BEIJING, Nov 15 (APP): Chairman of China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), Zhang Baozhong has said that Gwadar, an important component of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), would become the logistic hub in the region within five years.
“According to our plan, Gwadar would become the logistic hub in this region within five years!” Zhang Baozhong told China Economic Net (CEN) while reviewing the 5-year-journey of Gwadar.
As per its blueprint, the Free Zone will be fully developed; more than 30,000 people will be directly employed by the free zone investors; at least $10 billion GDP will be contributed to the economy of Pakistan. And following this economic development, life of local people will be dramatically improved or changed; more schools, hotels and medical facilities will be constructed; water and electrical issues will be completely tackled.
Zhang invited different companies to invest in the rosy future of Gwadar. “Gwadar will become one of the attractive cities in the world – a dreamland for human beings!”
He mentioned that logistics is one of the best businesses in Gwadar as Gwadar is the gateway to Middle Asian countries. But the port itself will not generate any revenue. A proper volume of business is needed to develop the port, and a good logistic system is needed to handle the cargo. Free zone development and port development are twin brothers, said Zhang.
Oil refinery is also welcomed as many plants depend on the availability of gas, LPG or LNG. Gwadar is close to oil rich countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia, and the raw materials can easily reach the port. This business will not only help Gwadar port itself, but also help Pakistan achieve a stable supply of important industrial material.
“The third one is agriculture,” Zhang said. The land in Pakistan is rich and fertile but unfortunately it was not utilized properly. “We hope some investor can join the local community to develop the land properly and increase the yield of production.”
Last but not least, food processing, especially Halal food processing is highly recommended. “If we have food of the international standard, our product will have access to the international market.”
“I believe that Gwadar will be a new economy hub of this region, and it will play important roles in the development of south Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Middle Asian countries,” remarked Zhang.
Sharing his memories, he said, stepping on Gwadar for the first time, “I thought I was on the Mars. It was 2016, not many activities, not many people, not much traffic could be seen in the dusty Gwadar. The whole city was without any environment for doing business.’
“I was under such pressure that I thought it’s mission impossible [to develop Gwadar],” Zhang said. By that time there were no signals or internet. For two weeks he completely lost connection with his family and head office.
Life was tough, so was the task. How was it possible to realize the target of the government? “I wrote a lot of reports to Chinese government, to my head office and I discussed with my local Pakistani brothers. And we were very lucky that both governments helped a lot.”
“From the very top level to the ground level, all the people from Pakistan are very helpful and kind to us. And they are ready to assist us to overcome all the difficulties we are faced. We are really grateful to the Pakistani government for giving us 923 hectares of land (10 square kilometers) dedicated to the development of Free Zone as well as the incentives to investors,” he said.
And with a view to attracting investors, Pakistani government has passed the Finance Bill 2020 and allowed a 23-year tax holiday for all the investors. “There are a lot of things to be done.” After 5 years of hard work, Zhang mentioned with pride, this building, this free zone, this port, are as good as any other ports, any other free zones in the world.”
He added, “Following this model, we will develop Gwadar Port step by step. People here know clearly how much it has developed. And from this 5 years’ development, we can foresee what is going to take place.”
Now, Gwadar has made huge progress. “A lot of new buildings are under construction; some beautiful villas have been completed, and all the people are busy with their business,” Zhang Baozhong said.
There was no single commercial shipping line connecting Gwadar port for the past 10 years, and the port merely relied on government diverted cargo with huge subsidize road transport, Zhang said.
But things have changed since COPHC took over the port and got infrastructures improved, especially when Afghan transit cargo starting processed through Gwadar port on January 14, 2020. In spite of the negative pandemic impact to business development, more than 100,000 metric tonnes of Afghan cargo have been handled at the port. “LPG ships and bulk cargo vessels can be seen coming frequently,” Zhang told China Economic Net.
All these activities not only generated a lot of business opportunities for Pakistani stevedoring companies, transporters, customer clearance and many others, but also helped stabilize supply to Afghanistan and other landlocked countries in Central Asia.
Talking about Gwadar Free Zone, the first modern industrial park in Pakistan, Zhang Baozhong said that up to now 46 enterprises have been registered for investment in Free Zone, mainly covering logistic, warehousing, Halal food processing, agriculture, textile, etc.
“More and more investors are showing keen interest in investing in here,” he added.
Social welfare is also taken into account. “We are trying our best to help our local brothers and sisters,” Zhang said, adding that China-Pakistan Gwadar Faqeer Primary School, donated by China Foundation for Peace and Development (CFPD), has been in operation for 5 years with the sponsorship of COPHC.
“There was no school at all in Faqeer community before. Local boys and girls have to walk miles to attend school. So we selected the poorest area to have this school constructed.” Now this school is one of the best schools in Gwadar. More than 700 boys and girls are attending school to receive education.
Next is to provide local job opportunities. As Zhang put it, the major responsibility of development is on the shoulder of locals. More than 800 workers are from Pakistan. Among them 85 % are from Balochistan.
“If you visit my office, you will hear all of them speaking Balochi, Urdu and English.” Pak-China Friendship Green Park which offers Gwadar more glimpses of greenery, also gifts a lot of jobs to local people. And during the COVID-19 pandemic when seafood cannot be exported, a garment factory offered job opportunities for local women to support their families.
“I am happy to tell that the people who devote most to the development of Gwadar are our Gwadar brothers and sisters. It’s their home; it’s their motherland, and they love their motherland. They want their motherland to be developed. They want their future generation to enjoy modern life. Without them, you cannot make a successful story,” Zhang said.
About challenges, like, water, electricity, education, medical care, security for investors and operators, he said, “We are facing a shortage of qualified technicians and engineers. If we give local people a chance of education, they can be as good as any other technicians in Islamabad or Lahore.”
As a big achievement, the construction of China Aid Technical & Vocational Institute of Gwadar Port Project was completed on October 1. Zhang hopes that this vocational training institute will equipped local youths with modern technology and help them become excellent technicians and engineers.
Also, the epidemic is becoming an international problem and all people are affected negatively. “But we are trying to minimize its effect,” he added.
He pointed out that the port is never as busy as this year and the ship volume is increasing instead of reducing. There is not a single positive case reported from the Gwadar team. “We have more than 3,000 people working inside the port, including our staff,” he said.
All of the staff, including Pakistani and Chinese, are vaccinated as soon as the vaccines are available.
Water is another issue. “To be honest we haven’t seen a drop of rain for the past 2 years. And we have our own purification plant and we are supplying water to the local community, like about 200,000 gallons per day. It addressed the water issue considerably.”
Gwadar people are very humble, hard working, and peace-loving people, as per Zhang. “I’m so proud of being part of them.
But at the same time, I request an understanding from our local brothers and sister that Rome was not built in a day, and all of these historical issues would be tackled as long as we work together. Let’s join hands for the betterment of our future and our next generation.”