Agence France-Presse CAIRO: Egypt is striving to become an integral part of China s trade strategy and seal a special relationship with the Asian giant that could surpass its partnership with the United States within five years, Trade Minister Mohammed Rachid told AFP. Rachid is leaving Monday on a six-day trade mission to China, where he will seek to attract interest in Egypt s strategic geographical location and its preferential trade agreements with European, Middle Eastern, and African countries. We are planning to set our relationship with China at a new level … If you look at the big picture, everybody in the world is aware there is a paradigm shift in the world economy at the moment, he said. It is very normal for us in Egypt, where we sit geographically, to react to such realities, he said in an interview. Egypt s primary trade partner is the European Union, followed by the Middle East region and the United States. But with bilateral trade volumes soaring from under $1 billion in 2002 to almost $2.2 billion in 2005 and set to rise even quicker in coming years, China could soon break up the old trinity of Egypt s trade partners. China might take over from the U.S. in five or six years in terms of trading volumes, Rachid said. China s ever growing consumer market is avidly importing from around the world, seeking energy resources in Africa and elsewhere. The growing purchasing power of its inhabitants is also of interest to Egypt s tourism industry. As the world s fourth largest economy continues its inexorable growth, Egypt wants more than just a piece of the cake and hopes to become a central element in the spread of Beijing s influence. It s a special relationship we are trying to achieve, we want to be a hub, we want to be a gateway to Africa and the Middle East for them, Rachid said. We want to make sure we are creating more and more links in terms of shipping lines and communications. We need also to understand more what China wants to do in Africa and the Middle East so we can incorporate that in our plans. China s trade with Africa increased forty-fold between 1990 and 2004, with Beijing now getting 15 percent of its oil from Angola and Sudan. Total trade between the two sides neared $40 billion in 2005. Egypt commands access to the Suez Canal, through which the vast majority of China s trade with Europe passes, and wants to boost a special economic zone which was established for China near the waterway a few years ago. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao signed 11 trade agreements with Egypt when he visited in June, including a framework agreement on cooperation in the fields of oil and gas. A growing number of developing countries that feel politically marginalized by the United States and the West are bent on cementing good ties with China. The two countries have good political relations and celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year. Egypt was the first African country to establish diplomatic ties with the People s Republic of China in 1956. During his visit to China, Rachid, who is credited with sweeping reforms of Egypt s economy, is expected to speak at the World Economic Forum s China summit.