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First Britain-China Direct Freight Train Completes Journey, Paving Way for New Trade Relations

The U.K. is trying to keep its trade options open as it navigates Brexit and all that will mean for its relations.

The first direct freight train linking Britain to China ended its return journey from London to Yiwu in eastern China on Saturday, completing the nearly 7,500-mile journey in 19 days.

“This freight train is a reflection of the achievements of trade,” Timmy Feng, chairman of Yiwu Timex, which operates the freight service, told Reuters Television.

According to Reuters, the train is part of Britain’s effort to strengthen its trade ties to the world ahead of its secession from the European Union.

The freight train was carrying items like vitamins, baby products and pharmaceuticals, but could also become an option for shipping apparel and footwear products.

Though there’s still no telling quite how Brexit will affect trade for the U.K., its at least expected to present new opportunities for relations with China.

Speaking on a panel moderated by CNBC in March, former chairman of the Export-Import Bank of China Li Ruogu said “Brexit will pave a new path for free trade between China and the U.K.”

Currently, the EU is China’s largest trading partner and China is the EU’s second biggest trading partner. The two partners trade more than 1 billion euro ($1.09 billion) a day. According to the European Commission, the EU and China launched an investment agreement in 2013 designed to eliminate restrictions for investor’s to each other’s market, but challenges remain for the EU.

“The EU records a significant trade deficit with China,” the Commission notes on its website. “This is in part a reflection of global and Asian value chains, but in part also due to remaining market access barriers in China.”

With the U.K. on its way to removing itself from the EU in the next two years, trade between China and Britain could improve despite brewing protectionism.

“After Brexit, China and U.K. trade may get freer, especially in financial services,” Li said.

What’s more, China’s One Belt, One Road initiative—which since its 2013 unveiling has led to 14 European cities having a direct rail link to China (London is the fifteenth)—is expected to help push for even greater collaboration between the two nations, Li added.