Exclusive Insights on Gwadar: Tax Free Port, Oil City & More

Once an overseas possession of Oman, Gwadar is now the focal point of the USD 62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project; a major component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that seeks to connect Southeast Asia with Africa and Central Asian Republics (CARs) via a well-planned land and maritime network. BRI, or OBOR (One Belt One Road), is often referred to as the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It envisages a USD 1 trillion investment in more than 75 countries and international organizations over the next 30-odd years.

Under CPEC, China has pledged to invest USD 1.62 billion in Gwadar, which is to be developed into a smart port city with its own urban, industrial and commercial centers. Other developments include a colossal cricket stadium, an international airport facility, and multiple five-star hotels. “Of the 1.62-billion-dollar worth of investments committed, $500 million has already been utilized in various energy and infrastructure projects for Gwadar,” revealed Shazil Imtiaz Rafi, Managing Director (MD) of Rafi Group, the largest private land developer in the port city.

“The pace at which Gwadar is being developed is just remarkable. Previously, it was just a huge landmass dotted with a 620-kilometer-long coastline. Now, the small port town is in the process to metamorphose into a smart port city within the span of six to seven years,” he added. But Gwadar is not the only region in Pakistan witnessing the completion of major infrastructure and energy projects. As Mr. Rafi puts it, China has already completed uplift schemes worth USD 25 billion in the country. “$62 billion was committed in 2015 (to fund CPEC developments). From this, $25 billion have already been invested and realized in energy, infrastructure, the Gwadar port, and special economic zones.”

Building Energy Surplus

Pakistan is increasing its dependency on coal to generate electricity, which reflects the country’s long-term goal of shifting its energy mix away from fuel oil, and China is financing the implementation of this strategy by building additional coal-fired power plants in all provinces of the country. Pakistan’s power regulator NEPRA anticipates a 17% increase in the country’s coal-fired generation capacity by 2025.

Power plant in Hubco
Hubco power plant

“Pakistan is building surplus capacity for its power generation mix. Electricity prices will eventually reduce… following the completion of multiple coal-fired power plants in Thar. The plants are expected to collectively generate 5,000MWs of electricity, which will be carried through the Matiari–Lahore transmission line”, Mr. Rafi states.

“The surplus capacity will ultimately cater to the energy needs of the manufacturing plants China intends to relocate to the special economic zones being developed in Pakistan. Their aim is to relocate low-value manufacturing units such as pre-fabricated house production facilities to the SEZs.”

Oil City, Airport, Industries & Much More

As per the Gwadar master plan, the port city will get a mega oil city, a special economic district, an industrial zone, an education city, and a diplomatic zone. According to the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA), the oil city will be developed on 80,000 acres of land and will include a USD 10 billion Aramco oil refinery and a USD 1 billion petrochemical complex.

“The oil city is just one of the major developments planned for Gwadar. The port city will also feature Pakistan’s largest airport complex and cricket stadium. The New Gwadar International Airport is being developed on 4,300 acres of land. The facility is set to be completed by 2023. To fund the project, the Chinese government has issued a grant of $230 million. As for the cricket stadium, it is already being lauded for its impressive design, superb location, and mesmerizing views,” said Mr. Rafi.

Cricket stadium in gwadar
Gwadar Cricket Stadium

Other infrastructure projects currently in the works include the Gwadar East-Bay Expressway, ML-1 rail project, and a desalination plant. “The Gwadar East Bay Expressway will connect Free Zone 1 and Free Zone 2 with both the New Gwadar International Airport and the Makran Coastal Highway (a major part of Pakistan’s existing road network),” he further stated.

The official website on CPEC describes the Gwadar East-Bay Expressway as the ‘main artery of the Gwadar Port through which the entire traffic of the port will flow’. “This 6-lane expressway along with a provision of 30 meters wide railway corridor shall connect the port with the Makran Coastal Highway (N-20) through the 2,300 acres Free Trade Zone of Gwadar Port.”

A Tax-free Deep Seaport

Gwadar port is the deepest sea port in the region. The port’s current capacity is 20,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT). It is expected to reach up to 70,000 DWT following the completion of the sea port. Due to its superb positioning, the deep sea port has a strategic advantage over other sea ports. Moreover, it can dock bigger ships in comparison to the Karachi port.

“The benefits Islamabad has announced for businessmen interested in setting up ventures at Gwadar are huge. Earlier this year, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) notified its Gwadar Tax Free Zone Rules, 2021, declaring Gwadar to be a tax-free zone. Such endeavors are aimed at attracting billions in private investments, creating more jobs and opportunities for a better livelihood,” opined Shehriar Imtiaz Rafi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Rafi Group.

The Next Frontier of Real Estate Investment

Even with the global economy reeling from a pandemic-induced recession, Pakistan is continuing to experience unprecedented changes to its colonial-era infrastructure network. And with Gwadar occupying the center stage of this much-needed upgrade, it is only a matter of time before the southwestern coast of Balochistan experiences a gold rush for both investments in residential and commercial properties.

“People across the globe inquire about Gwadar; from the US to Australia, to Egypt, to South Africa, to Europe, to the Middle East… overseas Pakistanis residing in these countries have their eyes on Gwadar, CPEC, and BRI. The entire world has its eyes on the port city, its unique investment prospects and the developments that are taking place there. Why? Because it is the next frontier of the real estate gold rush in Pakistan. Property prices in Gwadar will skyrocket. It is only a matter of time now,” stated Mr. Shazil Rafi.

“Since the past 40 years, Rafi Group has prioritised fulfilling commitments to its clients with timely delivery of all projects. With CPEC gearing up for phase 2 of its progress, Rafi Group brings for its investors the unique opportunity to be a part of CPEC by owning residential and commercial plots in Gwadar and financially benefit from the development of this Chinese-backed smart port city. Green Palms Housing Project is the largest approved private housing project and fast-paced development is taking place at the project site in accordance with all our development milestones.” Said Mr. Shehriar Rafi.

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