The debt is "like a python around our necks, ribs and legs," Hichilema said in an interview with Agence France-Presse in Paris after meeting President Emmanuel Macron for talks on Wednesday.
We need to "close this long overdue debt re-structuring, put it to bed and release resources and time and attention to the development side of our agenda," he said.
The Zambian president was in France after a series of high-profile visits to his country, including one from US Vice President Kamala Harris in late March in which she called for a "speedy finalization" of Zambia's debt restructuring.
"Zambia is a country that has to take its place in the global community," he said.
"Purely economic diplomacy is what drives us - and strengthening our bilateral relations, creating opportunities for joint trade and investment."
Hichilema said this was key to improving prospects in one of the world's youngest countries by median age.
"We need to pump up the economic side - investment, trade, growth - to create jobs, business opportunities for this young population, give them some hope in life," he said.
Hichilema took office in 2021 with ambitious plans to turn around the economy of the Africa's second largest copper producer.
He told a mining conference last year that Zambia planned to more than triple production of the mineral to three million tons a year within a decade to respond to increasing demand for the metal in green technologies.
"Zambia is ready for business," he said on Wednesday.
It "is host to a number of critical minerals that are important for the electric vehicle industry."
But Hichilema stressed the need to move away from an old model of extracting and exporting raw materials.
We need "to extract these and to process them in country in joint venture with allies - domestic investors, Europe investors, China investors, US investors," he said.
More than 60 percent of Zambia's some 20 million people live in poverty, according to the World Bank.