During the weekend when Iran signed a 25 years infrastructure and investment agreement with China, Iran’s ambassador declared that the new North-South Trade Corridor across the region could become a prime ‘alternative’ to the strategic Suez Canal waterway. Suez Canal was recently in news as one of the biggest cargo ships ‘Ever Given’ had got stuck and blocked the canal.
Called the “International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC)” — a two decades in the making ambitious project — the new trade corridor is 7,200km long. It links up Russia, Iran and India and will ultimately help in accelerating trade with Europe as well. The corridor is currently partially in operation.
Iranian Ambassador Kazem Jalali considers this corridor as a potentially less expensive alternative to the disaster-prone waterway transport route across Egypt:
“The North-South corridor is a great option to replace the Suez Canal with a reduction in travel times to 20 days and savings of up to 30 percent.”
Commenting on the stuck tanker fiasco in the Suez and the huge financial loss caused due to that, he further added that it demonstrates “the need to speed up the completion of infrastructure and the North-South Corridor as an alternative to the route through the Suez Canal has become clear and more important than ever.”
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A regional analysis site, Silk Road Briefing, reviews the recent history of the project as follows:
” The INSTC project came into being in 2002, when the transport ministers of Russia, Iran, and India signed an agreement to create a multimodal ship, rail and road-based transport network stretching 7,200 km, from Mumbai, western India to Moscow via Iran and the Caspian Sea.
Since then, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Oman, and Syria have all joined the project, and new routes via Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries have been examined to eliminate the need to transfer cargoes from overland-based transport to cargo ships and back…”
The claims of reduced transport travel time and cost are often advanced according to these estimates:
“The INSTC corridor has been tested, and cuts current transport costs by between 30-60 percent, in addition to reducing the transit time from west India to western Russia from 40 to 20 days. Dry runs of the route carried out in 2014 and 2017 identified potential bottlenecks and confirmed cost and shipping time estimates.”
The INSTC has been dubbed in Russian media, even long before the latest Suez crisis, a challenge to the Suez canal. Also sometimes compared to the ancient ‘Silk Road’ (the most famous East-West trade route across Asia built during the Middle Ages) – this corridor primarily by rail, links two major bodies of water – the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf – by way of Iran to Russia and northern Europe.
A global contest with atleast 9 geoeconomic projects for Asia is underway to shape Asia’s future. Regional powers are putting forward ambitious plans for building roads, railways, pipelines, and other hard infrastructure across the region.
Drawing on official sources, the maps as reported by GreatGameIndia illustrate some of these competing visions. Each map captures, in broad strokes, the major infrastructure priorities of a leading actor. Collectively, these maps preview a competition as wide-ranging as the region itself.