Nicaragua on Monday announced the start of work on a $50 billion shipping canal, an infrastructure project backed by China that aims to rival Panama’s waterway and revitalize the economy of the second-poorest country in the Americas.

HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group) Chairman Wang Jing greets youths during the start of work on the Interoceanic Grand Canal in Brito town, Dec. 22, 2014, in this handout provided by the Presidential Palace Nicaragua. - Photo: Reuters
HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group) Chairman Wang Jing greets youths during the start of work on the Interoceanic Grand Canal in Brito town, Dec. 22, 2014, in this handout provided by the Presidential Palace Nicaragua. – Photo: Reuters

The groundbreaking was largely symbolic, as work began on a road designed to accommodate machinery needed to build a port for the canal on the Central American country’s Pacific coast.

Nicaragua’s government says the proposed 172-mile (278-km) canal, due to be operational by around 2020, would raise annual economic growth to more than 10 percent. In the Americas, only Haiti is poorer.

The canal could also give China a foothold in Central America, long dominated by the United States, which completed the Panama Canal a century ago.