Shanghai, China's largest port and commercial center, has completed stage one of its conversion program to add container capacity with a new berth of nearly 400 feet.

The necessary cranes and hardware to make it operational will be in place by the end of the year, Shanghai International Container Terminals Ltd. said.The firm is a joint venture between Container Comprehensive Development Co., a Shanghai firm, and Hutchison Shanghai Port Investment Corp. of Hong Kong. The latter is part of the diversified Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. conglomerate.

The joint venture, which began operation in August 1993, handles 90 percent of the port's inbound and outbound containers. It invested 5.6 billion yuan ($644 million) in setting up Shanghai Port Container Co. Ltd. to manage box operations.

Over the past two years, the joint venture has injected a further 1 billion yuan to improve equipment and facilities and build container berths. Stage one of the development was mainly conversion of five old standard berths into container types.

By the end of 1995, the company expects to have 10 container berths, against seven at present. The container wharf will cover nearly 7,500 feet, compared with 550 feet now, the Hong Kong firm said.

Machinery will increase by one-third. There will be 16 bridge cranes and 52 rubber-tired gantries at that time. Fifteen tractors, 14 rubber-tired gantry cranes and one quay crane were delivered last year.

An order was placed at the end of last year for two heavy-duty cranes from Ssangyong of South Korea, part of $56 million worth of orders for large cranes and heavy-duty trucks from a variety of manufacturers.

Shanghai Container Terminals says monthly volume has increased nearly 60 percent since it started up. It handled the equivalent of 1.13 million 20-foot containers last year, and is forecasting a 20 percent increase this year.

Ship calls rose 30 percent last year as waiting time and berthing times were cut, the company said.

The Port of Shanghai processed 165 million metric tons of goods overall in 1994, making it the third-busiest in the world in volume terms, according to Chen Changqing, an official of the harbor bureau.

Total cargo, of which coal accounts for more than half, fell 7 percent from 1993's record 176 million tons. Container volume rose 1.3 percent to 1.2 million TEUs.

Shanghai expects to spend 10 billion yuan on port improvements from 1996 to 2000, Vice Mayor Xia Keqiang said recently. It remains chiefly a feeder port, but planners hope to make it one of the region's mainline points of call.

Dredging of channels will continue in order to overcome difficult access.