­ping fi­nance debt of the top 15 lenders’ com­bined. Be­fore 2008, no Chi­nese banks were among the global top 15 ship­ping lenders.

Theochari says all such de­vel­op­ments fur­ther en­hance the or­ga­ni­za­tion of China’s in­fra­struc­ture lead­er­ship ca­pac­ity, and the strength of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

“Hav­ing wit­nessed China’s change over the past 30 years, it is ex­cit­ing to see the way China is now cham­pi­oning the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, the suc­cess of which I be­lieve will match China’s sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments over the past few decades,” he says.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

says the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive is pos­si­bly the largest trans­port in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram in mod­ern times.

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