Trade Route

BEIJING, 2013 (AFP) – A 19,000-tonne cargo vessel is making the first journey by a Chinese merchant ship to Europe via the Northeast Passage, a shortened route that could revolutionise trade, state media reported Saturday. In 2012, 46 ships used the Northeast Passage, compared with four in 2010, according to Rosatomflot, a Russian operator of icebreakers.

But the traffic is still negligible compared with traditional commercial shipping routes, such as the Suez Canal, which has 19,000 ships pass through it a year.

Previous estimates have suggested up to 15 percent of Chinese foreign trade could use the Arctic route by 2020.

Europe is one of China’s largest trading partners, with two-way trade last year worth nearly $550 billion. The Arctic route has become navigable due to global warming melting sea ice and promises to slash journey times by around 12 to 15 days, saving shipping companies and Chinese exporters millions in lower fuel bills and reduced operating costs.

A freighter belonging to Chinese shipping firm Cosco left the northeastern port of Dalian on Thursday and was expected to take 33 days to reach Europe via the Bering Strait and Russia’s northern coastline, the official China Daily reported.