The Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious project that aims to, in many important ways, recreate the trade routes associated with the Silk Road of antiquity. Just as the Silk Road connected parts of Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East, Europe and Africa to one another to facilitate trade and cultural exchange, the Belt and Road initiative would bring these many parts of the world together for economic benefit.

The initiative includes over-land routes, called belts, and sea routes, called roads. Developed by China and first announced in 2013, the Belt and Road project has come to include more than 70 countries across the many thousands of miles that the proposed routes will cover. Construction is already well underway, with billions of dollars of total spending invested into everything from road construction to rail improvements and seaports. The combination of these infrastructure developments means more reliable and accessible transport and trade throughout much of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with significant parts of Africa and the Pacific region also benefiting.

A variety of short- and long-term benefits to consider

Forbes contributor Frank Holmes drew a parallel between current work on the Belt and Road Initiative and similarly large and transformative projects led by the U.S. in the mid-20th century. The Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild and modernize Western Europe following World War II, and the Interstate Highway System, which created stronger, more consistent and uniform highways domestically, were both major investments that yielded long-term returns in terms of economic improvement and increased cross-border commerce. The Belt and Road plan could yield a similar set of results, offering land and sea connections that create benefits not only for individual countries, but the connected regions as part of a larger, international whole.

There are a variety of major advantages on the national, regional and intercontinental levels to consider. One of the most obvious is the increased capacity for trade. With a more reliable infrastructure for commercial and industrial trucks, trains and boats of all sizes, businesses and governments won't have to limit their trade agreements because of a lack of easily navigable trade routes. Instead, they can focus on striking the right deals for their wide variety of operational needs and goals.

Improvement of the supply chain is another important consideration. The Belt and Road Initiative will make it significantly easier to transport raw materials and individual components that are then used to produce finished products for industrial and commercial use, as well as for individual consumers. Areas where vital assets, be they mined ore or circuit boards, are expensive to acquire and could see those prices drop as travel between many different points becomes more standardized and easier to traverse. Companies will benefit from easier planning around receiving these materials as well as fewer expenses and less danger around the physical travel.

Increased employment is an additional positive aspect facilitated by the massive infrastructure project. While some areas of the world economy are shifting toward increasing automation, there's no replacement for the many types of human labor, from highly to lightly skilled, needed to build modern infrastructure.

The sheer size of the program, with roads stretching across several countries and more than a dozen ports, either needing to be developed or improved, means there are a variety of employment opportunities for those in the construction trade as well as the many economic sectors connected to it. There are also several areas of the worldwide service and retail economy that will benefit from increased construction on this scale, from restaurants and hotels to clothing stores. There is also the increased incomes for workers to take into account, at least part of which will be spent in the many local economies where they come from.

The Guardian shared estimates that indicated China has spent at least $210 billion on the initiative so far, and the total price tag for completing the entire project could reach above $1 trillion. With both international and local spending to account for as well as the benefits that will come from the completed improvements, it's easy to see how the plan can generate an economic upswing and is already doing so. 

The role of Cat® equipment in developing the Belt and Road Initiative

Cat® equipment and the hard-working people who buy or finance it and put it to use are active across a number of Belt and Road Initiative construction sites, helping realize the grand vision of improvements to major international trade routes.

In Pakistan, construction tied to improving a major, long-term concern was key for further developments tied to the Belt and Road program. The end result, a power plant with an estimated annual output of 10 billion kilowatt-hours, was made possible through the use of heavy equipment from Cat. The Balloki Power Plant is a world-class facility that offers increased stability for one of the most basic needs in the modern world: energy.

In Ghana, the country's main port is a vital component of both the national economy and the international connections made by the Belt and Road Initiative. Cat heavy equipment helped improve the Tema Container Port, through which more than 80 percent of port logistics in the southwestern African country flows. Improvements were many, including creating four 150,000-ton container berths and a 4,000-meter breakwater. A dozen excavators, including two super heavy-duty models, the Cat 374 FL and 390 FL, helped to complete the job and enhance an already large and important port.

In Belarus, highway improvements were critical for an early component of the larger Belt and Road project. Creating the M5 Highway involved 30 wheel loaders, alongside several bulldozers and motor graders, to offer an effective mix of speed while performing the work and high-quality results long afterward. Working with our SEM brand, the local teams on the project received material and logistical support as they built a key link in the broader project.

From your business to locations across the globe, Caterpillar offers heavy machinery to businesses that need the best possible assets to complete a broad range of projects.

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