Adrian Albu is Deputy Secretary General of BSEC-URTA (Union of Road Transport Associations in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Region), which includes also ARTRI and UNTRR – the two Romanian organizations. Albu, coming from ARTRI, represents at BSEC-URTA, on behalf of Romania, both organizations.
The first time I saw him, Adrian Albu gave me the impression of a man who worries for the interests of Romania in this organization. Sometimes maybe too much, to the extent of his own health, irritating, restless, vibrating and putting so much soul. During the General Assembly of the BSEC-URTA, he was always making calls, inquiring of each minute of delay of each event’s players. Fixations are of two types: the ominous and others, beneficial. Albu has such a beneficial fixation: commercial relation with the East, first of all with China. While we were talking, from a different table intervened the BSEC-URTA Secretary General, Haydar Ozkan, and began to make his own summary of facilities: laptop from China, iPad made in China, mobile phones made in China. Our need to develop new trade relations with China is the most important subject of our discussion with Albu.
What is BSEC-URTA?
BSEC-URTA is a union of professional associations in the twelve countries that form the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. Our purposes, of the BSEC-URTA, are to help each other, to find common solutions to our problems, so to help facilitate transport in the Black Sea region and beyond.
Are there any solutions? Because my impression is that things get worse globally and regionally and that this influences transport. Things get worse between East and West.
BSEC-URTA is exactly between these polarities and is directly affected.
We must look a little further. We now see with the West. I say that we must look to the East. Our future is the East. There will be the subject of our work. China is in economic growth.
We get to the world-old obsession: that of the Silk Road.
Somehow, yes. That’s right. The future of transport is to the East, not West. To the East there is a great business opportunity for carriers, that is for us, the carriers.
Yes, but see, there are problems and I give you one example that seems trivial, but it is not so: I could not find Kazakhstan on any routes computer. As if this country does not exist in the world! Yet, there are good roads and fabulous highways in full desert, like in Germany. If there wasn’t for the crisis, they would finish their national highway system, leading to China, of which you talk about.
Today, we can not find them on routes computers, but tomorrow we will. Believe it. Last year we got almost to China. The infrastructure is strongly developping in all these countries. Everywhere, they are working on roads, therefore, this means that people are aware that road transport will develop …
… that they have to trade, sell and buy, and for this, to carry.
In the U.S., four out of five things are produced somewhere in western China. In Romania, pretty much the same.
They must be somehow carried to the destination.
Of course. Currently, the goods go east, to China ports. There, they are loaded on ships, cross the Pacific, reaching the U.S. west coast, where they are carried by rail or road in the east, on the market. Distance is huge. If we start again from western China and come to the west, through Kazakhstan, down to Turkmenistan, crossing the Caspian Sea, then arriving in Azerbaijan, Georgia and enter the Black Sea. From here, we are in Romania, over the Black Sea, which immediately means the EU and we reached the Atlantic. Across the Atlantic, we are on the east coast of U.S.. We shortened the path with at least one third!
An alternative route is through the northern Caspian Sea, then through the northern Black Sea, i.e Russia.
Where we can make the transport? Through north by Russia, over the Caspian and Black Sea or south through Turkey. It will be made there where the transport is facilitated. Where the transit will be facilitated.
Yes, because here we have a problem. Russia, by ASMAP is part of BSEC-URTA. I understand that it says no to everything and puts barriers. Projects to streamline traffic are slowed down by Russia.
They have their reasons. They have created the Customs Union Belarus – Russia – Kazakhstan and basically they have a corridor, as in the European Union, you can say you travel freely.
They travel freely.
They say: „Come over here, we shall grant facilities”. Very true, but tomorrow, if they get angry, you can not longer travel.
But we, in the European Union, now have an economic war with them on the car tax.
Very true. We, BSEC-URTA, by universal transit authorization BSEC, we developed a method to go south. They did not agree and will never agree because we created a variant to the northern route. We are not longer at their mercy, we can go „around here”. That’s why they are upset. It bothers them. They want total control, or our version through South bypasses them.
How is Romania seen in the organization?
I say well, Romania is a strong country, a powerful country. There are also gaps and we sang out of tune several times in BSEC. But Romania, if it performs well with Turkey and Bulgaria, it can create that corridor, south of the Black Sea, giving an alternative northern route. I see Romania as the main corridor. If you draw a straight line from Georgia over the Black Sea, from east to west, you are in Europe.
From Bulgaria, you wake up in the wilderness of former Yugoslavia. Until you get to Slovenia…
It’s more complicated. I did see the future as a corridor linking East and West, over the Caspian Sea, through Azerbaijan, Georgia, over the Black Sea in Romania and to the West. The cost of road transport in Turkey is high because fuel is expensive. There are1,400 kilometersfrom a border to the other. If you put trucks on the ferry, in one day and a half they arrive in Constanta. To pass the Caspian Sea from Turkmenbaşî to Baku is $ 800 for a typical 20-ton truck. There are600 miles. If you go from Samsun in northern Turkey, over the Black Sea at Novorossisk, it costs over $800. Atransport across the Black Sea, from Poti to Constanta would mean about 1,300 dollars. On road, through Turkey and Bulgaria, there are almost2,000 kilometers. Only diesel costs 1,000 euros! Plus allowances, plus other costs …
At this point, given the economic and geopolitical context, which is the biggest challenge faced by BSEC-URTA?
The future is the road to China and goods coming from China. At this moment, we do not realize what an opportunity is for road transport in Romania, that we are here and we have these neighbors, and the fact that we have this Sea, linking to other neighbors. We are used to make money, we say easy, working with the West. But who goes to East now, even with the risks they have it, in the near future, it will prove that it worths. Those goods must be carried. If we are among the first, we’ll be in profit. Turks are everywhere, carrying. They are in Kazakhstan, on the border with China and if China opens up, they’ll be there. That’s what we must do.