Nigeria and Benin signed a landmark African trade pact alongside the continent’s heads of state at the African Union (AU) Summit, in Niger on Sunday.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and Benin’s President Patrice Talon signed the agreement to applause at the summit in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, where it will officially be launched.
Nigeria had been a key backer of the plan to progressively reduce trade barriers on the continent since talks on the African Continental Free Trade Area got underway in 2002.
However, it abruptly changed course shortly before the deal was signed last year following pressure from local unions and businesses fearful that they would be uncompetitive if trade barriers are dropped.
AfCFTA formally came into force at the end of May, after the required minimum of 22 countries ratified the ambitious plan to boost intra-African trade, which has long suffered high tariffs.
It hopes the progressive elimination of tariffs will help boost regional trade by 60 percent within three years. At present, only 16 percent of trade by African nations is with continental neighbours.
Nigeria is one of only three of the AU’s 55 member states to not have signed up to AfCFTA, with other African economic heavyweights such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa having ratified the pact.
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