Port has wider scope and brighter prospects as a trade and commerce hub to serve 20 countries in Asia
After the formal declaring of Gwadar Port a free trade zone and handing over to China last year, all business affairs of the Gwadar Port in Balochistan now are being carried out by Chinese authorities. Last year, the Pakistan government has formally handed over the 2,281 acres free trade zone of Gwadar Port to China on a 43-year lease.
Under the collection of projects of $47billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) the Gwadar Port is the essential part and a major crux of CPEC, which involves construction of highways, railways and energy pipelines connecting western China with Pakistan and the Persian Gulf. The two countries signed 51 deals worth billions of dollars mostly relating to the CPEC project. After construction of the proposed rail, road and pipeline projects between China and Pakistan, Gwadar port will handle most of the oil tankers to China. The development of road and rail links between the two provinces, Balochistan and Xinjiang, will give distinction to Gwadar Port of becoming the gateway port for Western China. Rail link will transfer goods to and from Western China, changing it from a remote region into a station that will transfer goods and commodities worth billions of dollars every year.
Pakistan’s new economic frontier
There are no two opinions that the CPEC is going to be a game changer for investment-starved Balochistan. No doubt, a huge investment in infrastructure sector promises a brilliant economic future for the development of industry in the province and it will bring about a revolution in its communication sector. The project would initiate a mega development process with huge investments, which could make the province a new economic frontier of the country.
The CPEC and Gwadar Port are expected to usher in a new era of industrial development in Balochistan. Balochistan possesses enormous industrial potential in key sectors — agriculture, livestock, fisheries and minerals. There are greater investment opportunities in all sectors of provincial economy for exploiting the industrial potential of the province. A large number of agro-based, livestock-based, fisheries-based and mineral-based industries can be set up in the province.
A fully operational Gwadar Port will boost industrialization process in the province. With the functioning of industrial zone, Gwadar would become a hub of industrial and trade activities. The government has also reserved 3,000 acres of land for the development of Gwadar Industrial Estate (GIE) to meet the demand of industrial plots. The government plans to establish a zone for the promotion of small and medium industries under the auspices of SMEDA in Gwadar. It also plans to open branches of banks and DFIs for making available loan financing to the intending entrepreneurs.
Gwadar Port is set to bring Balochistan’s coastal areas into the economic mainstream of Pakistan. It will catalyze the development process in the province bringing it at par with other provinces. Development of an integrated transport system and future road and rail links to Central Asian regions (CARs) and rest of the country will enhance the local peoples’ access to new vistas of development and prosperity.
A fully operational Gwadar Port provides the province enormous opportunities to exploit its mineral resources, which have so far been untapped. Gwadar seaport and the planned regional highway projects will help the province become a world-class mining center. Foreign mining firms in Balochistan have shown keen interest in bringing their cargoes through the port of Gwadar. Besides, serving as transshipment hub, it would promote the development of a refinery and petrochemical complex and other industries. ECO highway, coastal highway and other mega projects in road sector will connect Gwadar Port with Central Asian states, Gulf sheikdoms and rest of the country.
The port project is expected to bring a revolution in social sector changing the socio-economic conditions of the local people and raising their living standards. Many industries have been envisaged to be established in and around Gwadar. The skilled manpower would be needed for the operation of the port and the allied industries. According to one estimate, the Gwadar Port has the potential to generate over $50 billion in transit trade annually and after becoming fully operational along with strong communication and transport links with Central Asian States, Iran, western provinces of China and commercial cities of the country, an estimated two-third population of Balochistan will become part of port-related activities.
Commerce, industry, trade and economic activities would receive a boost after the development of two-phased seaport in the province. Naturally the local people will benefit from the economic activities underway in their areas. The mega seaport project will open the doors for development of small, medium and large scale industries generating revenue for the government and providing profitable avenues for both the skilled and non-skilled workforce in Balochistan.
China is deeply interested to pour huge investments in Gwadar, which is located at the mouth of the Gulf and close to the Strait of Hormuz. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif already said that Gwadar Port would be developed on the pattern of Hong Kong, which is a model as to where the financial successes of Asia are headed. Being the builder, operator and financer of Gwadar Port and also being the biggest investor in the port city, China can play the role of a major driver of growth in Gwadar as it did in Hong Kong.
Having a free market economy, Hong Kong is highly dependent on international trade. China’s share is over 35 percent in international trade. Strategically located Gwadar Port can be converted into a regional hub of international trade. By virtue of its geography, Gwadar has greater potential, wider scope and brighter prospects to emerge as center of trade and commerce serving at least 20 countries in the Asian region.
China has already declared Kashgar, an important transit point on the ancient Silk Route and a gateway between China and Pakistan, as Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The proposed Kashgar SEZ would develop Xinjiang into a major trading hub and more energy and economic integration with South and Central Asia. The SEZs in Gwadar and Kashgar and the rail and road connectivity between the two proposed SEZs would have great economic, political and strategic implications for the whole region.
On one hand, the two countries are working on laying the strategic Havelian-Khunjerab railway track in the difficult terrain of Karakoram connecting China with Pakistan from Gwadar in Balochistan. On the other hand, there are proposals to connect the Pakistan Railways with the trans-Asian railway network that will link the two countries through rail networks. This will facilitate trade to the Central Asian Republics (CARs), Russia and China and beyond.