Heilongjiang aims to bridge the trade gap with Russia
Daniel Kwan in Harbin
Construction, to start next year, will boost cross-border deals
Heilongjiang is planning to build two bridges on its border with Russia as China looks increasingly to its northern neighbour for new markets and raw materials to feed its booming economy.
Governor Zhang Zuoji told a group of Hong Kong journalists on Tuesday that his province would probably start building a 300 million yuan bridge over the Heilong River at Heihe early next year and discussions were under way about the construction of another bridge.
Cross-border barter trade boomed in the early 1990s with Russian traders snapping up basic commodities. However, traffic slowed after the Russians complained about the quality of Chinese goods, saying much of the merchandise was substandard.
The lucrative business has picked up again, with both Russia and China finding they have more to gain and less to fear from trade.
'The Russians basically still need anything they can get these days, such as electrical appliances, clothes and toys as well as basic farm products,' said Mr Zhang. 'On the Chinese side, we want timber, steel and coal.'
Zou Zhuli , director of the provincial Investment Promotion Bureau, said the central government had allowed Heilongjiang and Xinjiang to experiment with settling cross-border trade deals with Russia in renminbi.
Ms Zou said with the banks on each side now clearing the transactions, 'this means traders from China and Russia can settle their trade in their own currency'.
Mr Zhang said Heilongjiang had benefited from improved ties. 'High-level [governmental] exchanges between China and Russia have reached an unprecedented level this year,' he said.
'This shows that bilateral ties are very good. Against this background, our trade with Russia has flourished.'
Mr Zhang has visited Russia four times this year and says he is confident there is room for growth. Heilongjiang wants to team up with Hong Kong to expand cross-border trade and Mr Zhang will lead a business delegation to the special administrative region next week to 'promote a number of investment projects focused on trade with Russia'.
Mr Zhang said discussions between China and Russia about a Heihe bridge started more than a decade ago, but stalled due to 'reservations' from the Russian side.
'Now the basic design of the bridge has been completed. We wanted to start building this year but it appears it will be postponed to early next year,' he said.
The Heihe bridge will give Heilongjiang a more secure way to import timber.
'Logging usually starts in the winter and the harvested timber can then be delivered over the frozen river,' Mr Zhang said.
'But now the volume is much bigger and we cannot transport all the timber harvested before the ice breaks. That's why we need a bridge - so that we can move the logs even in summer.'
The other bridge was still on the drawing board, but Mr Zhang said it could be realised in three years.