GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador - Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said on Wednesday that the country is on the verge of closing a free trade agreement with China, a deal that would increase exports and boost employment in the South American country's manufacturing industry.

"A highly efficient negotiation has been carried out in less than 10 months and I can confirm that the agreement is practically closed," Lasso said during a meeting of businessmen from China and Latin America in the city of Guayaquil.

Ecuador started negotiating with Beijing in February, aiming to seal an agreement by the end of this year. The deal is set to secure an additional $1 billion in Ecuadorian exports to China.

"Our industrial sectors' interests have been taken into account, having guaranteed the protection of employment in manufacturing areas," Lasso added.

Over the past decade, China has become Ecuador's main financial partner with million-dollar loans tied to long-term crude oil delivery contracts, and million-dollar investments in hydroelectric dams and mining.

Between January and September of this year, Ecuadorian non-oil exports to China totaled $4.45 billion, with the president expecting a 51% growth by the end of 2022 in comparison to 2021.

Lasso, who took office in May, has said more trade and foreign investment are key to stimulating the country's economy, battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ecuador also planned to sign a trade agreement this year with Mexico, to ensure its entry into the Pacific Alliance, besides agreements with South Korea and the Dominican Republic.

(Reporting by Yury García; Editing by Sandra Maler)