At a naan-making industrial park in Horgos in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, workers are busy making a popular staple food.
Unlike most of the naan made elsewhere in Xinjiang, most of the round pancake-shaped bread is made for consumers in Central Asian countries.
Horgos, which borders Kazakhstan, is China's closest port to Central Asia and Europe by land transport. It has managed to supply steady exports of naan bread, among others, to Central Asian countries and beyond belonging to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newly-made naan bread are pictured at a naan-making industrial park in Horgos, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, June 4, 2021. (Xinhua/Gu Yu)
The naan bread crosses the border by expressway via a green channel developed to ensure efficient transport of farm and sideline products. The road remains open with strict anti-COVID-19 measures in place. About 2.6 million pieces of naan bread have been exported via the port to Uzbekistan since June 2020.
"It's a tough period for everyone, but our connection hasn't been severed by the pandemic," said Yu Chengzhong, chairman of Horgos Jinyi International Trade Corp., the largest naan and agricultural produce exporter in Horgos.
Years of trade exchanges have built a reliable bond between Yu and his overseas business partners. "We trust in each other," Yu said. "Although we can't meet in person now, we can use WeChat to do business talks."
"Our local consumers enjoy Xinjiang-made naan very much. They offer a variety of tastes at reasonable prices," said Ismatullaev Bekzod, an importer in Uzbekistan.
Aerial photo taken on June 3, 2021 shows cross-border e-commerce packages being transported to Kazakhstan from Horgos, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Gu Yu)
In addition to agriculture produce and naan bread, made-in-China commercial vehicles such as excavators and cotton pickers are also popular exports in Central Asian countries. However, the COVID-19 outbreak put a halt on commercial vehicle export.
The international road management bureau in Horgos has found a solution: handing over the driver's seat.
With necessary anti-epidemic measures, a Chinese driver would stop the vehicle at the border area, and a Kazakh driver will take over the vehicle and drive it into their country. People-to-people contagion risks are minimized by such a driver relay.
Since its trial in May last year, over 15,000 vehicles had been exported in this way by the end of May 2021.
"The approach reduces the pandemic's impact on our business, enabling delivery of vehicles to our overseas clients as soon as possible," said Ji Hu, head of the local commercial vehicle association.
Customs officers check cross-border e-commerce packages in Horgos, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, June 3, 2021. (Xinhua/Gu Yu)
SHORTCUT IN THE AIR
Wang Weihua, a Beijing-based businessman, has been a frequent visitor since May to the border cooperation center in Horgos although the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the once robust inflow of visitors seen before 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated cross-border trade due to looming contagion risks, but not for Wang's cross-border e-commerce company Sunny Express, which is enjoying a business boom thanks to a joint connectivity innovation: a 56-meter-long gantry crane.
Standing at the border area in the cooperation center, the gantry crane hoists and conveys a tailor-made container over the border wire netting, where trucks from Kazakhstan will pick up the container and take it to specific warehouses for further delivery. It only takes about 13 days for the products to be delivered from south China's Shenzhen to Belgium's Liege.
"The gantry crane looks like nothing special, but it plays a unique role here," said Wang, adding that many cross-border e-commerce platforms have fallen for this new channel. The total cross-border e-commerce orders are expected to top 70 million by the end of this year, according to Wang.
"In difficult times like the pandemic, small innovations matter beyond the border," said Wang.