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Yiwu, a small county in East China's Zhejiang province, called "the world's supermarket" for its global-scale wholesale market for small commodities, is taking the advantage of the nation's Belt and Road Initiative to reshape itself as a "pearl of the Silk Road", transforming itself from a previous export-oriented city into a global trade center.
"For Yiwu, YXE trains serve not only as a broader logistics channel, but also offer a platform for global trade," says Zhu Yi, the vice-director of the Office of Reform in the Yiwu city government.
The Yiwu-Xinjiang-Europe train service, which made its maiden journey from Yiwu to Madrid in Spain in 2014, now travels along nine international routes to over 30 countries.
These nine routes include trains between Yiwu and Central Asia, Spain, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Belarus, UK, the Czech Republic and Poland, according to the Yiwu city government.
So far, Yiwu has launched an overseas sub-mart, five logistic distribution centers and eight overseas warehouses to better serve the growing logistics needs arising from the YXE trains.
In 2018, a total of 320 trains were launched, shipping 25,060 standard containers, also known as 20-foot equivalent units or TEUs, up 68.8 percent year-on-year.
Feng Xubin, the chairperson of Timex, which is the operator of YXE trains in Yiwu, says that after five years' of operations "more varieties and categories of goods are being loaded on the trains, with trade volumes (between the city and route-related countries) registering skyrocketing growth".
The successful operation of the trains has greatly facilitated the growing transportation and logistics growth and boosted the trade between Yiwu and countries along the YXE routes, the city government says.
Take Spain, for example. Statistics show that Yiwu's exports to Spain topped 2.67 billion yuan between January and October last year, a rise of 17.96 percent year-on-year.
The city imported goods worth 58.67 million yuan from Spain during the 10-month period, registering an 8.82 percent growth.
At the same time, data has shown that Spanish exports to Yiwu increased by more than 300 percent, thanks to the cargo train service.
Now, more than 20,000 foreigners from over 100 countries and regions live in Yiwu. And about half-a-million more visit and make purchases in Yiwu each year, according to data released by the city government.
The Yiwu International Trade Market, with 75,000 booths in a business area of 5.5 million square meters, is the epicenter of the world's largest trading hub for small commodities. And it attracts hundreds of thousands of sellers and buyers every day.
The city has also cultivated business connections with more than 210 countries and regions. And according to Yiwu customs, 1.08 million TEUs of goods were exported from Yiwu in 2018, up 15.9 percent, accounting for one-seventh of the containers leaving the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port in Ningbo, another city in Zhejiang province.
Despite sluggish global growth, Yiwu's exports and imports totaled 256 billion yuan in 2018, up 9.4 percent year-on-year, while exports were 252.16 billion yuan, up 9.4 percent year-on-year, 2.3 percentage points higher than the national growth rate.