Djibouti on Thursday launched the first phase of Africa's biggest free-trade zone, seeking to capitalise on its strategic position on one of the world's busiest trade routes.
At a ceremony in the capital, President Ismael Omar Guelleh hailed the scheme as the culmination of infrastructure projects "boosting Djibouti's place in international trade and commerce".
The Horn of Africa nation, located at the mouth of the Red Sea and south of the Suez Canal, in 2017 unveiled three new ports and a railway linking it to landlocked Ethiopia, as part of its bid to become a global trade and logistics hub.
Somalia's president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, hailed the free-trade zone as a "victory for East Africa", in comments echoed at the ceremony by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, was also there.
The zone, which is connected to Djibouti's main ports, aims at diversifying the economy, creating new jobs and luring foreign investment through tax-free incentives and full logistical support.
The pilot phase launched Thursday comprises a 240-hectare (593-acre) site.
On its scheduled completion 10 years from now, the $3.5-billion initiative will span 4,800 hectares -- the largest free-trade zone on the continent.
The project hopes to see foreign companies setting up manufacturing plants within the zone, adding value to products instead of merely importing and exporting raw materials.
"The volume of goods travelling to East Africa keeps increasing. Every time a product arrives in the continent without being transformed it is a missed opportunity for Africa," said Aboubaker Omar Hadi, chairman of the Ports and Free Zones Authority.
To read the full piece from Agence France-Presse, click here.