Border town bustling with business as China-Mongolia trade takes off
However, about 800 cars, 200 trucks, six trains and 4,000 traders cross the border each day, bringing a bustle to Erenhot's wholesale markets, shops, restaurants, and hotels that take "International" or "Pacific" in their names.
Erenhot, in the north of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, sits on the China-Mongolia-Russia railway and has served largely as a land port for goods traded between China and Russia since the railway opened in 1956.
"Now, most of the goods at Erenhot are traded between China and Mongolia," Erenhot Mayor Meng Xiandong told Xinhua.
The port is the largest of a dozen of ports along the 4,600-km China-Mongolia border, where the trade volume accounts for 70 percent of that between the two countries and is the economic lifeline to 2.7 million Mongolians in the mainly prairie country.
Figures from the municipal government show China-Russia trade through Erenhot dropped from 1.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2004 to 591 million dollars in 2009. The change was due in part to China's imports of oil from Russia being channeled to Manzhouli on the China-Russia border.
Meanwhile, China-Mongolia trade through the port surged from 700 million to 2.1 billion U.S. dollars in the same period as bilateral trade boomed, Meng said.
At Erenhot, exports of electronics, machinery, and construction materials from China to Mongolia had surpassed those of food, clothing and household commodities, because of a boom in infrastructure construction, said Cai Yajun, an official in charge of statistical work at the Erenhot Customs.
Meanwhile, China imports coal, metals and oil from its northern neighbor.
Across the Inner Mongolia region, home to nine China-Mongolia trade ports, bilateral trade shot up 142 percent year on year in the first four months this year to reach 920 million U.S. dollars.
"Bright prospects still lie ahead for the two countries to strengthen economic ties," Meng said. "Trade is set to flourish as China remains a huge, untapped market for Mongolia."
China, the world's third largest economy, has been Ulan Bator's top trade partner for 11 straight years and its largest source of foreign investment for 12 years.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit to Mongolia on Tuesday, the third leg of his four-nation Asia tour after the Republic of Korea and Japan, and before Myanmar.
Wen, the first Chinese premier to visit Mongolia in 16 years, is expected to meet senior Mongolian officials, attend a trade cooperation forum and witness the signing of agreements on finance, energy resources, science and technology, and infrastructure, said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun.
In addition to Erenhot, other border ports in Inner Mongolia are abuzz with business as bilateral trade ties grow.
"About 700 or 800 trucks cross the border daily. Some have to wait overnight at the border due to traffic congestion," said Ren Chen, a customs official at Qeh Port, Ejin Banner (County) in western Inner Mongolia.
Qeh neighbors mineral resources-rich provinces in Mongolia and officials and entrepreneurs here expect leaders of the two countries to sign joint exploration deals, guaranteeing abundant opportunities for them.
Liu Yushan, deputy head of Ejin banner government, said annual trade volume at Qeh Port this year was expected to double and Qeh had the potential to become the largest China-Mongolia trade port in 10 years.
For Tsogt, a Monglian driver employed by a transportation company in Qeh, the expansion of bilateral trade could mean more job opportunities and better pay.
"More than 70 Mongolians are working as drivers like me. If I work the whole month, I can earn as much as 10,000 yuan (1,460 U.S. dollars) a month," said Tsogt. "This is a very high salary in my country."
However, Meng Xiandong said infrastructure and transport facilities, particularly in Mongolia, had yet to catch up with the rapid growth of economic and trade ties.
The volume of goods from Mongolia in May fell markedly as rail transport failed to cope with the burdens.
Meng said China should consider helping Mongolia improve its infrastructure.
According to China's Foreign Ministry, one of major focuses during Wen's visit to Mongolia will be "closer cooperation in economy and trade, especially in the development of mineral resources, infrastructure and financial services, for the expansion of common interests."
Meng said Erenhot had begun to draft plans to build more roads, markets and hotels to accommodate the influx of business people from both sides.
"We expect a better future because the huge potential has yet been tapped," he said.
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