A HUTCHISON Whampoa-led consortium will seal a 2.5 billion yuan (HK$3.4 billion) deal on Tuesday to develop Shenzhen's biggest port at Yantian. Tycoon Li Ka-shing will fly to Beijing tomorrow for the contract signing. With him will be his son, Victor, Hutchison Whampoa managing director Canning Fok, Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) managing director John Meredith, and representatives from the developing consortium. Sources say that Mitsui (HK), Kumagai Gumi (HK) and mainland shipping giant COSCO will together take a stake of about 10 per cent in the infrastructure project. HIT will maintain a 60 per cent controlling interest, with the other 30 per cent going to Shenzhen-owned Dongpong Holdings. Sources said the 50-year joint-venture agreement would relate only to the first phase of the development, while the second phase, estimated to cost about 1.3 billion yuan, would be dealt with at a later date. All the parties, including Dongpong, are to contribute capital to the project in proportion to their interest. Located close to the northeast border with Hong Kong, Yantian port will feature container and warehousing facilities, industrial zones and residential areas. For the longer term, some shippers see the deepwater port as a rival to proposed container terminals on Lantau. Hutchison's investment in Yantian follows another multi-billion port joint venture in Shanghai, and the conglomerate is said to be prepared to invest in a series of deep-water port developments in Shenzhen and Dalian. The agreement has been long awaited, especially since Mr Li was known to have outbid Peter Woo's Wharf group early this year in the long-running battle for the project. The State Council eventually gave the project to the Hutchison-led group, after Wharf decided to pull out following Hutchison's rejection of the proposal from the Chinese side to develop the port jointly with Wharf. Phase I of the project includes the development of six berths, a railway extension, a highway from Yantian to Huizhou for cargo dispersal, and other related facilities. On completion, the facilities will be able to accommodate vessels of between 25,000 deadweight tonnes (dwt) and 50,000 dwt. It is estimated that the port, with a total of 48 berths, will be able to handle 42.7 million tonnes of cargo annually by 2000, rising to 76 million tonnes by 2020. The rapid port expansion in southern China is expected to pose an increasing threat to Hong Kong's container port operations. However, a recent report, compiled by the Hong kong Port Development Board, has concluded that port development. Yantian would be complementary to the territory rather than competitive. As the volume of cargo from China was expected to increase at a rapid pace over the next 20 years, Hong Kong alone would be unable to cope with the increase, the report said. It also admitted that the ports of Gaolan, south of Zhuhai, and Yantian could pose competition to Hong Kong in the long run. The Shenzhen government began construction of the port in 1985, but little progress was made because Beijing did not support the project in the initial stages. But, after strong lobbying, both from the local government and foreign investors, Beijing gave its approval for the development of the port in 1990. Kumagai Gumi (HK) has already rented 100,000 square metres of land in Yantian for warehousing, but the site will not belong to the port project by the Hutchison-led consortium. The Chinese authorities plan to establish a free-trade zone in the area.