Peel said it will submit a detailed planning application in the coming weeks for the first phase of the £200m Wirral International Trade Centre.
Development director Lindsey Ashworth, addressing guests at the launch of The Quay, a suite of serviced offices and meeting rooms on the ground floor of 12 Princes Dock in Liverpool, said the 500,000 sq ft phase would not be built speculatively.
The first phase of the 2.5m sq ft ITC could house up to 300 occupiers in small hybrid office-industrial-retail units designed for assembling and showcasing imported products.
Ashworth said Peel had 40 agents across China signing up the first wave of operators and construction would only start if the level of pre-lets was sufficient, but declined to give a proportion that would trigger a move on site.
Ceremonies for Chinese suppliers to sign up to the ITC are due to be held in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong but dates have not been set.
Tenants will be offered nine-year leases at a headline rent of £18/sq ft in the Broadway Malyan-designed building next to the Mersey.
The ITC is a joint venture between Peel and Chinese investor Sam Wa, headed by Stella Shiu, a minerals trader.
The pair has outline planning permission for the whole scheme but a detailed planning application has yet to be submitted. Ashworth said initial designs had been tweaked to allow parking on two sides rather than one and access from both sides, as well as changes to internal configuration. The 16-acre site has been remediated and construction is ready to start pending planning.
Meanwhile, Ashworth said talks between Peel and other Chinese investors over the Liverpool and Wirral Waters mega-schemes, which do not include the ITC, were progressing well but the identities of all interested parties remained confidential.
Peel has come under pressure locally with critics complaining about the pace of the dockland schemes, especially since Chinese investment was confirmed this month into Airport City Manchester. Ashworth pointed out that Liverpool Waters only recently received full go-ahead from government after the judicial review period into the decision by secretary of state Eric Pickles not to call a public inquiry ended.
Peel was the main sponsor of Liverpool's presence at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. Ashworth said the event three years ago was a success but the business opportunities it created for Liverpool have not been recognised.
Ashworth's speech to invited guests was typically colourful, twice referring to UN heritage body Unesco as "idiots" for opposing Liverpool Waters, which Unesco says threatens the World Heritage Sites in the city, and joking about putting a brothel or a Viagra factory on Princes Dock. The launch event was attended by Peel owner John Whittaker and representatives from Peel's Media City UK and partners from the Atlantic Gateway initiative.