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Secretary of state Colin Powell has witnessed the signing of a statement of common objectives between the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic) and a consortium working to rehabilitate an existing rail and port system that would enable Malawi , Mozambique and Zambia to reduce the cost of transporting petroleum and much-needed food, as well as exports.

Opic President and CEO Peter Watson , chairman Robert Pietrandrea of the Central East Africa Railways Company, and chairman Alberto Joaquin Chipande of the Corredor de Desenvolvimento Do Norte signed the agreement at the Corporate Council on Africa’s fourth US-Africa Business Summit. President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique , President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia , and Vice-President Justin Malewezi of Malawi joined Secretary Powell in witnessing the signing.

The project, called the Nacala Port and Railway Initiative, is intended to rehabilitate the Nacala railway corridor between Mozambique and Malawi , and refurbish the deep-water port of Nacala in Mozambique . Watson first announced that Opic would support the project at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last August.

Opic will provide US$29.6mn in financing to the project.

Successful completion of the project would help the signatories” efforts to “significantly enhance their agricultural productivity and exports through increased access to expanded rail and port facilities, and provide a more direct, and less costly, means of transporting essential food aid to famine-stricken countries,” according to the joint statement. 

The project would also serve as “tangible and long-term demonstration of US-Africa economic growth in the region,” and would “contribute humanitarian cooperation in times of need,” the agreement states.

Opic was established as an agency of the US government in 1971. It helps US businesses invest overseas, fosters economic development in new and emerging markets, complements the private sector in managing risks associated with foreign direct investment, and supports US foreign policy. Because Opic charges market-based fees for its products, it operates on a self-sustaining basis at no net cost to taxpayers.

Opic’s political risk insurance and financing help US businesses of all sizes invest in more than 150 emerging markets and developing nations worldwide. Over the agency’s 32-year history, Opic has supported US$145bn-worth of investments that have helped developing countries to generate over US$11bn in host-government revenues and create over 680,000 host-country jobs. Opic projects have also generated US$65bn in US exports and created more than 254,000 American jobs.