NIAMEY - Niger is expected to export its first shipment of oil this month, part of a $400 million commodity-backed loan agreement with state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). Under the loan agreement, Niger will send oil to China over 12 months as payment with a 7% interest rate.

CNPC has already built a 1,200-mile pipeline to move oil from Niger to neighboring Benin, part of a $4.6 billion investment in Niger’s petroleum industry.

The increased oil production is expected to help expand Niger’s economy by more than 12% this year, making it the fastest growing in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank.

The loan is seen as a lifeline for Niger’s beleaguered military junta which took power in July last year. S&P Global Commodity Insights expects Niger to start shipping 90,000 barrels per day this month, and projects that number will reach 110,000.

China is Niger’s “great friend,” said Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine. Niger has cut ties with former colonial administrator France, and long-time ally the US.