LUSAKA - Western nations and lending agencies have agreed a financing package of more than $1 billion to improve infrastructure in southern and central Africa at an investment conference meant to expand transport links and trade.

Leaders of countries in the region are meeting in the Zambian capital Lusaka, to discuss plans and attract funds to boost road links and regional trade.

... development partners have agreed to over $1 billion of funding to upgrade road, rail, and port infrastructure and to support trade facilitation in the region, Britain said in a statement on Monday.

Britain said it would separately provide 100 million pounds ($149.2 million) to transform the region's infrastructure to increase trade and mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis.

Officials say the funds would be used to finance new projects and upgrade existing infrastructure, which include 8,000 km (4,970 miles) of road, the equivalent to the road distance between Paris and Beijing, and to rehabilitate 600 km of rail track linking eastern and southern African countries.

Once in place, the links will link businesses in eight African countries - Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.

The project intends to reduce the cost of doing business in the region, create fresh avenues of wealth and help to cut poverty in the world's poorest continent, which officials said has been worst hit by effects of the global financial crunch.

Boosting trade routes will also enable African to compete in trade with the rest of the world.

The funds will be financed by a mix of public and private investment by donors, the World Bank, East Africa Community, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.