Duisburg port in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia
Duisburg port in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia

From its former provincial character, the Duisburg port in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia is becoming a player in international shipping, its significance receiving a big boost with the recent focus on the Belt-Road-Initiative in Beijing.
To strengthen its role in international shipping, Duisburg port has ironed out a strategic partnership with the port of Trieste.

“This will enable us to expand our European network as well provide us access to China through the Suez Canal and through the land way via Turkey and Iran,” Duisburg’s chief executive Erich Staake has been telling the media.

Duisburg has become an important point for transporting goods by rail to and from China. “We already have 25 trains leaving each week to several destination points in China, contributing to a rise in throughput in both ports,“ Staake says. Duisburg and Trieste both want to invest in dry ports in the region.

But many say that the rail or road transportation from China to Europe will have a specialized – a niche - character, and as such will pose no major competition to sea cargo. Due to the disproportionate throughput between China and Germany – some 2.4 million tonnes were exported in 2016 from Germany to China while 3.4 million tonnes are imported into Germany from China – rail transportation does make economic sense because it is quicker than sea cargo and cheaper than air cargo. Indeed, this becomes obvious in the case of time-conditioned goods such as clothing, electronics and autoparts.

But such products are not necessarily headed for China but can also be offloaded on the way in countries and markets that will be part of the BRI, particularly in Central Asian markets.

The new Silk Road, as the BRI is also known, will undergo further expansion between China and Duisburg from 2018. The Chinese are setting up a trade center with offices, a hotel, restaurant, conference and exhibition hall, e-commerce center, etc., in the Businesspark Niederhein, with an investment of 260 million Euro, according to an investing company Starhai. The China Trade Center Europe, as the project is being called, will pave the way for Chinese companies wanting to set up business in Duisburg, according to Rolf Sasse, who heads the marketing operations at Starhai.

Experts recall that the Duisburg authorities had ceremoniously welcomed in 2013 the train arriving from Chongquing in China in Duisburg, after completing a 10,300 km (6,400 mile) long journey in 16 days.

Meanwhile, Duisburg port is also expanding its train connectivity and freight rail traffic with the JadeWeserPort. The port authority of Duisport recently said that a container train was operating once a week between Duisburg port and the JadeWeserPort in Wilhelmshaven. The deep-water JadeWeserPort’s management says that is the only German port which can be reached by the world’s mega container ships carrying 18,000 TEUs and more. Duisburg already has about 400 train connections to 80 destinations worldwide, including China.

Duisburg port transported in 2016 a volume of 55.1 million tonnes, up 2.1% over 2015. The goods transported comprise, mainly, iron ore, stones and earth, mineral-oil products, coal, crude oil and chemical products. Although an inland port, Duisburg’s inland shipping plays a secondary role. According to the German Statistics Bureau, only about 5 percent of the total goods traffic in Germany was accounted by the inland shipping in 2015, with nearly 80% accounting for road transportation traffic.