The Middle Corridor Initiative – Where Europe and Asia Meet

Over the past two years, geopolitical shifts in Eurasia have significantly impacted global supply chains, alongside various political and economic dynamics. The repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea have led to serious discussions on the liability of different transport routes. There has been a visible redirection of cargo flow from northern to southern routes in the East-West direction, rendering traditional transport paths less relevant and sought for. Amidst the diminishing significance of the New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB) or ‘Northern Corridor,’ a demand for alternative transport routes has emerged, with particular attention drawn to the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also called the ‘Middle Corridor.’

The Middle Corridor is a multimodal land and sea transport route starting in China, crossing through Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and extending into the South Caucasus and Türkiye before reaching Europe. One of the most significant advantages of the Middle Corridor is its shorter total length, which is approximately 3,000 km less than the Northern Corridor going through Russia. The route not only decreases transit durations but also tackles concerns related to sanctions compliance by bypassing Russia, making it an appealing choice for businesses exploring new trade routes and markets. The Middle Corridor experienced a remarkable increase in cargo transit volume, totalling 1.9 mt (million tonnes) in the first nine months of 2023 (an 89% year-on-year increase from the same period in 2022). While its current annual capacity stands at 5.8 mt — considerably less than that of the Northern Corridor — there is room for expansion through the implementation of more effective measures, including advancements in digitalization, railways, ports, and tariff policies.

In this regard, the South Caucasus is becoming one of the most important geostrategic regions, which is developing into a progressively attractive transport node between Europe and Asia. In this context, Azerbaijan is increasingly recognised as a principal transport and logistics hub along the Middle Corridor. In addition, it borders Russia in the north and Iran in the south — both of which are sanctioned by many countries — making it a compulsory crossing on the land route between Europe and China.
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Author: Luca Urciuolo, Associate Research Fellow at EIAS

Photo Credits: Freepik