Ethiopia is expected to become a major trade partner of China this year with the signing of the African Economic Union (AEU) trade agreement, a trade official said on Friday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the agreement was signed on Friday in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
The official spoke on the condition of not being named as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Ethiopian government has been negotiating the trade pact with China since 2012, when it signed the African Regional Economic Cooperation Agreement (ARECA) with Beijing.
The signing ceremony is expected this week.
“The Chinese government has also been sending delegations to Ethiopia, and we are also receiving invitations from the Chinese government to participate in the signing ceremonies,” the official said.
The AEA agreement aims to develop an economic and cultural partnership between the two countries, in a bid to diversify the region’s economy.
It has led to a rise in trade between the countries, with Ethiopia importing more than $1 billion worth of Chinese goods this year.
Last year, China had agreed to build an industrial park and a bridge in the south-eastern Ethiopian town of Mombasa, in exchange for a $1.8 billion loan from the state-owned China Development Bank.
China’s ties with Ethiopia have been on a downswing since a 2009 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 people, and Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Ethiopia has been a close ally of China since its independence from Britain in 1948.
Ethinians and Chinese leaders have worked closely over the past three decades to develop relations, but the two nations have not had any trade deals signed, apart from a small bilateral deal in 2001 that was signed in exchange, for a Chinese tourist exchange, that did not involve any Chinese nationals.
Ethnically, China and Ethiopia are part of a growing bloc of countries that are increasingly pushing for more liberal trade policies.
The Asian Development Bank, the largest lending institution in the Middle East and Africa, has pledged $5.5 billion in concessional loans to Ethiopia to finance infrastructure projects, as well as for a development aid fund.
The African Development Bank is also a supporter of Ethiopia, with $4 billion in aid in 2014-2015.
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