NAIROBI (Reuters) - Djibouti has formally opened one of four new ports designed to cement the tiny Horn of Africa nation's position as a continental hub, a statement from the ports authority said on Wednesday.
Doraleh Multipurpose Port has been substantially upgraded as part of a Chinese-backed plan to establish Africa's largest free-trade zone that can handle $7 billion of goods a year.
"The port of Djibouti is a gateway to one of the fastest growing regions of the world with 30,000 ships transiting the port each year," the statement said.
"Located on two of the three busiest shipping routes in the world, the port provides a strategic platform for maritime activity connecting Asia, Africa, and Europe."
Tiny Djibouti, with a population of 876,000, has long punched above its weight. It hosts large U.S. and French naval bases; China is also building a naval base. Djibouti also handles roughly 95 percent of the inbound trade for neighbouring Ethiopia, population 99 million.
Doraleh's bulk terminal can handle 2 million tons of cargo a year, and offers space to store 100,000 tons of fertilizer, 100,000 tons of grain, and warehouses for other goods.
The break bulk terminal can handle 6 million tons of cargo annually, the statement said, and there are 40,000 slots for vehicles at the RO-RO terminal.
Two other ports designed to export salt and potash will open next month.
Djibouti mainly handles goods from Asia, representing nearly 60 percent of traffic, the statement said. In 2015, overall traffic to Djibouti increased 20 percent to 5.7 million tonnes.
Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Hugh Lawson