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March 2, 2024

Train brings goods from China to Thailand and back to China for first time

A train carrying goods and produce between China, Laos and Thailand – and back to China – has made its first journey along the newly completed Lao-China railway.


The train carrying frozen food and about 280 tons of fresh vegetables on 19 cars left Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province on Feb. 7, traveled through Laos and arrived in Bangkok 55 hours later, Lao National Television reported. On its way back through Laos to Kunming, the train carried durians and other Thai produce. 


A centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of state-led lending for infrastructure projects to tie countries across Asia to China, the railway is aimed at offering land-locked Laos the promise of closer integration with the world’s second largest economy. The train trip from Kunming to Bangkok is believed to be 20 percent faster than a comparable trip made by truck. 


The railway opened in early 2022 but the Chinese government’s zero-COVID policy and its requirement that all imported goods be fully checked meant that the kinds of fruits and vegetables allowed in were greatly limited.


More shipments from Thailand to come


Now that China has reopened its borders, the new railway should see more shipments from Thailand to China, a Thai trade official told Radio Free Asia’s Laos Service. 


“A lot of Chinese goods are coming to Thailand; China produces a lot of goods,” the official said. “Of course, they will ship their goods to Thailand. On the way back, they’ll get something from Thailand.”


A Lao trade official, who like other sources requested anonymity for safety reasons, told RFA that there were no goods from Laos on the train to China. The country just doesn’t have enough goods to export yet, the official said. 


Most Lao farmers “grow fruits and vegetables only for consumption in the family or sell in the country, not for export,” a Laotian farmer told RFA. “Of course, the shipping by train is fast and convenient. But for Laos, we just don’t have enough produce to export to China.”


One Vientiane resident noted that Laos imports a lot of vegetables and currently only exports cassava, rubber and minerals by train to China.

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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