The internal trade value of countries and regions along the routes of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has increased significantly and surpassed the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) to become the world’s second-largest trade entity after the EU.

Compared with the EU and NAFTA, internal trade value of the BRI economies has obviously climbed, reaching 13.4 percent of the world’s overall trade volume in 2017, equivalent to 65 percent of the EU’s, according to a report jointly released by China Center for International Economic Exchanges, University of International Business and Economics and others on Tuesday.

The report did not provide specific figures.

The BRI keeps stimulating the various advantages of Southeast Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe to make the economic entities along the BRI routes more integrated, and offers a way to stabilise the world economy amid rising unilateralism and protectionism in the world, the report said.

“Compared with the NAFTA and the EU, which are blocs dominated by developed countries, the BRI could effectively balance the current international trade mechanism,” Bai Ming, deputy director of the International Market Research Institute under the Ministry of Commerce, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

“The BRI could not only meet the development needs of developing countries, but also offer more investment opportunities for developed economies, and therefore create new impetus for the world economy,” Bai said.

The development of the BRI is still in its initial phase with more potential to be tapped, he noted.

The report shows that intermediate goods have taken up the main proportion of the trade under the BRI framework, and this category reached 61 percent of the total in 2017.

In terms of investment, countries and regions along the BRI routes have become the most important destinations for foreign capital inflows around the world, accounting for 31.6 percent of the total in 2017, exceeding the 23 percent share of NAFTA and the 21.2 percent share of the EU, showed the report.

In particular, investment in some major projects have greatly enhanced the sustainable development of host countries and regions, the report noted.

The report also predicted that the BRI is expected to become one of the new growth centres of the world’s trade and investment, but it also needs to strengthen international cooperation in promoting trade and investment facilitation and reduce regional development imbalances.