The Chinese companies have been given one year to present detailed preliminary projects to enable Chinese banks to submit financing proposals to the four governments.

If funding can be agreed, China Railway Engineering Corporation will build a $US 8bn 900km railway from Bamako to Conakry. China Railway Construction Corporation will be responsible for upgrading the existing 1230km metre-gauge line linking Koulikoro, Bamako and Kays in Mali and Tambacounda and Dakar in Senegal. This is expected to cost $US 1.5bn.

Mali is keen to end its dependence on gold and exploit iron-ore deposits at Bale 220km to the west of Bamako, which another Chinese company wants to develop along with a steel plant. Mali is also looking to extract bauxite deposits in the same area and at Falea in the southeast.