China has extended US$3 billion credit to Belarusian companies and US$4 billion in commercial credit to Belarusian banks for financing business projects, the former Soviet republic's economy minister, Vladimir Zinovsky, said yesterday. The credits, which appeared to include US$1 billion of loans to two banks announced on Sunday, were part of a raft of deals resulting from a visit by President Xi Jinping to Minsk, Moscow and Almaty. At the same time, the Belarusian central bank announced a three-year currency swap agreement that will put 7 billion yuan (HK$8.9 billion) into its reserves and help with foreign debt repayments of US$4 billion due this year. The former Soviet republic's economy has been badly hurt by currency volatility in Russia arising from the Ukraine crisis and a plunge in the price of oil. The International Monetary Fund forecasts the economy shrinking 2 per cent this year. Zinovsky, quoted by the national news agency BelTA, said the US$3 billion credit to firms would be on favourable terms and the US$4 billion to banks would be earmarked for financing business projects. China and Belarus on Sunday also signed a five-year potash supply memorandum of understanding, though volumes and prices were not disclosed. Cash-strapped Belarus reached an unexpected agreement with China in March over 2015 prices for the crop nutrient potash, undercutting Russian and North American rivals who were negotiating for higher rates. Xi said on Sunday that Belarus could become a key hub for China's much-vaunted Silk Road vision - a project to bridge Europe and Asia through a series of transport and energy links. Chinese officials estimated the total value of the Belarus deals at US$15.7 billion. The Belarusian economy is highly reliant on Russia, where growth has been suffocated by falling oil prices and Western sanctions for Russian actions in Ukraine. That has pushed Belarus to try to vary its economic relations, although its options with western Europe remain constrained by diplomatic tensions. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said after meeting Xi in his nation's capital, Minsk, that China was investing in building and modernising Belarusian infrastructure. Under one of around 20 deals signed on Sunday, China's state development bank is providing its equivalent Belarusian lender US$700 million in low-interest credits to be repaid within 15 years. China Development Bank also agreed to extend commercial Belarusian lender ASB Belarusbank credit worth US$300 million. Analysts believe deals with China could help Belarus weather the economic crunch provoked by troubles in Russia. "China has opened up a window of opportunity for Belarus," said political analyst Yaroslav Romanchuk. "Lukashenko has been given a magic wand. "Belarus will be able to capitalise through its status as a transit country and will strive to become a hub for the transfer of Chinese goods to Europe." Xi, the first Chinese leader to visit in 14 years, is expected to leave Belarus today.