Rail link offers renewed optimism
Hard Brexit. Trump’s protectionism. The end of free trade. Globalisation to decline.
Flicking through the usual pessimistic news, a rare upbeat item cowers in a positive corner of the business pages ... the simple story of a train rumbling into east London.
Although an unlikely saviour of free trade, the East Wind and its 34 trucks, containing socks, bags and wallets, has been welcomed at Barking rail freight terminal.
Remarkably, despite the backdrop of probable UK exit from the single market and the expected crumbling of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Silk Route is to be born again.
Finishing a 16-day journey from Yiwu, west China, the goods on board are the first to complete the 7,456 mile journey.
Reminiscent of the archaic Silk Route, officially opened in 130 BC by the Han Dynasty of China, a direct trade path from East to West is reborn.
The Roman Empire’s lust for Chinese silk formed the basis of extensive exchange along the Silk Route.
It was arguably the world’s first famous network of mass international trade. Not just goods, but culture, technology – and, sadly, the bubonic plague – were all shared.
Now, the pioneer of globalisation is set to be revived.
In October 2013, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced the rejuvenation. They call it the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) policy.
It’s part of a framework designed to boost development and co-operation across Asia and Europe.
The Chinese want a Silk Road economic belt centred on a railway all the way to Europe. Trains – backers argue – are cheaper than planes, but faster than ships.
Financed by the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the project will span 60 countries containing 63 per cent of the world’s population.
This will be a big deal, aimed at fuelling new economic growth through cross-border investment and flourishing trade.
Britain must be at the forefront – and here is where the new Silk Road links to the hot topic of Brexit.
Sir John Peace, chairman of huge American bank Standard Chartered, described OBOR as an “opportunity for the UK to participate in future global success”.
Fortunately, in June 2015, Britain signed up as a founding member of the AIIB.
Brexit and Trump are often presented as an apocalyptic end to world trade, but it is deals like this which will see the UK carve a promising global economic future.
Free from the bureaucratic, stagnant mess of the European single market, there will be light at the end of the channel tunnel.
Commercial opportunities will flood to the UK and, free from the EU customs union, we can trade however we like with China and the rest of Asia.
Links with the East are going to be vital and it is great that King Edward VI School’s own Shanghai leadership exchange is now in its tenth year.
It’s time we move forward with renewed optimism – and it is good news like the train from China which should be grabbing more headlines.
-- Harry Stonebridge is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds