Uzbekistan eyes Gwadar Port as gateway for seaborne cotton exports

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An aerial view of the Gawadar Port.

BEIJING, March 18  : Uzbekistan, one of the world’s leading cotton exporters, sent a high-level delegation earlier this week to the Chinese-invested Gwadar Port in Pakistan to look for logistics opportunities that might help it export its cotton.

Analysts said the move highlighted the big potential demand countries have for an international public facility such as the Gwadar Port, a deep-water port that may open a coveted sea trade option for landlocked Central Asian countries.

A 16-member high-level delegation from Uzbekistan, led by Vice Minister of Railways Akmal Kamalov and the country’s Ambassador to Pakistan Oybek Arif Usmanov, visited the port a day before yesterday, according to a press release from the China Overseas Ports Holding Co, the port’s operator.

Accompanied by Gwadar Port Authority Chairman Naseer Khan Kashani and Zhang Baozhong, chairman of the China Overseas Ports Holding Co, the delegation observed the loading/offloading of cargoes by a containership operated by Chinese shipping giant COSCO Shipping Holdings. They discussed the matter of regional connectivity and the possibility of building and investing in a logistics park at the Gwadar free trade area.

On his WeChat account, Zhang noted that Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth-largest producer and second-largest exporter of cotton. He also wrote that Uzbekistan is pushing for a diplomatic move among Central Asian countries, including top-level diplomatic visits to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, for a southbound logistics corridor via the Gwadar Port.

Afghanistan has become the first landlocked Central Asian country to benefit from using the Gwadar Port in trans-shipment trade. In 2020, the country imported 43,000 tons of fertilizers via the port, contributing to its agricultural development.

The port’s dry bulk cargo business grew more than 1,100 percent to 57,000 tons in 2020 compared with 2018.

Zhou Rong, a senior research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, said that the Gwadar Port has the best infrastructure among all ports in the region.

“The infrastructure there is superb. Both in terms of its deep-water berths and its onshore port infrastructure, the Gwadar Port beats its peers in Iran and India,”

However, for such a southbound corridor to work, other regional countries including China and Iran will have to be involved to make an overland passage possible, given the current instability in Afghanistan, Zhou said.

Located in Pakistan’s southwest province of Balochistan, the Gwadar Port is a key project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, Uzbekistan exported 503,000 tons of cotton in 2015, with Bangladesh and China as its leading destinations.

The country’s cotton exports fell in recent years due to a shrinking planting area and an increase in domestic consumption.