GWADAR - Multi-million dollar Gwadar Port being developed by China is set to be at ‘full operation’ by the end of the year, a Chinese official said Tuesday, part of Beijing’s ambitious economic plans in the region.

“The port cranes are almost ready, and we are thinking that the port will be (at) full operation by the end of this year,” said Zhang Baozhong, chairman and CEO of China Overseas Ports Holding Company Ltd.

Gwadar Port will see roughly one million tonnes of cargo going through it by 2017, said Zhang Baozhong. “We’re expecting at least one million tons of material will go in and out” next year, Zhang said, speaking at a day-long conference in Gwadar city.

Current trade there is ‘basically nothing’, he told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar about the port’s development Tuesday.

“We hope a big jump will take place... Our dream is to make Gwadar a regional trading centre,” he said.

The projected traffic represents a 100 percent increase over this year’s throughput, but is a far cry from the 300-400 million tons per year that the Gwadar Port Authority envisions for the facility, which has ambitions of becoming a regional hub.

Zhang acknowledged that Gwadar now had minuscule traffic - mostly Pakistani government-subsidised fertilizer imports - but he predicted a swift transformation in coming years.

Gwadar, in Balochistan province, forms what officials call the ‘heart’ of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a grand $46 billion project giving Beijing greater access to the Middle East, Africa and Europe through Pakistan.

The port was built in 2007 with technical help from Beijing as well as Chinese financial assistance of about $248 million.

Zhang said the tonnage will initially comprise ‘quite a number’ of construction materials for the city’s development, which Pakistani officials envision turning into another Dubai.

Most of the cargo will be incoming construction materials to be used in projects related to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which envisions linking far-western Chinese production regions by road through Pakistan for shipment through Gwadar port to overseas markets.

Exports will at first focus on the local fishing industry, he said, with a modern processing plant planned for the area, though he would not give a timeline for the plant.

“We shall try to process it here... So that the locals can benefit,” he told reporters after the seminar.

Desperately poor Balochistan has been roiled since 2004 by an insurgency aimed at seeking greater control over the province’s resources.

Pakistani security forces have promised to protect the corridor project.

The Chinese company took over Gwadar’s operations in 2013. The revamped port has three multipurpose berths and its inner is dredged to 11.5 metres.

Part of the problem is that the new roads that CPEC is expected to build, linking the port to China’s industrial zones, have not yet come online and Balochistan does not have enough export-ready products.

“Even if you have a very good port, (if) you don’t have an inland transporting system and the economy in the near area is not very positive, the port will not be fully utilised,” he said.

He added that his company planned to develop seafood processing plants and other facilities in a 923 hectare free zone outside the port.

One of Gwadar’s main industries is fishing but it is not done on a scale that is suitable for export.

Some Baloch nationalists have accused the Chinese of conspiring with the Pakistani elite to plunder the province while doing little to share profits and create jobs for local people.