February 2nd, 2012
04:06 PM GMT
Baku, Azerbaijan (CNN) – Sitting in the middle of the Caucasus, on the shores of the landlocked Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a nexus of trade routes from Asia to Europe. Now, a new port for the capital Baku and huge investment in transport routes mean new potential for the region’s exports.
In Azerbaijan, carpet weaving is a centuries-old tradition, dating back to ancient Persia. Vidadi Muradov, director of the Azer Ilme carpet factory, told CNN’s Becky Anderson: “The new port is being built right now, and it's actually important for us because it gives us more options to open up to the world and export our goods, including carpets. It gives us a proper gateway to the world.”
The Caspian Sea and its shipping lanes were once vital to the region’s exports, part of what was known as the maritime Silk Way.
Sea routes in the region are still important for international trade links. The port of Baku is beginning a new phase, moving away from the old historic center, shifting south to Alat, 80 kilometers along the coast.
“This is a suitable place for a port because it's a transportation hub,” said Soltan Kazimov, chief engineer at Baku port. “It's where all the roads going to Russia, to Iran, to Georgia meet. All the roads and railways go from here.”
In three-and-a-half years the site will be fully operational. For now the work involves dredging the depths of the Caspian Sea, making way for increased sea traffic with a seven km-long navigational channel.
Baku's new port will feature a rail ferry system - ships with tracks, which transport trains across the water and into Central Asia. It's part of a masterplan to carry railway freight from China's eastern ports through to Europe.
“Baku's new seaport will be of regional importance and a very large logistics center established there. Cargo transportation from China and Central Asia to Europe will grow significantly,” said Akif Mustafayev, of the international transport program TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia).
China currently exports 10 million containers of cargo a year to Europe and the United States, mainly by sea. If Baku can entice just a small percentage of that cargo through the new port, the economic benefits for the region would be huge. Not least for its carpet exports.
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