In the last decade, China has become one of Europe’s main trading partners, both in terms of export, as well as import. With China being the EU’s main import partners as of 2020, it is no surprise that Italy also maintains close ties with China. In 2020, China was Italy’s third-largest import partner, behind Germany and France, accounting for over 36 billion USD. China’s competitive prices and wide selection of products make it an ideal trading partner for many countries, including Italy. Here we discuss the different options available when shipping from China to Italy.
Available types of transportation
Italy was the first member state of the European Union to act as a partner in developing China’s New Silk Road since March 2019, proving Italy’s desire to continue its fruitful trade collaboration with China. With its continuous development, China’s Belt and Road Initiative will improve trade routes between Asian and European countries. Currently, the three main methods of shipping from China to Italy are:
- Ocean Freight
- Airfreight (incl. courier services)
- Rail freight
Ocean freight from China to Italy
Ocean freight remains the most popular shipping method among importers due to its capacity to transport both Less than Container Load (LCL) and Full Container Load (FCL) and the low shipping costs. At the same time, ocean freight is also the slowest mode of transportation, which may not be ideal for those hoping to get their orders quickly. Ships may take anywhere between 30 and 40 days to travel from China to Italy, though transit times will typically vary depending on the port of departure and the port of arrival.
Major seaports in China and Italy
The major seaports in China include:
- Shanghai – the largest cargo seaport not only in China but in the whole world as well. Additionally, it is the world’s fastest-growing economy. It is linked with the Yangtse River, facilitating access from all corners of China.
- Shenzhen is located in the Pearl River Delta, the collective name of several ports along the coastline of Shenzhen, which together make up the fourth-largest container port in the world in terms of TEU.
- Ningbo-Zhoushan is located south of Shanghai, has been the busiest seaport in terms of cargo throughput in the world for 11 consecutive years. It is well connected with other major Chinese cities through a network of highways.
- Guangzhou is a collective of ports located in the Guangdong province, the biggest of which, Port Nansha, accounts for more than 70% of Guangzhou’s total cargo throughput.
- Hong Kong, although it is closely located to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the port of Hong Kong has its unique administrative laws. It is currently China’s fifth-largest seaport, which connects to over 600 places.
In Italy, the main seaports which receive freight from Chinese ports are:
- Genoa is the busiest port in Italy that specializes in ocean freight and one of the top three Mediterranean ports. It is located in Northern Italy and is well connected to Italy’s major cities such as Milan, Rome, Bologna, and Venice.
- La Spezia is one of the Mediterranean Sea’s busiest container ports located south of Genoa, on Italy’s eastern coastline. It is in proximity to a network of rail and highway routes.
- Naples is located on Italy’s South-eastern coast and one of Italy’s busiest cargo ports. It is well connected to Italy’s southern cities, such as Rome and Bari.
Air Freight from China to Italy
When time is of the essence, air freight is guaranteed to quickly ship urgent and other time-sensitive shipments, as it only takes between 3 to 5 days for your goods to arrive at your destination. As a result, air freight is also the most expensive freight option available on the market.
However, air freight might be more convenient and advantageous when shipping a small shipment. Express shipping through international couriers (UPS, FedEx, etc.) bypasses the complex processing usually involved in air freight, allowing for much shorter transit times and less documentation.
Major cargo airports in China and Italy
The major airports in China are:
- Hong Kong International Airport is the second-largest cargo airport in the world, behind Memphis International Airport. Similar to the port of Hong Kong, it functions under different administrative laws than other cities in mainland China.
- Shanghai Pudong International Airport is China’s second-largest cargo airport and third largest in the world. China Cargo Airlines and FedEx Express offer Cargo-Only flights to Italy.
- Beijing Capital International is the third-largest cargo airport in China. As it is in China’s capital city, it is well connected to every major city in China, whether it be by car, plane, or train.
- Guangzhou Baiyun International is the third-largest airport in China and the fourth busiest in terms of cargo throughput. It is closely connected to other large cities in Southern China, such as Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
- Shenzhen Bao’an International is located in the Guangdong province. It is China’s fifth-busiest cargo hub and one of the fastest-growing airports in China.
Which then deliver goods to Italian airports such as:
- Rome Fiumicino Airport is Italy’s busiest airport. It is connected with several Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, etc. The terminal which specializes in air freight is called Cargo City.
- Milan-Malpensa is Italy’s largest airport in terms of freight, closely located to one of Italy’s most important cities. FedEx Express functions there as a Cargo-Only operator between China and Italy.
Rail freight from China to Italy
Since 2013, when rail freight first became available to many European destinations, it has become many importers’ favorite transportation option. The main reasons are that it offers both lower costs of shipping than air freight, as well as much shorter transit times than ocean freight. Additionally, rail freight boasts a much lower environmental impact than both ocean and air freight. However, despite China’s highly developed railway network, many forwarders in China do not yet offer rail freight as a mode of shipping to European nations. But with the development of the New Silk Road, rail freight is sure to gain in popularity in the future.
Most of the trains from China to the European Union travel through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany and are then further distributed to other regions in Europe. Delivery is based on the same Incoterms as ocean freight, meaning cargo can be transported as both LCL (Less than Container Load) and FCL (Full Container Load). On average, rail freight takes about 15 days from China to Italy, although transit times will naturally depend on your chosen arrival terminal and departure terminal.
Major railway terminals in China and Italy
The main railway terminals in China are:
- Chengdu is the Western-most rail hub in China and is considered to be the most important railway terminal when shipping goods to Europe due to how well connected it is to all other railway stations in China.
- Yiwu is located in Eastern China. It is primarily known for its far-reaching freight service to London and Madrid, but the train travels across international routes to over 30 countries, including Italy.
- Wuhan in 2020 marked the 10th anniversary of the first freight train trip between Wuhan and Europe. Over 400 round trips between Wuhan and Europe are expected to be carried out in 2021.
- Xi’an is located in Northwest China. It is set to become one of the largest distribution centers in China as the Belt and Road Initiative grows.
- Suzhou – located next to Shanghai, it only recently started transporting goods to Europe. Containers travel to Europe using the Trans-Siberian Railway.
In Italy, most trains run to Milan’s railway hub – the largest city in Northern Italy – before being further transported to the South of the country.
EU tariffs and regulations when importing from non-EU members
As is the case during most intercontinental trade, various documents and certificates will be needed when importing goods from China to Italy. Customs duties, determined by calculating the sum of the customs value and the transportation value, must be paid by all importers buying products from non-EU countries. To legally import from China to Italy, you will first need to register for an EORI number (Economic Operator Registration and Identification). As Italy is a member state of the European Union, all imports need to comply with EU regulations. These include waste production and management regulations, CE certificate, fumigation regulations, and many others. Additional information on current EU duties and tariffs can always be found on the European Commission’s TARIC website.
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