Italy unveiled Thursday a $320 million investment for a rail project in Africa, as G7 leaders vowed to bolster an infrastructure initiative meant to serve as an alternative to Chinese influence on the continent.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, host of a G7 summit in Puglia, said Rome would invest in the Lobito Corridor, a strategic railway that will go from Angola and through the Democratic Republic of Congo to Zambia.

Italy is committing $320 million (298 million euros) to the Zambia-Lobito rail line, a key project of the G7's Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), according to US officials.

The PGII is an attempt by the G7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US -- to compete with China's formidable Belt and Road Initiative, which targets projects from highways to ports.

It has increasingly focused on developing economic corridors ripe for investments in transport, clean energy supply chains, agricultural assistance, health and IT services.

The Lobito Corridor, announced last year, will "connect regional markets to global ones", Meloni said.

It has been hailed as potentially transformative for African trade and transportation in an area rich in critical minerals.

Italy's investment comes as the West scrambles to compete with China over access to the raw materials essential for clean energy technologies.

Critics have accused China of using the Belt and Road to exert influence on developing nations and say it is a debt trap for developing nations.

- 'Non-predatory' -


US President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States had mobilised $60 million for PGII, a project that stood out for its "transparency and high standards, quality and sustainability".

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who represents the EU -- the G7's unofficial eighth partner -- said the PGII initiative was "different to others".

"It is not only the financial firepower that is impressive, but PGII is sustainable, it is good for the planet and for a country's finances," she said at the summit in southern Italy.

Meloni said the G7 was establishing "a secretariat capable of strengthening (the PGII's) implementation".

The Italian leader, elected in 2022 on an anti-migrant ticket, said the investment in the PGII project fit with her pledge for a "non-predatory" approach to the African continent.

She has vowed to stop migrant boats from North Africa, though landings in Italy rose after her election, to almost 158,000 last year from around 105,000 in 2022.

At the same time, her so-called Mattei Plan aims to exchange investment in Africa for deals aimed at curbing migration.

Illegal immigration is a hot topic also in the US, Britain and France, where election campaigns are in full swing.

The G7 leaders were due to discuss tactics for combating illegal migration at a specific session on Friday, while also emphasising how legal migration could be a boon.