Kenya and Qatar have signed a major agreement to step up bilateral maritime cooperation, the Kenyan presidency has said – five months after a state visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta to Doha, where he met for discussions with Qatari Transport Minister Jassim Saif Al-Sulaiti.

“Under the maritime deal, there will be direct shipping between Mombasa and Doha, which is set to boost trade in Kenya and the East Africa region,” noted the presidential statement.

Qatar’s transport minister also agreed to train three Kenyan engineers at the Doha Port Authority, where they will be subject to “rigorous” instruction in port construction and upgrade, while Kenyan sailors could also be given job priority on Qatari shipping lines.

It was also revealed that Qatari Airways will soon begin operating cargo flights from Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, once a Qatari team visits Nairobi to finalise the details.

Kenyan exports to Qatar amounted to $580,000 in 2011, much of it unprocessed agricultural foods, while imports from Qatar reached $11, comprising chemicals, fertilizers, plastics and furniture, according to Kenya’s Trade Ministry.

The two countries also discussed strengthening bilateral cooperation across fields of trade, and Doha and Nairobi also agreed to step up cooperation as Kenya moves to implement its “Vision 2030” development blueprint, which seeks to realise Kenya as an industrialised, middle-income country.

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One of Kenya’s major projects, which Qatar has agreed to assist in, is the Lamu Port-Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor, known as LAPSSET, which is expected to be completed by 2020.

The project of 1,700km of superhighway and 1,600km of modern railway linking Lamu – an archipelago comprised of numerous islets – with landlocked Ethiopia and South Sudan.

The railway will later make its way across the continent to Douala in Cameroon, opening up an alternative route for trans-Atlantic trade and business between Africa and the Americas.

Qatar National Bank (QNB) recently acquired a 12.5% stake in the Lagos-listed Ecobank, becoming the second largest shareholder after South Africa’s Public Investment Cooperation, and setting the stage for QNB’s ambitions to become the largest bank in the Middle East and Africa by 2017.