Cross-border trade in Heihe, China”s northernmost free trade area adjacent to Russia’s Blagoveshchensk, has remained stable this year. Despite COVID-19’s impact, robust development in e-commerce has been a major boost for the local economy.
“E-commerce trade volume reached about 1 billion yuan between January and September. The increase is smaller due to the pandemic, but steady,” said Zhong Huanyu, director of the office of cross-border e-commerce at the Heihe Area of of China (Helongjiang) Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ). The number stood at 1.4 billion yuan ($200 million) last year.
Since the FTZ’s establishment in 2019, Heihe has become an increasingly important hub for exchange. As China continues to open up, more overseas products have entered its domestic market in recent years. That means more options for Chinese consumers. Thousands of Russian products, ranging from pickles to vodka, flow into the logistics centers every day, awaiting distribution across China.
“Coffee, chocolate, Russian candy… I bought some of their local products that I had heard about. I think they’re pretty good,” said Xue, a visitor from Harbin, who walked in a grocery store and decided to buy some souvenirs for his friends.
The foreign goods are now available at online markets, so Chinese customers can place orders through a few simple swipes on their smartphones and then wait for the goods to be delivered at their doorsteps.
Local online-to-offline firms are also looking for ways to gain momentum and balance losses in their physical stores due to the pandemic.
“We took a heavy toll due to the pandemic, losing 60 percent of our sales,” said Lyu Jingjiang, deputy general manager, Epinduo Tech, a company that sells imported Russian food and drinks. “Then we made a strategic adjustment and started training employees to do online customer service, or short videos and live streaming for e-commerce.”
The company’s monthly revenue now totals 40 million yuan, four times higher than before. And the benefits might go beyond just digits.
“I think that rising live-streaming sales and booming cross border e-commerce may facilitate better cooperation and exchanges between young people from China and Russia through the internet,” said Zhong.
The Heihe free trade area has attracted over 120 e-commerce companies to settle in with favorable policies, such as zero rents and low shipping expenses. The FTZ said the next step will be building more storage centers across China to boost e-commerce efficiency, so more customers may enjoy the benefits.