Gwadar port in Baluchistan Pakistan, as seen in October 2017. Photo: Reuters
Gwadar port in Balochistan Pakistan, as seen in October 2017. Photo: Reuters

Officially initiating economic activities at Gwadar, Pakistan, a trade expo has been planned for January 28-30 at this strategic deep-sea port intrinsic to the flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Having completed the first phase of construction, CPEC is one of the six corridors of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Opening its doors to the world, Gwadar will next week host its first ever international trade exhibition under the auspices of the Gwadar Port Authority and the China Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC) at the Gwadar LinYi Trade City.

The port has been in full swing since November 2016, while the Gwadar Special Economic Zone is now poised to make its debut.

As the expo nears inauguration, finishing touches are under way to receive exhibitors from more than 120 companies. Gwadar Port Authority chairman Dostain Khan Jamaldini has said that initially only Chinese and Pakistani companies have been invited to this trade show and 400 to 500 participants from those firms are expected. In subsequent events, gradually more foreign investors and companies will be invited, and the scale of the event will grow accordingly every year.

Consisting of three main buildings, the free-trade zone is located outside the terminal area and is managed by the COPHC. One of the buildings is a display center while one serves as the expo center and the third includes a five-star hotel.

Strategic Pakistan-China ties

Highlighting the significance of Gwadar as an emerging business hub, this event symbolizes the deep strategic and economic ties between Pakistan and China. Providing a meeting place for businesspeople from the two countries, it is a platform for closer trade interaction and integration as well as brainstorming over new prospects for projects and investment.

Top dignitaries, industrialists and officials have been invited to the three-day event from around the world. Various inaugurations are to take place, including the free-trade zone, the business center and the exhibition hall, along with some promotional activities.

Several important announcements are expected regarding operationalization of five new quay cranes, various agreements, and some leisure activities. A diverse range of products are to be displayed at the expo, from enterprises including iron and steel manufacturing, marble and onyx processing, automobiles, printing, textile, financial institutions, and shipping to oil and gas, petrochemicals and more.

Promising to become a regular feature for local and foreign business entrepreneurs, this event will advertise Gwadar’s presence globally, as it is the first trade expo to take off under the BRI.

Introducing the Gwadar Free Zone is the core objective of the expo, and consequently inauguration ceremonies and seminars have been chalked out to provide all the details and describe future possibilities and expansions of the new venture to the attendees so they will be better able to comprehend the benefits of investing in Gwadar.

Several ceremonies are in the cards as well as some important declarations, while cultural shows, fireworks and food festivals will be held alongside these.

Ambassadors from more than 25 countries are among the invitees as well as chief executives of multinational companies. In fact, response to the event has been more than expected, and flights from Karachi to Gwadar have been increased to twice a day. Once the expo starts three flights a day will be available daily.

The expo is free for visitors, though registration is mandatory.

Boon for Baluchistan

Showcasing the sparsely populated and less developed Pakistani province of Baluchistan has been a major priority. Gaining a lot by hosting an international exhibition, this is a great opportunity for the port city of Gwadar, and all the hotels are completely booked for the very first time.

Not only that, locals have been provided free stalls to display local handicrafts and products. Bringing the rich Baluch culture and home industries into the limelight has been another aim, as the Chinese government has been providing special facilities for home industries for a while, such as providing materials and arranging marketing.

For local people, this event is a watershed moment, as the province will be brought into the mainstream of economic activities, not only in Pakistan but in the entire region, empowering people with jobs and trade opportunities.

Making the underdeveloped province of Baluchistan globally relevant as a center of trade with free business zones, it is CPEC that has made all the difference, and this kind of a sea-change is what the BRI is all about.

In November, China plans to hold a six-day International Import Expo, and Pakistan has been invited as guest of honor, as explained by Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing recently.

Sabena Siddiqui

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Lawyer and geopolitical analyst. Writing about modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. Bylines in Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post and Asia Research Institute's Asia Dialogue Twitter @sabena_siddiqi

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