Mozambique is working to complete two treaties with the UAE on dual tax avoidance and reciprocal investment protection, Hipolito P.Z. Patricio, deputy minister for foreign affairs and cooperation, said yesterday. Both are due to be signed next year.

"We are also trying to set up a joint commission between Mozambique and the UAE federal government in a bid to increase our presence here, and hope to open our embassy next year," he added.

Any decision to set up its trade centre in Sharjah would be an option under this joint commission, the minister noted. Mozambique opened a consulate in Dubai this year. A series of official and trade delegations have visited the UAE, and last month Air Mozambique started flights to Dubai.

Patricio said the country is considering getting expertise from Jebel Ali port and free trade zone for its port at Bera and its free zone. "We are impressed with the efficiency and quality of operations here," he said.

As a result of the trade visits, a prominent Sharjah-based business group has set up a food processing operation in Mozambique, and is now diversifying into mango and citrus plantations.

The level of investment is only about Dh18.5 million, but the group is also exploring opportunities for a hotel. Another UAE group has also tied up with energy company Sasol. "These are the pioneers from this part of the world in our country, and we see more joining them," he said.

Businessmen may also use Mozambique as a springboard into neighbouring countries. The minister acknowledged his country is poor and needs basic infrastructure development such as roads, bridges, ports and telecommunications, affording investors opportunities in these sectorsand in agro-based industries and tourism.

"We have in recent years consistently recorded dual-digit growth," he said. GDP growth may slow this year to 4-6 per cent due to extensive flood damage, but 2001 will likely see a return to growth rates of 10-12 per cent.

The country is augmenting infrastructure with a $1.3 billion aluminium smelter, major hydro-electric projects aimed at generating 6,000 megawatts, and setting up an ambitious iron and steel smelter.

It is also linking up its national park with those of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland through a transfrontier border project aimed at giving tourists greater access, he said.