Djibouti on Thursday launched the first phase of a Chinese-built Free Trade Zone, hailed as being the biggest in Africa.
The nearly 50sq kilometre zone will house manufacturing, warehouse facilities, an export-processing area and a services centre.
President Ismael Omar Guelleh officially opened the zone, flanked by other heads of state including Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Mohamed Abdullahi (Somalia), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) and Abiy ahmed (Ethiopia).
Also in attendance were the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa faki Mahamat an Chinese officials.
The zone is expected to handle trade worth US$7 billion within two years, and create 15,000 jobs when complete.
With a strategic location on the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti already handles most imports for neighbouring Ethiopia, and aims to become a gateway to South Sudan, Somalia and the Great Lakes region.
A row of Djiboutian and Chinese flags fluttered side by side in the launching ceremony, a sign of the close relations the two countries enjoy.
China has been hailed as being behind the massive infrastructural growth in the Horn of African country – which also hosts the only overseas Chinese military base.
Djibouti is seen as a critical cog in China’s ambitious Belt and Road project which aims to create transport links across the world to ease movement of goods and people to facilitate global trade.